THE recent takeover of London Irish by a consortium of London-based Irish businessmen has re-invigorated interest in a club that had lost touch with it’s roots.
We met with Mick Crossan, the club’s new president and chairman of Powerday plc – a recycling and waste management company – to discuss what the takeover means and what fans can expect….
You said London Irish is “a sleeping giant in terms of its unrealised potential”. What area of potential excites you most?
The branding. We believe London Irish should be a global brand.
So, as well as getting it right on the playing field, we will get it right commercially and there are a few things we have discussed and everyone will be becoming aware of in the next few months for what our vision is for the rest of this season and certainly after moving into out new home at Hazelwood, our new training facilities, where we will go with the club from there.
What are your plans to bolster the club’s Irish roots?
Certainly. London has been an Irish club, but our fanbase, most of our fanbase, is around the Berkshire Thames Valley.
So that is where we see… We would love the Irish community to come on board, but it is not that we are going down one road. We want every community to come out and enjoy the matchday experience.
What are your plans to engage with the Irish community?
Plans are to look at Irish-qualified players.
But that does not mean that if the right player comes up who we believe would benefit the club, that we will not see whether we can get that player.
But he has to be the right player and the right player for the club and the right player to engage with in the community spirit that this club has got.
Could a move away from Reading help you bolster the club’s Irish roots?
Yeah. A lot of people I know complain that getting out to Reading… It is mostly not the getting out, it is mostly the getting home after a few pints…
But we see that if you want to go somewhere, you will go somewhere. If you want to follow a team you will follow over land and sea. It does not really matter.
You mentioned that a lot of people who used to go to London Irish that you know do not go anymore. Are a lot of them Irish people?
It is a mixture of people. It is not just predominantly Irish people. London Irish is a home for every walk of life.
We are known for the Exiles and there is a reason for that; once you are away from your own country you are an exile from that country. So with open arms we will greet you if you want to be a part of the London Irish community or come down.
There will always be a welcome here for anyone. And hopefully it will show that this is a huge community club.
Would you like to see the club move into London again?
Ummmm… We are contracted to Reading until the 25/26 season. My own thoughts do not come into it.
What we need to do, we are where we are, we need to be saying to people: “Come out and enjoy the experience of Reading. There has been a huge infrastructure improvement at Reading station and in 25 minutes you can be in Paddington.”
As a fan would you like to see LI back in London though?
The answer to that would be that it is in the name. It is London Irish. But as I say, we are contracted to Reading for the next 12/13 years, so that is where we will be.
Why now? What prompted the takeover?
We felt the time was right with moving away now from selling our ancestral home here at The Avenue in Sunbury. The facilities in Hazelwood are state-of-the-art.
I would imagine that our facilities will be the best in the country. We have 23 pitches there, a lovely clubhouse, our offices, so it will all be under one roof.
All I can say is that the London Irish family can only grow by moving to the new facility and we have been here since 1934, but there is a new day, a new dawn and we will move on with London Irish.
Was it the direction the club was going that prompted you? On the field results?
Yeah, you could see that we were always nearly there and then the last few years the investment has dwindled in the playing staff, the coaching staff, so that is where we are coming back.
We have always known the potential at London Irish I and we want to make sure that London Irish is the best there is.
What is your vision?
Premiership winners, European, world-dominators…
How hard have the past few months and years been watching the club get further and further from those goals?
But if you look at some of the games we have lost, there has been little or nothing in it — Newcastle we had the opportunity, Leicester we had opportunities.
So we are not far away from where we see us moving up the table. We play a fantastic brand of rugby. Up at Leicester we were the ones playing the rugby.
We suffered in some positions and that was through a lot of bad injuries in key positions. So if we can get everyone back fit and healthy, we will be a force to be reckoned with.
How hard has it been seeing the lack of investment you mentioned?
That is difficult for me to say. People have their own reasons. We have our own reasons now and the way I look at it what is gone is gone.
We will finish 2013 in good style and we are all looking forward to the challenge in 2014 and onwards from there.
Will Brian Smith be able to spend the full salary cap?
[Laughing] Hopefully he won’t have to.
But will he be able to?
Yeah. The money is available. We will be sitting down with Brian and the rest of the team listening to them. But what we have to make sure is that he brings the right people in in the right positions and the right people for this club.
That is the most important thing for me, to get the right people into this club who will come through with the passion that we will show people is here.
How far does your London Irish connection go back?
I first came here in the late 1980s and I was invited down by a couple of guys; Finbar Kelly, Joe Kelliher and Ray O’Rourke from Laing O’Rourke.
My first experience here was a loss, but the place was absolutely buzzing and I thought: ‘Christ, what is it like when they win?’ That, for me, won me over.
Since that day rugby has come a long way and we will move on now. Maybe the time is right for everyone; leaving here, moving to a new ground, new people coming in, new investment, new vision, all positive things for London Irish.