An Irish welcome home for City’s rugby team

Ollie Hoskins of London Irish in action against James Gaskell of Wasps during the Aviva Premiership Rugby match between London Irish and Wasps at Madejski Stadium on November 26th 2017 in Reading, Berkshire, England. (Photo by Gareth Davies/PPAUK)

THE City is famed as a bustling financial district; it is seeking to build on it’s cultural offerings with the multi-million pound Culture Mile project; but it has always fallen short on the sporting front.

It would be easy to say you can’t win them all but that is not preventing one elite level rugby club from trying to complete an ambitious ‘homecoming’.

Aviva Premiership outfit London Irish, a team whose spiritual home is – somewhat unsurprisingly – at the heart of the Capital, have been playing out of Reading’s Madejski Stadium for more than a decade.

Plans are afoot to complete a switch to Brentford in the not too distance future, but under the leadership of a new chief executive, the club is striving to reconnect with its roots here in the Square Mile.

The man at the helm is Brian Facer, who took the hotseat in October following a successful spell as commercial director at Northampton Saints.

“I kind of love it,” he told City Matters during a Q&A at Guildhall on Thursday which featured guest appearances from a trio of Irish stars, legendary broadcaster Ian Robertson, and ex-All Black world cup winner Ian Gallagher.

“We are trying to achieve something very special at the moment, after all we are called London Irish for a reason.

“Just because we moved out doesn’t mean that our heart and soul isn’t in the City; this is a bit of a homecoming for us.”

The club trains out of Sunbury, and with “the best facilities” Brian has ever seen at this level on offer to players and Irish’s extensive youth programmes, he says now is the right time to make the transition “back home”.

news london
man at the helm: Brian Facer is determined to re-energise London Irish’s relationship with the Capital; the club uses part of the City of London Corporation’s crest in its emblem

“There are changes to be made, but not changes that are frightening. Getting the chance to set your own will to a project is actually not that daunting.”

While re-energising the club’s history is top of the agenda for Brian, so is attracting new investment into the club; something that shouldn’t prove too much of a problem if he can tap into the City’s unrivalled affluence.

“It all started with the lawyers and stockbrokers based in the City who came over from Ireland who wanted to play rugby,” Brian explained.

“Now we want to bring the club back to the City and this is the first in a series of events that will help us flourish here. But it’s not an overnight plan – we’re calling it an evolution not a revolution.”

Staple to the early plans are visits to local schools to underline the mantra of rugby, and how respect in the classroom will lead to a more respectful society.

Brian hopes the good work that is starting to take shape off the pitch will translate to an upturn in fortune on it.

London Irish were promoted to the top flight in the summer, but after an opening day win have slipped to seven straight league defeats. Brian says the picture is not as black and white as the results list suggests, and that in recent weeks performances have warranted a greater share of the spoils.

“It is hard to get across just how massive the gulf is between the Premiership and the Championship. It is a hard transition.

“We have put together a quality bunch of individuals but sometimes it is about realising that rugby is a pragmatic game and taking the odd sanity check.

“We are hardening to the challenges of the Premiership, and in the coming weeks and the second half of the season we will start to see it all click.”