London Irish RFC was a professional rugby union club, currently in administration, which competed in the Premiership, the top division of English rugby union. The club had also competed in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, the European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup. While playing in the Championship in 2016–17 and 2018–19, it also played in the British and Irish Cup and RFU Championship Cup. The club played home games at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire for twenty years, before moving for the 2020–21 season to the Gtech Community Stadium in Brentford, West London.

London Irish
Full nameLondon Irish Rugby Football Club
UnionMiddlesex RFU, Surrey RFU, Irish RFU
Nickname(s)The Exiles, The Drummers
Founded1898; 126 years ago (1898)
ChairmanKieran McCarthy
CEOAdrian Alli
PresidentMick Crossan
Most capsTopsy Ojo (301)
Top scorerBarry Everitt (1,234)
Most triesTopsy Ojo (46)
2022–23Premiership, 5th
Official website

In the 2022–23 season, London Irish encountered financial difficulty and were issued a winding-up order by HMRC over an unpaid tax demand. To avoid suspension from the Premiership, the RFU issued a deadline for the club to provide financial assurances that they could continue paying players and staff. London Irish missed this deadline and were consequently excluded from competing in 2023–24 season – not only in the Premiership but in all professional tiers of Rugby Union in England.[1]

The club was founded in 1898 following the creation of London Scottish and London Welsh for the same reason, allowing Irishmen the chance to play rugby with fellow countrymen in the English capital.

London Irish won their only major trophy, the Powergen Cup, in 2002 and reached the 2009 Premiership final, losing 10–9 to Leicester Tigers.[2] In the 2007–08 season, the team came close to a place in the Heineken Cup Final, losing out to Stade Toulousain 15–21 in the semi-final.[3]

History edit

Formation and Early Years edit

The squad that played Racing Club de France at Parc des Princes in 1899

London Irish was the last club to be formed in England by working and student exiles from the home countries, following London Scottish in 1878 and London Welsh in 1885. The first game took place on 1 October 1898 against the former Hammersmith club at Herne Hill Athletic Ground, with London Irish winning 8–3. The team that season benefited from the early recruitment of vet and Irish international Louis Magee.[4] He became essential in the early years of the club along with club captain R.S Dyas in putting the team on the map and having regular fixtures between other London-based teams.

War and Conflict edit

The turn of the new century was a great time for London Irish with the club firmly solidified in the London club roster but these would be some of the last years of normality for the team. With the commencement of World War I, many of the players enlisted with Irish Battalions in their homeland for deployment in mainland Europe. In 1916, following the Easter Rising, a number of remaining players and members returned to Ireland to fight in the independence struggle; many did not return. It is unknown exactly how many with a connection to the club were lost. Following the formation of the Irish Free State in 1923, some of those who fought in Europe and/or Ireland returned to the club, which saw an overhaul of the organisation over the remainder of the decade, reviving the team and its influence for a new beginning.

In the years that followed, Irish made strides in playing competition outside of Greater London with matches against teams such as Leicester and Cardiff. This, however, was short-lived with the commencement of World War II and players and members again being dispersed across the continent, many of whom elected not to return following the end of the war. Nine of the players who participated in the 1938–39 season died in the conflict. The club's then playing ground located in Sunbury-on-Thames was acquired by Ministry for Agriculture to be used as a site to grow food for the war-torn capital. Because of the state of the playing field after the war, games were temporarily held at Rectory Field in Blackheath.

Post-war Years edit

The post-war era got off to a rocky beginning. Player numbers weren't what they used to be as former members elected not to move back to London and this made it difficult to front a starting XV. The year that followed saw the Winter of 1946, one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. Rectory Field was frozen for most the winter meaning Irish missed matches in the season. Things picked up with the arrival of a new captain, Des O'Brien, and a number of other key players and in 1948 London Irish celebrated their 50th anniversary with the most successful season yet for the club.

In the 1950s the club thrived, fielding teams most weeks, and in 1951 they became the first club to host touring Italian team Roma. On 9 September 1959, Irish returned to Sunbury and had a place to call home, which was dubbed The Avenue. They achieved a record-breaking season, remaining unbeaten.

