Fears to cheers as Leicester are transformed from toothless Tigers to top dogs

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Excl: Tigers chairman Peter Tom reveals how England’s biggest rugby club held nerve to overcome threat of relegation and going bust

Leicester chairman Peter Tom says fear of relegation and going bust helped drive Tigers back to the top of English rugby.

England’s biggest club are the only top-flight team in Europe to boast a 100 per cent record, having won their first 12 matches in all competitions.

Yet last year they avoided the drop only because Saracens were kicked out for cheating the salary cap.

And being forced to play matches behind closed doors had Tom warning that Premiership clubs would fold.

“We’re now on the way up the mountain, albeit nowhere near the top, and it’s great,” he said.

“Season ticket sales are back over 10,000, we’ve just had our first sell-out for three years and Steve Borthwick, his staff and the players are doing an exceptional job.

“But in those first few weeks of lockdown last year I thought ‘bloody hell, I’m going to go down in history as the chairman of Leicester Tigers when the club went bust’.”

Off the field enforced player pay cuts led, in Tom’s words, to “a group of people that no longer wanted to be with us”. On it the club sunk deeper and it was the fans’ turn to revolt.

“If you’re a season ticket holder or you buy a match ticket you’ve got a right to complain if you don’t think things are going properly,” said the 81-year-old.

“It goes with the job, if you like, but I do think you shouldn’t be abusive about families and whatever. What’s said on social media can be very cruel.

“Some of it upset my family, who were saying ‘do you really need this?’

“What’s happening now with social media is what used to be said over six to eight pints in a pub. But no way was I going to let it beat me.

“For me we’re custodians. We have to try to make sure that when we leave the club is in a better position than when we started.”

The arrival of Borthwick as head coach, Kevin Sinfield as his assistant and Andrea Pinchen as chief executive, certainly brought about a transformation.

“It was all about how do we save the club,” said Tom. “How do we ensure that in 20 years’ time people look back and say ‘they didn’t do too bad a job in what were pretty difficult times’.

Ironically the Covid crisis ended up helping as the fallen giants, 10-time English champions, realised they must evolve in order to survive.

“Covid has taught us to be much more efficient,” said Tom.

“We don’t have the resources of other clubs,” Borthwick added. “But our fan base give us a real competitive advantage. The support we have is incredible.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get where we want to be but there is a lot of growth in this club.”

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