During the summer I had a very lively chat with a board member from the Brentford supporters’ trust – but it all went terribly quiet when I asked about the rumour that London Irish were going to move into the Bees’ new stadium. So the recent news that London Irish were looking to break their lease agreement came as no surprise.
From a STAR perspective we see this as wholly good news, as we imagine most of those connected with London Irish will do too. Amongst our objectives are the promotion of association football as a sport and support for the local community of Reading and Berkshire. It’s clear the long-term presence of a high profile London rugby club at the Mad Stad doesn’t easily fit with either of those aims.
The short-term, hard cash case for a rugby tenant is understandable:
- £600,000 pa revenue (which doesn’t seem to go up and may be in decline already)
- Presumably the spreading of certain stadium costs
- Gives the stadium staff something else to do / sell
- Exposes rugby fans to the benefits of watching Reading (no evidence for this!)
But STAR takes a longer-term, bigger picture view – the luxury and prerogative of lifelong supporters – and sees dangers down the road in sharing a stadium with a leading rugby club. If you don’t believe us, ask the fans of Coventry City and Stockport County: involvement with rugby union has cost those clubs very dear and it didn’t do Wycombe Wanderers any favours either.
There was a brief moment when the Irish economy was flush with money and Sir John Madejski was looking to sell that there might be Irish owners of Reading FC and London Irish. One wonders what their priorities might have been. Don’t assume rugby is football’s friend.
In fact we’ve been lucky in a way. Irish’s tenancy has coincided with the greatest period in our history while they have struggled. If it had been the other way round it might have had a real effect on our gates. As far as we know the crossover of Reading fans watching rugby, rather than following us away, is pretty small.
If London Irish do decamp back to their natural home territory of south west London we see the advantages to Reading being:
- A better quality pitch to play on / better quality football
- Potentially more exposure of our academy teams at the Madejski Stadium
- More football branding and character within the stadium (though this has noticeably improved since 2012 anyway)
- Less nuisance, traffic and parking issues around the stadium for local residents, especially in the context of the Royal Elm Park complex
- A stronger position for, and on focus on, association football in the local community and media with gradual and long-term benefits of support for the club
Of course this doesn’t help the club’s immediate desire for some cash in hand, but we don’t see a problem with staging the occasional rugby international or semi-final at the stadium.