Kingsholm history a boost to RWC 2015
To become a legend, you have to have been around the block. Gloucester’s revered Kingsholm is one ground that has been able to keep up with the pace of modern life while remaining true to its roots.
On 2 May, the stadium was confirmed as a match venue for Rugby World Cup 2015, ensuring another small slice of history. Along with Twickenham, which will become only the second ground to host the Final on two occasions, Kingsholm is the only stadium that will double up after hosting matches at Rugby World Cup 1991.
Purchased in 1891 for the purposes of a ‘a football and general athletic ground’, the Castle Grim estate would soon become a familiar spot to English rugby fans. The first match was held adjacent to the estate in October of that year, with Burton the visitors under leaden skies and rain. Not that the weather dimmed the enthusiasm of the budding Gloucester faithful.
A constant at Kingsholm has been the passion of the local support. When Scotland, Argentina, Tonga and qualifiers from Europe and Asia arrive at the ground they will be greeted by the roar of the Shed – Gloucester’s famous, raucous terrace section. Travelling supporters will be welcomed to a true rugby hotbed, one that blends the modern era with tradition.
A sense of excitement
New stands and facilities adorn each side of the ground these days, but the atmosphere within remains the same. Author Geoffrey Willans, a Gloucester season ticket holder during his youth in the 1920s, wrote of Kingsholm: “When Gloucester were playing at home, what a flurry there was in the city! Trains and buses poured in their record crowds of supporters and all morning there was a sense of excitement. At lunch-time there was only one topic in the pubs, and, as the hour approached, everyone pressed into Worcester Street.” Little has altered in almost 100 years.
Kingsholm has endured its share of scrapes – matches ceased throughout the First World War and the stadium was requisitioned by the Civil Defence authority in the Second World War, while a stand burned to the ground during the stay of Bertram Mills’ Circus in 1933. But the ground has remained a constant throughout rugby’s transformation from amateur to professional, playing home to fine players for club and country, from Lions great Mike Teague in the 1980s to young hopeful Freddie Burns and Fiji’s Akapusi Qera today.
In 1991, as the sport converged on England for the second Rugby World Cup, Kingsholm took its place on the match schedule. The visitors were New Zealand, favourites to retain their title, and the USA. Despite its rich heritage, Gloucester had only previously held one other Test match, and that fell almost 91 years earlier as the legendary Billy Bancroft led Wales to a 13-3 victory over England in the days before Twickenham.
An expectant crowd swarmed to the ground, with around 12,500 officially admitted through the gates to witness the All Blacks’ haka on their home patch. Only five days earlier the defending champions had ensured that England suffered in the opening match, winning 18-12 thanks to a try from flanker Michael Jones.
Change will do you good
Among a raft of changes for their second match was a debut for Inga Tuigamala, who would go on to become a distinguished dual international with the All Blacks and Samoa, as well as a familiar face in the north east of England during a successful spell with Newcastle Falcons.
‘Inga the winger’ bagged one of New Zealand’s eight tries against the Eagles, but the undoubted star of the show was full back Terry Wright. A sharp finisher either for Auckland or the All Blacks –for whom he bagged 18 tries in 30 Tests – he finished up with a hat-trick to provide the main grunt in a 46-6 victory. New Zealand would remain unbeaten in the pool stages but fell at the semi-final hurdle to eventual champions Australia.
Six years later, one of the major changes in the club’s – and Kingsholm’s – history occurred as it was purchased by Scottish racing driver and team owner Tom Walkinshaw amid the early rumblings of professionalism. Ten years later, Kingsholm underwent a facelift as the main stand was demolished, to be replaced by a bank of seating for 6,500, befitting the club’s place in the modern Game.
In June 2011, a matter of months after the death of Walkinshaw, international rugby returned to Kingsholm as Russia took on Italy A during the Churchill Cup. The Bears were taking big strides towards a maiden appearance at Rugby World Cup 2011, and now Gloucester will make strides of its own towards the tournament in 2015. The next chapter is set to be written.