As unique rugby club stories go, London Nigerian Rugby Football Club is up there with the best of them.
Founded by a group of Nigerians in 1991, the club became something of a grassroots phenomenon over the next decade, securing 8 promotions in 10 seasons while maintaining the same group of players and strong club ethos.
However as the original founders began to retire, London Nigerian found themselves fighting to survive.
Slipping down the tables and struggling to recruit, they were in danger of being consigned to history before a a new generation players added fresh impetus, helping the club rise through the leagues once again.
‘IT’S THE MOST UNIQUE CLUB I’VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH’
Having been involved with the club since 2007 as both a player and subsequently club president, Steve Hanlon has seen first-hand their struggles.
“When I joined we were having real problems financially,” says Hanlon.
“It was crisis after crisis and with the original generation of players now moving on and without a home it was becoming difficult to attract new players.”
London Nigerian became one the city’s nomadic clubs with players travelling across the capital to different locations each week to play before a partnership with Imperial College gave them a new lease of life.
“As a club we’ve always been fighting against the odds, ever since the original guys set it up in the 90s,” says Hanlon.
“We’ve learned how to take control as players and get things done and it’s that ethos that got us through the tough times.”
From September 2014 the club have been on a remarkable run of form.
Promotion into London Three North-West was followed this season by 17 wins on the bounce which secured their place in London Two North West next year.
According to captain Charlie Esberger, it’s the self sufficiency of the players that has got them through.
“Most clubs we face have coaches but we’ve had to do it all ourselves,” says Esberger. “We built some momentum at the beginning of the season and it just kept going.
“From struggling to put out one side we now have a large group of young players and are able to put out a regular social 2nd XV out.”
KEEPING THE SPIRIT ALIVE
“On and off the pitch we try to keep our club ethos going,” says Hanlon.
“It’s always been a tradition of ours to play adventurous rugby and that continues to this day. We still seem to run the ball from crazy positions on the pitch and that’s something that we’ve become known for.”
The side’s recent development has been helped significantly by Rugby Development Officer, Ty Sterry, who has helped two of the players become Level 2 qualified coaches while also helping them through the times of crisis.
“They’ve got a young and dynamic group of players who are committed to the club’s values and that is reflected in everything they do,” says Sterry.
Next season the club will welcome former professional player Joe Mbu as Head Coach with the National Leagues on their radar as the next big target.
“It’s a special club,” says Esberger. “The strong bonds we build off the pitch show when we get on the pitch and that’s the reason we’ve gone from strength to strength.”
While the original founders of ’91 may have moved on, the spirit is still very much alive at London Nigerian.