As early as the Napoleonic Wars, the British Army had recognised the value to moral of awarding medals for shooting competitions. By the Victorian period, it had a fully developed appreciation of the value of organised sporting activity both in improving the physical fitness of its men, and also in occupying their leisure time productively. In doing so it hoped to steer them away from that greatest of Victorian vices – alcohol.
Sport was also a great leveller in the British Army. Here, on the rugby field or in the boxing ring, the sporting traditions of the public school met those of the working class boys clubs. Between officers and men there was mutual respect, but absolutely no social contact. Only in competetive games did the son of an earl rub shoulders with a that of a miner on an equal footing. In this respect, sport built up an esprit de corps and fostered the sense of regimental pride – especially if the sportsmen in question were successful against those of other regiments.
The Leicestershire Regiment excelled at Boxing, Rugby, Association Football and Hockey, and its years of greatest prowess were probably those before the First World War. Leicester Football Club (the famous Leicester Tigers) was born out of a team of officers of the Leicestershire Regiment in the 1880s. Its colours (green, light grey, red and black) are also those of the regiment. In boxing the 2nd battalion produced a heavyweight champion of the British Army in ‘Togo’ Bolesworth. In Rugby the 1st battalion won the Army Cup in 1908, 1911 and 1912, whilst in football the 1st battalion won the Madras Gymkhana Cup in 1905.
In the interwar years the regimental rugby team was all-conquering, numbering internationals such as Tony Novis, who captained England, Joe Kendrew, and Peter Upcher. After the war Rugby was also popular, though the regiment never attained the same heights as in the 1930s.