The Harlequin Football Club (The Harlequins or Quins for short) is an English rugby union team who play in the top level of English rugby, the Guinness Premiership, for 2006-07, having secured their return from National Division One at the first opportunity. Their ground in London is The Stoop. For sponsorship reasons they were formerly known as NEC Harlequins, however for the 2007-2008 season their principal sponsor is Etihad Airways.
In the amateur era many of the players worked in the City of London and the club has retained strong ties to the financial sector. The Harlequins Rugby League is a separately owned rugby league team which, from 23 September 2005, shares the same name, ground and wears kit similar to the union club's famous multi-coloured quartered jersey.
For their first 40 years, they were very nomadic in their existence and played at a total of 15 venues. Since 1909, they have only played at three.
In 1906, the Quins were invited by the Rugby Football Union to use the new national stadium in Twickenham. In those early days, only one or two internationals were played there during the season, and it wasn't long before the RFU ground became the Headquarters of the Harlequin Football Club.
The 1910 saw the rise of the Harlequins club, whose effective brand of attacking rugby led to a purple period in the years leading up to the First World War.
In 1963, the Quins acquired an athletics ground with 14 acres (57,000 m²) just over the road from the RFU ground, which became the Harlequin training pitch. This has subsequently become their home: the Stoop Memorial Ground. This is named after Adrian Dura Stoop, who won 15 caps for England and is said to have been the person who developed modern back play.
On the field, and with the introduction of leagues in 1987 bringing with it a more competitive environment, the Quins had maintained their status in the Premier Division as one of England's top 12 clubs until 2005.
The club has won the Rugby Football Union clubs knockout competition on two occasions: the John Player Cup in 1988 and Pilkington Cup in 1991. In addition, they played in the finals of 1992, 1993 and 2001.
The Quins became the first British team to win the European Shield in 2001, defeating Narbonne 42-33 in the final. They then became the first team to win the tournament twice, defeating Montferrand 27-26 in the final of the renamed Parker Pen Challenge Cup on 22 May 2004.
In 2005 they were relegated to National Division One after finishing at the bottom of the Zurich Premiership. In July of that year they announced that they would be establishing a partnership with rugby league club London Broncos, which saw the two clubs sharing Harlequins home ground of The Stoop from the start of the 2006 Super League season. As part of the deal, the Broncos changed their name to Harlequins Rugby League, though the two clubs remain under separate ownership.
In 2005-06, Quins utterly dominated National Division One. They won 25 of their 26 league matches, including their first 19, losing only at Exeter Chiefs on 25 February 2006. Quins also averaged nearly 40 points per match, scored four or more tries in 20 matches, and racked up an average victory margin of slightly over 25 points. They secured their return to the Premiership on 1 April with four matches to spare, crushing Sedgley Park 65-8 while the only team with a mathematical chance of pipping them for the title, Bedford, lost 26-23 at Exeter. They were recently joined by coach Dean Richards.
For the 2008 tour to New Zealand, new England coach Martin Johnson has selected 4 Harlequin players to play for the tour, Nick Easter, David Strettle, Mike Brown and Danny Care. Also five Harlequin players have been selected for the England Saxons Barclays Churchill Cup matches to the USA and Canada. Tom Guest, Chris Robshaw, Adrian Jarvis, Ugo Monye and Will Skinner have all been selected with Will Skinner chosen as captain for the side.
In the 2007-08 season Harlequins won 12 of their 22 Guinness Premiership matches and finished 6th in the league. Harlequins got off to a shaky start which saw them be in 2nd, 3rd 4th place consecutively, and during the latter half of the season Halequins managed to reach 3rd after a string of 7 out of 9 wins, but three defeats from London Irish, Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers to finish the season meant that Quins dropped to 6th and missed out on the play offs.
Two Harlequins players were shortlisted for awards, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw, were shortlisted for the Land Rover Discovery of the Season award. As well as Coach Dean Richards being shortlisted for the 02 Director of Rugby of the Season as well as Tom Guest being nominated for MBNA Try of the Season for his try against Leeds Carnegie on Sunday 13 April 2008
Players to leave Quins at the end of the 2007-08 season were Adrian Jarvis, Hal Luscombe, Chris Hala'ufia, Paul Volley, Nicholas Spanghero, Simon Keogh, Ricky Nebbett and Ryan Manyka. For the 08-09 season Quins have signed four players; London Irish centre Gonzala Tiesi, Ulster Back-row forward Neil McMillan, Auckland Blues fly-half Nick Evans, Tongan international Epi Taione who plays on wing, centre and back row and Fijian utility back Waisea Luveniyali.
The Harlequins play at The Stoop. The stadium is situated in Twickenham. The ground has previously been referred to as the Stoop Memorial Ground, though that was changed in mid 2005. The stadium is named after former England international Adrian Stoop, who was also a Harlequins player and president.
The Stoop has a capacity of 12,700, since the redeveloped Lexus Stand (west) was opened in late 2005. Since Harlequins RL joined the Harlequins at the ground, both teams played on the same day in 2006, with the Harlequins playing first, and then field markings and advertisements being changed so the Harlequins RL could play.
The Quins acquired the then athletics pitch in 1963, a ground of 14 acres, close by to the RFU ground. It became the training pitch, and eventually, the Harlequins home ground. The site provided a ground that could be developed, and since then much has been done in terms of upgrading. The stadium was known as the Stoop Memorial Ground for many years, but it was renamed to the Twickenham Stoop in 2005.
For the beginning of the 2007-2008 season there will be a new temporary stand in place until Richmond Borough Council agree to the construction of a permanent one. The main difference between the new and the old temporary stands is the addition of a roof. Mark Evans (Chief Executive) confirmed at the pre season conference there will be no change in the stand's capacity and that it is purely to improve comfort for supporters. With a small increase of ticket prices for this stand from £15-£17, the club may not break even on the stand by the time the season ends.
One of the underlying reasons behind the decision to build a new south stand was the 2006-2007 game against Bath, when Evans witnessed a father and son, without coats, sharing a big jumper. He decided that the club should show more consideration for those fans on lower incomes. The new temporary stand should be ready for the first Stoop match against Leeds Carnegie.