Leicester Tigers: Interesting Facts

I’ve rounded up some of the most common questions asked about the Leicester Tigers, starting with how they got their name.

Why Are Leicester Rugby Called Tigers?

Leicester Rugby Club has been called the Tigers since the 1880s as evidenced by a local newspaper using the nickname in an 1885 match report. Most credit this to their black and yellow striped jerseys.

Some believe it was inspired by a local regiment serving in India where tigers reside.

If you’re familiar with the current jerseys of the Leicester Tigers, then you’ll know that the club colours are green, red, and white.

That’s very unlike a tiger! But if a leopard can change its spots, then a tiger should be able to do likewise.

Tiger Stripes

The club has been through several different colours in their history. They played their first match against Moseley in 1880 and togged out in a black kit.

They soon switched to the stripes that are believed to have given them their name. The colors are sometimes described as black and yellow, and sometimes as chocolate and orange.

A local newspaper, the Leicester Daily Post, covered their match against Bedford Grammar School in 1885. The match report referred to tiger stripes:

The Tiger stripes were keeping well together.

The tiger-style stripes only lasted a few seasons. The club switched to green, red, and white stripes in 1891. Four years later, the stripes changed to the more familiar hoops that we know today.

The Royal Leicestershire Regiment

This Leicestershire infantry regiment dates back to 1688. It merged into the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964.

The unit served worldwide through its long history. The campaigns included being sent to Boston in 1776 at the beginning of the American War Of Independence.

The regiment landed in India in 1804. This is where it earned the Tigers moniker. In 1825, the unit was granted an official badge with a tiger icon.

So, what’s the connection with the Leicester Tigers rugby club? At least forty-seven soldiers from the regiment played for the club over the years. Several also served as club presidents.

The regiment historians keep a list here of the “Tiger Tigers” who were both club and regiment men.

Why Do Leicester Tigers Have Letters On Their Shirts?

If you look closely at the jerseys of the Leicester Tigers on the playing field, you’ll see that the players have a small letter embossed on their shirts. And each player has a different letter that marks his position.

Historically, Leicester Rugby Club didn’t use numbers on their shirts at all.

Before the introduction of professionalism, there was no mandatory system of markings on jerseys. Clubs and leagues made their own rules, and letters were quite common.

The Welsh national team wore letters through the 1930s and ‘40s, until they switched to letters in the ‘50s. Most clubs in England and abroad also standardized on numbers.

Leicester and Bristol were the last two clubs in England to keep to letters.

The first professional Rugby Union competition in England was started in 1997. Two years later, the governing body (the RFU) decided to standardize numbering in order to help people newcomers to the sport.

Leicester exchanged letters for numbers in 1999 due to the requirements of the RFU. For years, they didn’t play with team letters on their jerseys.

Leicester’s Lettering System

The Leicester starting fifteen wore letters running from A to O.

“A” was the loosehead prop, and “O” was the fullback. I’ve laid out the lettering below to show how it corresponded to each position.

HistoricModernPosition
A1Loosehead Prop
B2Hooker
C3Tighthead Prop
D4Loosehead Lock
E5Tighthead Lock
F6Blindside Flanker
H7Openside Flanker
G8Eight
I9Scrumhalf
J10Outhalf
K11Left Wing
L12Inside Center
M13Outside Center
N14Right Wing
O15Fullback

You may notice that the backrow are slightly out of order. What are now numbered as 6, 7, and 8 were lettered F, H, and G. The openside flanker was H and the number eight was G.

For this to make sense, you just have to visualize the letters layed out as pitch positions:

            A B C              1 2 3

             D E                 4 5

            F G H              6 8 7

Bringing back letters

The front row at Leicester traditionally wore A, B, and C.

In the 1990s, the club had one of the most dominant front row in the sport: Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill, and Darren Garforth. The trio were nicknamed the ABC Club.

Richard Cockerill subsequently became head coach at the club. It was Cockerill who reintroduced the letters to the Leicester jersey in 2010.

Of course, the Union rules wouldn’t allow them replace the large numbers on the back of the shirts. Instead, Cockerill arranged for a letter to appear in a smaller size on the front.

“I wanted to keep some of the great traditions of the club and putting the letters on the shirts is a good way of doing that.”

Richard Cockerill

Who Founded Leicester Tigers?

The Leicester Rugby Club were founded as an amalgamation of three clubs in 1880. The founding trio were Leicester Alert, Leicester Amateur FC and Leicester Societies AFC.

Their first nickname was the “Death Or Glory Boys”, but they soon became known as the Leicester Tigers.

The three small local clubs met at the George Hotel in August 1880 to formalize their newly merged status. The new club played their first match in November of the same year.

For most of the club’s history, it was owned by its members. When a professional league was formed in England, Leicester Rugby Club became a public limited company. You can read more in our article on who owns Leicester Tigers.

Are Leicester Tigers League Or Union?

Leicester Tigers are a Rugby Union team, playing the 15-a-side code since the 1880s.

However, the city has an amateur rugby league team known as the Leicester Storm.