Considering the long and proud history of both clubs it is perhaps surprising that the first meeting between the two did not occur until March 23rd 1963. Unfortunately for Saracens, it was a rather one-sided affair, losing 25-6, a veritable drubbing in an era with lower points awarded for tries, and typically lower-scoring affairs anyway. Leicester throughout the late 19th and early 20th century had been a high status club, able to attract large crowds and offering a fixture list eagerly fought over by teams from all over England, Wales and Scotland.
When it came to supporting the war effort Leicester were certainly one of the most active clubs, using their public profile and facilities in an effort to boost recruitment. Much of this was led by the clubs Honorary Secretary, Tom Crumbie, who is believed to have raised nearly 3,500 men into the Leicestershire regiment. It is this close link that is believed to have contributed to the nickname of “The Tigers”, as the Regiment’s cap badge featured the Royal Bengal Tiger in honour of their service in India.The club also gave over the use of Welford Road, the club’s home since 1892, for use as a training ground for military exercises.
As for the players, it is not known exactly how many volunteered to fight, but 17 are recorded to have died during the conflict. One game, against Newport on the 14th of February 1914, featured 5 players who were to pay the ultimate price, with 4 of these part of the forward pack playing that day. The players came from a range of backgrounds, with a majority becoming officers but a considerable number were also drawn from local industries such as the shoe trade. William Dalby, a local boy was one of the men to be drawn from this most industrial background, and is famed for scoring a try whilst representing Midlands county against the touring Springboks in 1912.
For anyone wanting to know more about Leicester rugby’s involvement in the First World War, there is an excellent BBC podcast featuring Dan Cole available on: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ws4sj