London Irish have been kicked out of English rugby after failing to meet funding deadlines set by its governing body the RFU.
The club were given until 4pm today to either finalise a takeover of the Premiership outfit – who share a ground with Premier League football club Brentford – by an American consortium or prove that they could survive the next 12 months under current owner Mick Crossan.
The deadline was originally set for last week but the RFU handed the club a one-week extension to ensure that players could receive some of their wages – believed to be 50 per cent.
The club also face a winding-up order from HM Revenue and Customs, though this was likely to have been a minor stumbling block for any takeover deal with the funds to complete their purchase.
A London Irish source told City A.M. that they were “devastated” and that the future is “bleak and uncertain”.
The loss of London Irish marks a dark year for Premiership rugby, with almost a quarter of the clubs that started the season now banished from the top flight.
An RFU statement read: “As a result of London Irish and its potential buyers being unable to provide reassurances over the club’s financial ability to operate in the Premiership in the 2023/24 season, the RFU has confirmed the club is not able to participate in any league next season.”
RFU chief Bill Sweeney said: “This is desperately sad news for everyone who is part of the London Irish community as well as all the players, fans, staff and volunteers for whom this club means so much.
“Despite requesting evidence over the last six months and receiving assurances on multiple occasions that we would receive proof of ownership and funds; it has not materialised.”
The club have had their backs to the wall in recent weeks despite sources close to the American consortium – led by ex-NBA and NFL players and advised by sports agency Redstrike – insisting they were working around the clock to complete a takeover.
There have also been reports of the consortium’s interest being focused on London Irish’s training base, which has been home to NFL training sessions in the past.
Premiership Rugby chief Simon Massie-Taylor added: “As a league we are making significant progress in recalibrating so that Premiership Rugby prospers in the seasons ahead.”
“In the meantime, if an owner decides to withdraw financial support for a club, we have limited options to keep it going.”
The fall of Worcester Warriors, Wasps and now London Irish is a wake-up call to the chiefs of English rugby reeling from the loss of three clubs within nine months.
Wasps have fallen to the 10th tier of the rugby pyramid while Worcester Warriors’ future remains uncertain given the radio silence from their new owners.
Tom Ilube, chair of the RFU board, said: “We currently contribute £25 million to the Premiership each year but cannot continue to invest in failing business models. That means tough investment decisions.
“To thrive, rugby clubs need to have a wide-ranging offering and varied revenue streams. All three clubs that have failed this season have had fragile business models for many years.
“The structure and ownership of a stadium is a factor alongside reliance on a single funder, challenging societal trends, financial mismanagement, and an insufficiently large fan base.
Not all three clubs had all these issues, but they faced a combination of these factors over many years before Covid and the current economic downturn.”