Results in the 1960s were mixed, with many good wins but also a number of defeats. Fixtures improved and the club played against many famous teams, which changed the attitude of the training and playing and, in the 70s, London Irish became a force to be reckoned with, finishing first in the London Division of the Rugby Football Union in the 1976–77 season. Pre-season tours became popular and in 1977, the London Irish made history in South Africa when they became the first touring side to play a host of mixed-race teams.

Professional era edit

London Irish vs Toulon in 2010

Since the professional era began in August 1995, London Irish has only lifted one piece of major silverware, winning the Powergen Cup in 2002 in a match against Northampton at Twickenham that saw the club win 38–7. Some 75,000 people attended the match, seeing the Exiles win in what is regarded as one of the most successful days in the club's history. London Irish enjoyed success in Europe in 2005–06 when they reached the final of the Challenge Cup, only to be defeated by Gloucester 36–34 at Twickenham.

In 2013, Irish were taken over by a consortium led by Mick Crossan, executive chairman of Powerday, a London-based recycling and waste management firm. Powerday would go on to be one of the club's main sponsors.

In early May 2023, the RFU sought clarification from London Irish about why the club's players and staff had not yet been paid for April 2023.[5] On May 15, the RFU gave the club a May 30 deadline to sell the club to new owners, and indicated the club would be suspended from the Premiership if they were not satisfied the club had sufficient funding.[6] Two weeks later, the RFU extended the deadline until June 6.[7]

On 2 June 2023, London Irish received winding up petitions from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over an unpaid tax bill believed to be up to £1 million, which saw them forced out of business. [8][9]

Academy edit

London Irish managed their own academy, with players such as Tom Homer, Nick Kennedy, Topsy Ojo, Anthony Watson, brothers Delon and Guy Armitage, Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph having gone on to play for the senior side and be internationally capped. Ojo retired at the end of the 2018–19 season having made 301 appearances for the club.

Stadium edit

Gtech Community Stadium Under Construction.

From the 2020–21 season, London Irish played at the Gtech Community Stadium, in Brentford, Greater London. The stadium is owned by Brentford F.C. who also play their home games there. The ground is a 17,250-capacity all-seater stadium that opened in 2020.

Prior to 2020, London Irish played at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire for twenty seasons between 2000 and March 2020 when the 2019–20 season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to delays owing to the pandemic, Brentford Stadium was running behind its scheduled opening date. Irish made the decision to play their remaining games when possible at Harlequin's Twickenham Stoop as they could not return to Reading. The Exiles had previously played at The Stoop in the 1999–2000 season before moving to the Madejski Stadium.

London Irish drummers and fans at the Madejski Stadium.

The largest crowd for a London Irish match was for a game against London Wasps on 15 March 2008 during the 2007–08 season. The crowd of 23,790 was also the highest attendance for a regular season Premiership Rugby match until December 2008.[10]

On 12 March 2016, London Irish played their first home Premiership match abroad, and also the first-ever Premiership match outside England, when they travelled to the United States to face Saracens at the New York Red Bulls' Red Bull Arena in the New York metropolitan area.[11]

On 15 August 2016, the club announced its intention to return to London and that it was in formal discussions with Hounslow London Borough Council to play at Brentford's new stadium.[12] On 10 February 2017, the club confirmed that the council had approved its application to use the stadium for rugby, effectively allowing it to move into the new stadium from its opening season.[13] This was later confirmed.[14]

The club's training ground and offices were located at the Hazelwood Centre, which is located in the west of the city in Sunbury-on-Thames. The facility was opened in 2014 following the closure of The Avenue and is also used by NFL teams during the NFL International Series as a training facility.

London Irish Amateur Rugby Football Club edit

The club also hosts London Irish Amateur RFC (a separate legal entity) for non-professionals to allow them to improve in rugby. The team plays at the location of London Irish's training ground and offices, Hazelwood in Sunbury. Some players such as Justin Bishop and Kieran Campbell have gone through the ranks to play for the London Irish professional team.[15]

Mascot edit


Digger edit

Digger is an Irish wolfhound and the official mascot of London Irish.

