- Twickenham's first game was 108 years ago
- England v Wales was the first international match hosted
In 2017 Twickenham Stadium is known as one of the great sporting theatres in the world, but it was on this day 108 years ago that it had somewhat more humble beginnings.
Now the 82,000 all-seater stadium is the fourth largest in Europe and has hosted NFL and music concerts in recent years, but on Saturday 2 October 1909 it hosted its first game with a more modest 2,000 attending.
It was not England who played in the first match at their home ground but a local rivalry between Harlequins and Richmond.
Harlequins were given the first match as they invoked a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ they had with the Rugby Football Union before the stadium was even built, stating they could use the new ground once ready.
In tricky conditions after heavy rain over several days and with the grass heavily overgrown, Quins won the inaugural game in south west London 14-10.
In the decades after its 1871 formation, the RFU did not have a permanent home to host England matches so hired different club grounds for staging internationals. This was common practice with the Football Association taking a similar approach before Wembley was opened in 1923.
However, when New Zealand and South Africa toured the British Isles in 1905 for the first time it gave the game a massive lift and the RFU decided to purchase a plot of land for their own stadium.
Take a trip down memory lane and relive the greatest sporting moments at Twickenham Stadium.https://t.co/qrlCnp2bPm— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) March 10, 2015
RFU Treasurer William Cail found a 10 and a quarter acre market garden near the small market town of Twickenham and it was purchased for just over £5,500. Having secured the land the RFU approached the London and South Western Railway who agreed to build a train station for match days which helped persuade some of the RFU committee who had not been too keen on the location of England's new home.
The land where the stadium would be built was on allotments that was used to for growing fruit and vegetables, including cabbages, and so was given the nickname ‘the Cabbage Patch.’
Three months after hosting its first ever game, on 15 January 1910, Twickenham staged its first international when England faced Wales in front of around 22,000 people.
As Twickenham hosted its first ever match in 1909, Harlequins were led out by captain Adrian Stoop, the same man who would lead England in their first match at the ground three months later.
The fly half was captain at Quins for eight years, club secretary between 1905 and 1938, had a 30-year stint as president of the club, as well as being the RFU secretary in 1932. He played his last game for the club in 1939 at the age of 56.
Stoop earned 15 caps for his country but apart from his captaincy is perhaps best known for his role in playing with a designated scrum half and fly half, rather than two interchangeable half backs which was the norm at the time.
Such was his influence on Harlequins they named their stadium in his honour, which is why the ground was known as the Stoop Memorial Ground, but has since been renamed to Twickenham Stoop, and is informally referred to as ‘The Stoop’.
Another man who appeared at both the first ever match at Twickenham as well as the first ever England international there was Ronald Poulton Palmer.
He played at centre or wing and was considered an unpredictable and mesmerising runner with ball in hand winning his first cap for England in 1909 before he won his blue for Oxford University.
‘Ronnie’ won 17 caps for England between 1909 and 1914, scoring 28 points, as well as ending the period before World War I as England’s captain, scoring four tries in France to help the national side to a second consecutive Grand Slam.
He was killed in World War I in Belgium on 5 May in 1915 and his last, possibly apocryphal, words were reputed to be “I shall never play at Twickenham again”.