By Harry Mottram: The Rugby Football Union gave London Irish RFC until Tuesday 6 June, 2023, to pay outstanding wages and produce information about a take-over after extending the deadline for a week. Reports are that the conditions were not met so the club has been suspended from the top flight league and follow the demise of Wasps and Worcester leaving only seven clubs in the premiership.
Mick Crossan owns the club but has been in negotiations with an American business group who were set to buy London Irish – and there lies the problem as the deadline has passed for them to show their figures to the Rugby Union and plans for the Gtech Stadium and ground set up in Brentford. Plus the club has failed to pay the staff, players and suppliers monies owed.
Eyebrows have been raised in the media and the sport more widely that the club employs 250 staff. Bath Voice understands that Crossan agreed to pay 50% of the wages so at least the staff and players could bank cheques to help cover their living costs. The RFU were not impressed with the gesture and wanted the salaries to be paid in full and daylight shone on the takeover – a buy out that had been promised for weeks. Now the club is set to exit the league with immediate effect leaving another hole in the fixture list for Bath.
The failure to meet the RFU’s criteria also leaves a £30 million pound debt. Things looked bleak with the players at one stage threatening to strike with the final fixtures in doubt last month. Some are now voting with their feet and are being linked to rival clubs or looking to play abroad next season on in the Championship. Bath RFC have been linked by some in the sport to Henry Arundell who used to follow the club as a youngster while England under-20s back-row Chandler Cunningham‑South could be a target for the remaining topflight clubs.
It would be a further blow to a shrinking market for professional rugby players with a third club letting go of players – most clubs will have already set their budgets for the new season with some players leaving the sport at the top level. And with reports that Newcastle Falcons are also in financial trouble with reports last month they may seek voluntary relegation to the Championship to save money – news that is not helping the business of Rugby Union.
What is needed is a temporary relaxation of ground capacities for Championship clubs so promotion of teams in the second tier would be made easier – thus making up the numbers in the top flight.