The Newcastle Falcons story dates back to 1877, when a group of old boys from Durham School met in a private house in Gosforth to discuss the formation of a new rugby club in the area. From there, the Gosforth Football Club was born, with its first game taking place in November of that year. Maintaining its links with Durham School, Gosforth played in the school’s colours of green and white hoops, right through until the 1990s.
Gosforth’s membership were among the massive numbers to suffer losses during the first world war, but the club did reform in 1919 despite these tragic deaths, and shared the Northumberland County Ground with traditional rivals, Northern.
Gosforth continued to establish themselves on the local scene, although the second world war did bring rugby to a halt for six years, and it was only the efforts of some former officials in setting the club up again, which stopped it from disappearing altogether.
An amazing fundraising effort eventually saw a total of £10,000 gathered to help the club’s efforts to purchase a ground of its own, and in 1951 they bought land which eventually become their home.
The ground officially opened in 1955 after much work, and the club became more ambitious, with the likes of Scotland and Lions wing Arthur Smith and Ireland and Lions prop Ray McLoughlin playing for them. Gosforth increasingly dominated local rugby, and their stature on the national scene was also growing at a pace.
In the 1971/2 season the club was captained by Jack Rowell, who would later go on to coach Gosforth, Bath and England successfully. With no league tables as such, Gosforth’s rising success was measured by their illustrious fixture list and their triumphs in the 1976 and 1977 John Player Cup – the forerunner to what is now the Powergen Cup. In 1976 they beat Rosslyn Park 23-14 in the Twickenham final, and then a year later a 27-14 win over Waterloo saw them retain the trophy.
The team of that era was packed with household names, such as England’s Roger Uttley, Scotland’s Duncan Madsen, Lions and England man Peter Dixon and England’s David Robinson, to name but a few. It was by far the most golden era that the club had experienced, and perhaps fitting that in 1977 it celebrated its centenary.
1981 saw the club again reach Twickenham for the final of the John Player Cup, although they were to lose out to Leicester on that occasion, but despite reaching the latter rounds, the club never really commanded the same sort of dominance in the ensuing decade.
Despite some comparatively lean years, however, a major transition was on the way. In 1989 they decided to sell their North Road Ground for £1.7million to a housing developer, and set about purchasing the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal sports ground at Kingston Park for only £55,000.
The club spent a season playing at Percy Park RFC while work was completed on Kingston Park, and in 1990 they moved into their new home, also under a new name – Newcastle Gosforth.
Up-and-down results and financial problems beset the club, and in September 1995 it was to undergo another major change, when Newcastle United soccer chairman Sir John Hall realised his long-held dream of establishing a Newcastle sporting club, encompassing rugby union.
The recent change to legalising professionalism in the game had facilitated the move, and with Newcastle Gosforth’s fortunes on and off the field diminishing somewhat, Hall’s involvement could hardly have come at a better time.
Hall’s new Sporting Club held 76 per cent of the shares in the club, while the other 24 per cent was held by the Newcastle Gosforth members. To this day, the ’24 per centers’ as they are known, are still involved with the club, and provide valuable support.
Having secured the club’s future, Hall then set about instituting one of the biggest makeovers in sporting history, recruiting Wasps and England fly half Rob Andrew as director of rugby and star player, as well as a raft of other high-profile signings. Dean Ryan and Steve Bates were enlisted as key coaching and playing figures, while the likes of All Black Inga Tuigamala, Scotland stars Gary Armstrong and Doddie Weir, and England’s Tony Underwood soon followed.
The 1996/7 season saw the first under the current name of Newcastle Falcons, and the club also changed its home colours to black and white. That year saw the team rise through the second tier of English club rugby and clinch promotion to the Premiership, scoring masses of points on the way.
The1997/8 season was then to go down as arguably the biggest in the club’s history, as the all-star squad sensationally went on to lift the Allied Dunbar Premiership trophy in the first season back in the top flight.
Saracens pushed them all the way, but a sun-baked afternoon at The Stoop saw the north-easterners gain the necessary win against Harlequins that they needed to stave off the Sarries challenge. That feat was then followed up straightaway with a dramatic win over a World XV in the Sanyo Cup at Twickenham.
Rugby politics denied the Falcons a chance to have a crack at the Heineken Cup the season after, as English clubs embargoed the competition for a year, and it was 1999 before the club next had the chance to win a trophy - sadly, a Twickenham defeat to London Wasps in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup final.
It was that year, however, that the latest chapter in the club took flight, when current chairman Dave Thompson bought out Sir John Hall’s Sporting Club shareholding. Thompson, a businessman but also a keen local rugby man, kept faith with the coaching team, and made sure that professional rugby survived in the north-east.
Indeed, it was with his backing that the club reached the 2001 Tetley’s Bitter Cup final, where a last-minute try from Dave Walder secured a dramatic late win over NEC Harlequins.
The team then repeated this success in 2004, when more than 50 bus-loads of supporters made the trip down the M1 to Twickenham to see a thrilling Powergen Cup final victory over Sale Sharks, with Phil Dowson pouncing for the winning try towards the end of the second half.
So, after more than a century-and-a-quarter of existence, it is clear that the history of Newcastle Falcons – under whichever name and at whichever ground – has been one of great persistence and resilience, under-pinned by the dedication of those charged with its upkeep, and its loyal and growing support base