In 2003, Digger won the "Best Mascot" award in Premiership Rugby at the Premier Rugby Marketing Awards.[16]

On 23 April 2006, Digger ran the London Marathon raising money for spinal research. He finished the marathon in a time of 6 hours 39 minutes 31 seconds.[17]

Others edit

Mr Doyle

Digger was joined by his cousin, Duggie, from the 2006–07 season. Much taller and much slower, Duggie has proved popular with younger children attending matchdays. As well as the mascot characters, there is also a real Irish wolfhound, Mr Doyle, who also attends the home games. Prior to Mr Doyle, his great uncle, Jumbo, attended home games before his retirement.

Rivalries edit

London Irish have rivalries in the Greater London area, mainly with Harlequins and Saracens, with whom they are now, thanks to Irish moving back to West London, able to have local derbies. Gtech Community Stadium's location makes it less than two miles to the Twickenham Stoop. They also maintain a friendly rivalry with fellow exiles London Scottish.

Season summaries edit

League Domestic Cup European Cup
Season Competition Final Position Points Play-Offs Competition Performance Competition Performance
1987–88 Courage League Division 2 8th 24 N/A John Player Cup 3rd round No competition N/A
1988–89 Courage League Division 2 6th 12 N/A Pilkington Cup 4th round
1989–90 Courage League Division 2 5th 12 N/A Pilkington Cup 2nd round
1990–91 Courage League Division 2 2nd (P) 19 N/A Pilkington Cup Quarter-final
1991–92 Courage League Division 1 9th 9 N/A Pilkington Cup 3rd round
1992–93 Courage League Division 1 7th 12 N/A Pilkington Cup 3rd round
1993–94 Courage League Division 1 9th (R) 8 N/A Pilkington Cup 5th round
1994–95 Courage League Division 2 5th 18 N/A Pilkington Cup 5th round
1995–96 Courage League Division 2 2nd (P) 30 N/A Pilkington Cup Semi-final No English teams N/A
1996–97 Courage League Division 1 10th 12 N/A Pilkington Cup 4th round Challenge Cup 6th in pool
1997–98 Allied Dunbar Premiership 11th 12 N/A Tetley's Bitter Cup Quarter-final Challenge Cup 2nd in pool
1998–99 Allied Dunbar Premiership 7th 30 N/A Tetley's Bitter Cup Quarter-final No English teams N/A
1999–00 Allied Dunbar Premiership 8th 25 N/A Tetley's Bitter Cup Semi-final Challenge Cup Semi-final
2000–01 Zurich Premiership 8th 45 N/A Tetley's Bitter Cup Quarter-final Challenge Cup 1st in pool*
2001–02 Zurich Premiership 4th 57 N/A Powergen Cup Champions Challenge Cup Semi-final
2002–03 Zurich Premiership 9th 40 Powergen Cup Semi-final Heineken Cup 2nd in pool
2003–04 Zurich Premiership 8th 49 Powergen Cup Quarter-final Challenge Cup 2nd round
2004–05 Zurich Premiership 10th 40 Powergen Cup Semi-final Challenge Cup 2nd round
2005–06 Guinness Premiership 3rd 66 Semi-final Powergen Cup 3rd in pool Challenge Cup Runners-up
2006–07 Guinness Premiership 6th 53 EDF Energy Cup 2nd in pool Heineken Cup 4th in pool
2007–08 Guinness Premiership 7th 59 EDF Energy Cup 3rd in pool Heineken Cup Semi-final
2008–09 Guinness Premiership 3rd 66 Runners-up EDF Energy Cup 2nd in pool Challenge Cup Quarter-final
2009–10 Guinness Premiership 6th 52 LV= Cup 3rd in pool Heineken Cup 3rd in pool
2010–11 Aviva Premiership 6th 54 LV= Cup 3rd in pool Heineken Cup 4th in pool
2011–12 Aviva Premiership 7th 46 LV= Cup 2nd in pool Heineken Cup 4th in pool
2012–13 Aviva Premiership 9th 35 LV= Cup 2nd in pool Challenge Cup 2nd in pool
2013–14 Aviva Premiership 10th 36 LV= Cup 3rd in pool Challenge Cup 2nd in pool
2014–15 Aviva Premiership 10th 40 LV= Cup 4th in pool Challenge Cup Quarter-final
2015–16 Aviva Premiership 12th (R) 20 No competition N/A Challenge Cup Quarter-final
2016–17 Greene King IPA Championship 1st (P) 91 Champions British and Irish Cup Semi-final Not qualified N/A
2017–18 Aviva Premiership 12th (R) 22 Anglo-Welsh Cup 2nd in pool Challenge Cup 3rd in pool
2018–19 Greene King IPA Championship 1st (P) 99 Champions Championship Cup Runners-up Not qualified N/A
2019–20 Gallagher Premiership 10th 34 Premiership Cup 3rd in pool Challenge Cup 4th in pool
2020–21 Gallagher Premiership 9th 48 No competition N/A Challenge Cup Quarter-final
2021–22 Gallagher Premiership 8th 63 Premiership Cup Runners-up Challenge Cup Quarter-final
2022–23 Gallagher Premiership 5th 55 Premiership Cup Runners-up Heineken Cup Round of 16

