This week Premiership Rugby lost its third club inside one season when London Irish failed to prove they’d last for another financial year.
And with a mixture of sadness, pain, anger and desire for change, fans have spoken to City A.M. about the experience of losing their club.
“Right now I feel numb. I doubt it will all feel truly real until next season starts rolling around,” journalist and Exiles fan Matt Merritt told City A.M.
“Most of all I feel incredibly sad, because a part of my life is missing, but more so because a lot of good people are out of work.”
Student Conor Tierney agrees. “I’m absolutely heartbroken that London Irish is no more.
“It’s been far more than just a rugby team, it’s been the pillar of my family since I was born.
“I refuse to accept that I won’t be watching them again from the stands. Whether it’s a phoenix club, Championship franchise or other, I would give anything to see London Irish again as a professional outfit.”
The pain among fans is clear to see after six months of fruitless negotiations between existing owner Mick Crossan and an American consortium, which was said to include ex-NFL and NBA players.
The consortium’s takeover never materialised, leaving fans feeling like they’ve been led down a track of false promises.
“I’m angry that it fell apart and seemingly the club’s board have been taken in and strung along for six months or more,” one fan said.
“And I’m concerned about how club rugby continues to falter but there seems to be no attempt at fixing it with bigger ideas.”
“I think Crossan sounds ridiculous trying to put everything on the consortium,” another said. “Why on earth did he gamble everything on one deal and not come up with a plan B?
London Irish gone
“Why did the RFU not step in and look at something like an agreed relegation and cost cutting by going down a division (or two)?”
The Rugby Football Union will argue, with some justification, that they acted with an even hand towards London Irish, Worcester Warriors and Wasps.
Keiran said: “I am very very angry! How could this alleged American consortium manage to string every one along for so long?
“Staff and players are now jobless as a result despite their sacrifices for the club.
“Other companies like catering suppliers have now lost revenue as well, possibly putting them under financial pressure.”
But the blame isn’t entirely laid at the door of the owners or the would-be buyers. Some believe in a perfect, destructive storm.
“Time may heal and maybe I’ll take in an Ealing game, but for the foreseeable my link with rugby will be as head coach for Grasshoppers U8’s and I’ll avoid the Premiership,” James Fox said.
“I’m not massively into blame and think a combination of a perfect storm, plus everyone involved not quite being their best, has left us here.
“If teams like Leicester Tigers had to inject a reported £13m to stay stable, clubs like Irish with a smaller fan base and no stadium [of their own] have almost no chance.”
Liam, though, feels anger. “Honestly my initial feelings on Tuesday evening were utter devastation,” he said.
“Four days on there is now a lot of anger mixed in as well; losing three clubs since October is gross negligence of the highest level.
“It was only back in 2021 there were talks of the league expanding to 14 teams, now it is a sorry state with only 10 teams remaining.
“It’s hard to process my emotions towards Mick Crossan – if he didn’t want to carry on, he didn’t want to carry on. There is also a huge feeling of betrayal there towards the American consortium.
“My interest in the Premiership is non-existent right now.”
Alexander called for the league to be the subject of investigation – adding a desire for proof that the Americans even existed – while Rob feels “bereft”, adding that he will miss the “thrill of a European quarter-final on a Friday night” and the friends he has made over the years.
James simply says that while the devastation remains and there’s blame for a number of individuals, that he and others “are hopeful of the phoenix club [where a club can be resurrected under a new organisation] as many of us feel it’s almost impossible to put as much passion into another club”.
Rugby has lost an iconic team due to celebrate their 125th birthday, and that’s hugely damaging to the English game as a whole. But at the centre of it are fans and employees who feel deflated, neglected and let down by individuals on both sides of the pond.