Image of early Rugby spectators at Twickenham

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
The mid 1980s was not a great period for the England team. Coming into the last match of the 1988 season, against Ireland at Twickenham, they had lost 15 of their previous 23 matches in the Five Nations Championship. The Twickenham crowd had only seen one solitary England try in the previous two years and at half time against Ireland they were 0-3 down. The mood of the home support was understandably sombre.

Then it happened.

During the second half the floodgates opened. England scored a remarkable six tries in a thumping 35-3 win. Three of the tries came in quick succession from Chris Oti, a black player winning his second England cap but making his Twickenham debut. A small section of the crowd started to belt out a rugby club favourite – the gospel hymn ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ – in honour of their new hero, and as the tries continued to come so the numbers singing the song increased.

That might have been the end of it.

However, at the next Twickenham home game, against Australia, a young centre named Will Carling made his debut as England captain in another rousing victory. The England team was about to embark upon a period of great success and the Twickenham crowd was about to be offered many more opportunities to bellow out the song that had now become synonymous with Twickenham and the England team.