The Newcastle Falcons have two major claims to fame. First, they are the most successful North Eastern rugby club in history, boasting a Premiership title and four cup wins. Second, The Falcons was once home to England World Cup winning kicker Johnny Wilkinson.
Founded in 1877, the club played as the Gosforth Football Club until 1990. They adopted Newcastle after a move to the Kingston Park stadium in Newcastle upon Tyne, before finally being christened the Newcastle Falcons at the beginning of the professional era.
The change of name to The Falcons in 1996 arose after local businessman Sir John Hall had taken control and attempted to create a sporting club in Newcastle, which would go on to include the Magpies (Newcastle FC), Newcastle Eagles (basketball), Newcastle Wasps (ice hockey) and The Falcons. This take over saw the Newcastle Falcons become the first fully professional club in the world.
It was during the 1995/96 season that the Falcons became the Premiership champions at the first time of asking, following promotion from the Second Division the previous season. And in 1999 under the ownership of Dave Thompson, Newcastle won two Powergen Cups. In 2001 The Falcons beat Harlequins 30-27, and narrowly won again three years later, defeated Sale Sharks 37-33.
These cup successes gave way to the clubs most successful stint in European rugby, winning their pool and reaching the quarter final of the Heineken Cup where they eventually lost to Stade Francais in the Parc des Princes.
In more recent years Newcastle have failed to repeat their league and cup successes of the late 20th century, but Chairman Dave Thompson has remained faithful to the club having rejected numerous takeover offers in late 2008, including one offer to take the club to Darlington. This resolve from the Chairman saw the Falcons reach another European Challenge Cup Quarter Final, losing to Saracens and consolidating their Premiership status by finishing tenth in the league.
But the following year long term head coach Steve Bates saw his contract terminated following a poor start to the season, and was replaced by Alan Tait. And under his stewardship, and thanks to the inspirational Carl Hayman, the Falcons staved off relegation until the following season.
However, an air of inevitability came over Kingston Park during the 2010/11 season. Financial difficulties due in main to the collapse of and Nationalisation of Northern Rock saw the club lose its main sponsor, and it was only thanks to another local businessman in the form of Semore Kurdi that the club managed to stay financially secure.
But that season saw Newcastle return its lowest ever points total in rugby unions top flight, managing just 21 points but denying relegation thanks to the inferior points difference of Leeds Carnegie. And last term relegation was confirmed on the last day of season, and despite managing more points than they did the previous year, the Falcons were relegated by a single point.
The thought of relegation was probably made even worse as Newcastle were given something of a reprieve as the London Welsh may have been denied entry into the top flight due to financial and stadium safety issues, but after appeal The Welsh were promoted, with The Falcons taking their place in Rugby Unions second tier.
This season though has seen the spring return to steps of Newcastle’s squad. Head coach Peter Russell has amassed a strong squad that looks set to see the Falcons promoted back to the Premiership at the first time of asking. Alongside captain and star flanker Will Welch, international players in the shape of del Fava, Helleur, Tuifua, Hogg, MacLeod, Lawson, Murray and Hufanga has added quality to the side, as well as a certain flair which is to be expected from The Falcons Australian coach.
The Newcastle Falcons are top of the RFU Championship, having won all 11 of its league fixtures so far this season and averaging nearly 40 points scored per game. On current form, and with the history and pedigree this side can boast, you would expect that in a few months time Kingston Park will once more play host to Premiership rugby.