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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March, 2005, 17:43 GMT
Broncos back from the brink
By James Standley

The Broncos (in red) get to grips with Leeds Rhinos' Andrew Dunemann
The London Broncos have been handed a reprieve following a meeting with the Rugby Football League and 11 Super League clubs, after financial difficulties left their future in the balance.

We take a detailed look at the capital's premier rugby league outfit.

THE SITUATION NOW

The Broncos, the only Super League club south of Cheshire, first appeared on the London sporting scene back in 1980, when they were known as Fulham.

And there is a heavy irony that they are suffering the worst financial crisis in their history at a time when the 13-man code has never been stronger in London.

BIGGEST CROWDS
9,554 First game v Wigan in 1980
15,103 v Wakefield 1980
9,000+ v Paris St Germain, first Super League game

The semi-professional London Skolars now play in National League Two while there are four clubs from the London area in National League Three.

There are now 12 full-time development staff in the region and, whereas four years ago there were a handful of junior rugby league clubs, there are now 20.

In the past 18 months, 4,000 junior players (9-18) have taken part in the sport.

The Broncos Academy side has unearthed talented young Londoners, with several - including Joe Mbu with the Broncos and Desi Williams with Wigan - going on to play professionally.

BRONCOS THROUGH THE YEARS

With just 2,954 watching the Broncos' last home match it is not hard to see why they are in dire financial straits.

Those spectators who did turn up were treated to a feast of rugby as the Broncos ran in six tries in each half on their way to a 72-8 win against previously unbeaten Wakefield.

The result took the Broncos to second in the Super League table, but on-field success has done little to boost their off-field resources over the years.

While they have never won a major trophy there have been several highlights, including a World Club Championship win over Canberra Raiders in 1997.

Wigan player Desi Williams
Desi Williams is one of the young Londoners making the grade

They also reached the Challenge Cup final in 1999, losing to Leeds, but for most Londoners the only code of rugby that matters remains union.

The club has had a complicated history since making its bow as Fulham back in the early days of Margaret Thatcher's first term as Prime Minister.

After starting at Craven Cottage they have trekked round the capital, playing at Crystal Palace, Chiswick, Barnet, The Stoop and their current home at Brentford's Griffin Park.

They have also changed their name, first to the London Crusaders and then to the London Broncos.

And they have had several rocky patches, notably when former owner Richard Branson pulled out in 2001.

THE FUTURE

The club have been handed a lifeline after having gone into liquidation with debts of around 3m.

They will now be run by a new company which was awarded membership of Super League Europe.

Former New Zealand Warriors owner, millionaire Eric Watson, had also been linked with the club but the Broncos deny they had talks with him.

If the Broncos can get through their current problems, the future of rugby league in London looks brighter than it has ever done.

Whether the Broncos manage to harness that growing interest remains another matter.


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