London Irish could today become the third Premiership rugby club within 12 months to cease being able to call themselves one of England’s top flight sides.
Amid financial concerns surrounding the club – who share their home with Premier League outfit Brentford – the Rugby Football Union gave the club until today to either prove the current owners, spearheaded by Mick Crossan, or a prospective consortium involving sports agency Redstrike and ex-NFL and NBA players could demonstrate proof of funds for next season.
London Irish on the edge
Though a spokesperson for the American group would not say whether they were confident of closing the deal, they did reiterate that parties had been working throughout the weekend to strike a deal for the Premiership club who finished fifth in the league this season.
Losing a third club would amount to a loss of 23 per cent of the clubs who began the year, and demonstrate further the huge financial instability of rugby in England at the moment.
Saturday’s Premiership final – Where Saracens claimed their sixth title with a 35-25 win over Sale Sharks – saw an attendance of just 61,875, down over 10,000 on last year and the smallest non-Covid-19 crowd in a final since 2007.
The future of London Irish hangs in the balance and their downfall could contribute to as many as 200 unemployed players across the summer – along with disbanded clubs Worcester Warriors and Wasps.
The 30 May deadline was imposed to grant other clubs clarity over their planning ahead of next season, especially in the Championship.
“The proposed takeover of London Irish by an American consortium has led to a significant amount of uncertainty and speculation about the future of the club, which is having an impact on players, staff, and fans of the club,” the RFU statement from a fortnight ago said.
“As a result, the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA [Rugby Players’ Association] is seeking to take action to obtain greater clarity on the future of London Irish.
“It is imperative that the club will be in a position to take its place in the Gallagher Premiership in season 2023/24, and to complete that season.
“If the club fails to meet these conditions [listed above] it will be suspended from participating in the Premiership (and other competitions) in season 2023/24 to avoid a scenario where the club enters insolvency mid-season, with the corresponding and substantial impact that has on players, staff, and fans, as well as on the remainder of the league.”