London Irish Rugby Club has been acquired by a consortium of London based Irish businessmen. The group is led by Mick Crossan, Executive Chairman of recycling business Powerday who are also the main sponsor of the club which plays in the English Premiership, and in recent years has bounced between the Heineken Cup and Amlin Cup.
The takeover was agreed yesterday and will include ownership of the company that owns and will operate the club’s new Centre of Excellence training and administration complex at Hazelwood to the south west of the city that is on schedule to open in summer 2014.
Crossan will become President of London Irish and David Fitzgerald, a former London Irish club captain who has been involved in a number of international investment businesses, will be interim Executive Chairman.
During the summer, the successful completion of the sale of the club’s home for the past 79 years at The Avenue, Sunbury on Thames, prompted the then majority shareholders to review their position.
The club has been loss making throughout 18 years of professional rugby but has been prudently managed. It does not own its stadium which is a handicap but will continue to play at the Madjeski Stadium in Reading where it has drawn an average gate of 9,000.
The club is believed to be operating at around 60% of the £4.2 million salary cap that applies in Premiership Rugby but it is thought that the new investors will raise this.
A key statement of intent would be the signing of a major Irish international and attention is likely to focus on the negotiation being undertaken in Munster and Leinster with Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip.
“The club is known and respected throughout the world and is a sleeping giant in terms of its unrealised potential,” said Mike Crossan speaking at the announcement of the deal. “We’re looking forward to working with all the club’s stakeholders to take it to the next level.”
London Irish has a thriving mini and youth section which hosts the biggest Mini Rugby Festival in this country every April.
Earlier this year the club announced that it had acquired the Hazelwood Golf Club in Sunbury on Thames as the location for its new Centre of Excellence training and administration complex. Work is well advanced on the construction of the new facilities and the five full sized adult pitches and 12 junior pitches which will be ready for use in summer 2014.
No mention was made of the future of English clubs in the Heineken Cup or another European tournament, though this will clearly be of major importance