Gold background denotes champions
Silver background denotes runners-up
Pink background denotes relegated

* Finished first in pool but did not progress to the quarter-final. Their place was taken by Brive[18][19]

Club honours edit

Major Honours edit

Friendly edit

Notable former players edit

Rugby World Cup edit

The following are players who have represented their countries at the Rugby World Cup whilst being registered with London Irish:

Tournament Players selected England players Other national team players
1999 7 Malcolm O'Kelly  , Kieron Dawson  , Justin Bishop  , Conor O'Shea  , Julian Loveday  , Isaac Fe'aunati  , Stephen Bachop  
2003 0
2007 7 Peter Richards, Mike Catt Olivier Magne  , Juan Manuel Leguizamón  , Gonzalo Tiesi  , Seilala Mapusua  , Sailosi Tagicakibau  
2011 8 Alex Corbisiero, Delon Armitage, Shontayne Hape Joe Ansbro  , Jebb Sinclair  , Paulică Ion  , Ofisa Treviranus  , Sailosi Tagicakibau  
2015 6 Blair Cowan  , Sean Maitland  , Asaeli Tikoirotuma  , Ofisa Treviranus  , Halani Aulika  , Jebb Sinclair  
2019 6 Allan Dell  , Motu Matu'u  , TJ Ioane  , Steve Mafi  , Bryce Campbell   Alivereti Veitokani  

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "London Irish suspended from Gallagher Premiership and all leagues by RFU due to financial issues". Sky Sports. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  2. ^ Palmer, Bryn (16 May 2009). "Leicester 10–9 London Irish". BBC News.
  3. ^ "London Irish 15–21 Toulouse". BBC News. 26 April 2008.
  4. ^ Club history –beginnings Retrieved 20 September 2015
  5. ^ Morgan, Charlie (2 May 2023). "RFU in contact with London Irish over failure to pay April wages". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  6. ^ Mairs, Gavin (15 May 2023). "Revealed: Head of consortium bidding to take over London Irish is California lawyer Chip Sloan". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  7. ^ Sara Orchard (31 May 2023). "London Irish granted further extension until 6 June to complete takeover". BBC Sport.
  8. ^ "London Irish crisis deepens after winding-up petition issued against club". The Irish Times.
  9. ^ "London Irish served winding-up petition over unpaid tax bill". 26 June 2023.
  10. ^ "No Luck on Paddy's Day for Irish". Guinness Retrieved 16 March 2008.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "London Irish Aviva Premiership Rugby match in USA". London Irish. 27 October 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  12. ^ Hyde, Nathan. "London Irish could soon leave Madejski Stadium". Get Reading. Trinity Mirror Southern. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  13. ^ "Approval for rugby". Brentford Community Stadium. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  14. ^ "Back in Town — The Irish are Returning to London!". London Irish. 18 December 2018. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  15. ^ [1] Archived 15 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Digger Wins 'Best Mascot' Award". London Irish. Archived from the original on 14 June 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  17. ^ "Steven Orton is fundraising for Spinal Research – JustGiving". JustGiving. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  18. ^ "Challenge Cup | Pool Tables".
  19. ^ "Challenge Cup | Fixtures & Results".

Notes edit

External links edit