London Irish to play their games in Brentford from 2020
By Damian Dolan
London Irish Rugby Club will play its home matches in London from the start of the 2020/21 season after plans for its return to its historic heartlands were confirmed by the club.
The club announced its ground-share at Brentford FC’s new 17,250-seater stadium, situated in Lionel Road South, near to Kew Bridge in Brentford, west London is definitely happening.
Since 2000, the club’s professional first-team has played its home matches at the Madejski Stadium in Reading – the home of Reading Football Club.
London Irish enjoyed great success in Reading, winning the Powergen Cup in 2002 and reaching the Heineken Cup semi-finals and the Premiership final in 2009.
But in recent years the club has twice been relegated to the Championship and getting supporters to turn out in force at Reading has become harder to do.
The club’s President Mick Crossan, who took over the club in 2013 and has poured many millions of pounds of his own money into the club, said: “In moving to the Brentford Community Stadium we feel confident that we will be able to attract a larger supporter base to join us as we build for the future, reaching out to our previous west London catchment area, to Greater London and the Irish diaspora throughout the UK.
“We are therefore very pleased to have agreed this deal with Brentford’s management and are looking forward to working closely with them to make the Brentford Community Stadium an outstanding home for us.
“Our special thanks to Matthew Benham, Cliff Crown, Mark Devlin, Conor Hayes, Alan Walsh and all at Brentford Football Club for facilitating this partnership. I can’t wait to see the team run out to play its first game in 2020!”
Under former Ireland head coach Declan Kidney, London Irish are currently top of the Championship, English rugby’s second tier, and are on course to make an immediate return to the Premiership.
Construction work on the new Brentford Community Stadium began earlier this year once Hounslow Council approved revised plans for the development a year ago in December 2017.
The new ground is next door to Kew Bridge station (South Western Railway) with outstanding transport links and its excellent facilities are designed to meet the elite athletic needs of both Premiership Rugby and Premier League football.
“The stadium will be an outstanding venue. It is the right size in a great location and will provide a superb match-day experience for our supporters and sponsors alike. We’re looking forward to recapturing the special atmosphere and all-day experience we had at The Avenue, where ‘The Craic’ was born,” said Mr Crossan, who is chief executive of London Irish’s principal sponsor, Powerday.
“The fantastic facilities at Brentford Community Stadium will complement our unrivalled training base at Hazelwood, which is the spiritual home of the whole London Irish family all the way from the minis and juniors in the amateur club up to the professional team, and having the two within easy reach of each other was a significant part of our decision-making process.
“The excellent transport links will mean that our existing and new supporters alike will find the stadium very accessible. We will be working hard with our existing supporters including all those based in the Thames Valley to highlight the various routes into the Brentford/Kew area given the adjacent M4 and existing train and Underground services, as well as the new Crossrail connection which opens in 2019 linking Reading into west London.
“Importantly, we also have the full support of both Brentford FC and Hounslow Council, who are very keen to see London Irish play at the stadium and to fully explore the synergy between the two clubs particularly in terms of their excellent community programmes.”
Mr Crossan added: “I would also like to take some time to thank everyone at Reading FC who have made us feel welcome at the Madejski Stadium over the past 19 years and are most accommodating landlords – especially Sir John Madejski, Nigel Howe, Bryan Stabler, Ray Booth and, latterly, Lady Sasima Srivikorn, Mr Yongge Dai and Miss Xui Li Dai – and I would like to wish Reading FC every success in the future.
“Thank you as well to the supporters from the Reading area who have become part of the London Irish family since 2000, and we hope you will continue supporting us on our journey in the future.
“Finally, I would like to thank the London Irish Board of Directors, current and past, for their hard work in steering the realisation of the London Irish vision and securing the financial stability of the club.
“I’m delighted that we are now able to finally announce that London Irish will play their matches at Brentford Community Stadium from the 2020/21 season.”
The original 2016 planning application for the new stadium, submitted by Lionel Road Developments Ltd and Kew Bridge Gate Developments LLP on behalf of Brentford Football Club, included a request for permission “to allow playing of professional rugby at the stadium by London Irish Rugby Football Club”.
London Irish stated that they wished to use the facility as “their home ground, returning to their origins”.
In February 2017, Hounslow Council granted a license for rugby to be played at the stadium.
Leader of Hounslow Council Councillor Steve Curran said: “I am delighted to hear the announcement that London Irish’s new home will be the new Brentford Community Stadium currently under construction. This is great news for the Borough; we now not only have an excellent football club in Brentford, but will now have a fantastic rugby club as well.
“Both clubs also have something else in common. They have their local community at their heart and provide excellent services and projects, particularly encouraging young people to take part in sport.
“I am sure their involvement in the Borough will go from strength to strength when the new stadium is open in 2020 and I would like to wish both Brentford and London Irish every success for the future.”
London Irish were contracted to play at the Madejski Stadium until the 2025/26 season, but it is understood a break clause permits Reading to release London Irish.
London Irish moved to the Madejski Stadium in 2000, after one season as tenants at the Twickenham Stoop – the home of Harlequins Rugby Club. The club had previously been based at The Avenue in Sunbury-on-Thames, it’s historic home.
The club moved into its state-of-the-art training facility at Hazelwood, in Sunbury, in 2014.
Brentford’s current ground at Griffin Park will be redeveloped for housing.