London Irish back in London and hoping to bring in more Irish fans

London Irish are set to return to their south west London base as they move into the new Brentford Community Stadium next month, ending their two-decade stay at the Madjeski Stadium.

Their first competitive game at the newly constructed 17,250 seat stadium is slated for 29 November, as they face Leicester Tigers in their first home game of the 20/21 Aviva Premiership season.

The move was decided back in 2018 and London Irish will be ground-sharing with Brentford, who are also very excited for the start of the new season in their new home.

Irish were forced to leave the Avenue in Sunbury in 1999 after 68 years in order to adhere to Premiership Rugby’s regulations, as the stadium could only hold a capacity of 6,600, which opened the club to a move to the 24,000-seat Madejski stadium in Reading.

Jeremy Browne, the current chair of the London Irish Supporter’s Club (LISC), an independent group of supporters established in 1998, hopes the move will expand the fan base, as well as having a positive effect on the team’s performances.

He said: “This is very much a long-term view from the club, positioning itself back in west London and there is a lot of excitement in the capital that suddenly London Irish has become very accessible once again.

“The transport is great. You probably have to take a couple of trains but Kew Bridge station is almost part of the ground. The back of the stand actually falls onto the station platform.

“I think the move will definitely attract a larger fan base. They have done extremely well with corporate sales already. The Great West Road leading up to Brentford is a tremendous business area so it will attract a lot of customers.”  

Browne also thinks that the upcoming move will spark a resurgence of interest from the Irish nationals based in the capital, who may not have travelled to Reading.

He said: “One of the primary reasons for being situated in west London is that there is still a huge second and third generation Irish contingent in those areas.

“I am sure that when fans are able to return, the die-hard Irish fans will be out in force and it will be a more passionate fanbase than ever before.”

Describing the difference between the Madjeski and Brentford Community Stadium, Browne alluded to the way that the new ground has been constructed and designed with rugby union in mind.

“The Madjeski Stadium is a football ground adapted for rugby, whereas the London Irish hierarchy have had a substantial input into the layout of the Brentford Community Stadium.

“In fact, when Irish agreed to go, they made changes to the design of the stadium to go along with the type of entertainment that would occur at a rugby game.  

“The objective of a football match is to keep the supporters apart. The objective of a rugby game is to encourage the supporters to mingle.

“I have spoken to a couple of the players. They’ve obviously been inside the stadium and seen the facilities. They’re all very excited about it.”

SUPPORTERS: Jerry Browne (centre right) and Duncan Kendall (right) meet supporters from Scarlets ahead of January’s Challenge Cup tie

Despite Browne’s optimism, the LISC chair does not predict the move to have an instant impact on The Exiles, who have been relegated to the Championship in two of the last five seasons and survived the drop in this campaign with a tenth place finish.

He said: “I certainly don’t think success is going to be instant. I don’t expect us to do what Bristol have done, to come up and very quickly be in the top positions, because they have invested huge sums of money and London Irish are doing quite the opposite.

“We pride ourselves on growing the academy and producing home grown talent, so it’s going to be a gradual process and we are not going to shoot up the table straight-away.

“The aspiration for next year is to be mid-table, maybe making it into the European Cup if we can, that’s the sort of area I think we’re looking to be.”

As a result of the pandemic, the London Irish faithful will not be able to see their team in action at the new stadium for the foreseeable future.

Browne added: “It’s very difficult to get too excited about it at the moment as the fans aren’t going to be able to see the opening matches. We’ll all be tuning in to BT Sport.

“We’re just all desperate to get back watching and to experience the atmosphere. I think that’s going to be the turning point for us, when we can really start to get a feel for the new stadium.”

The University of West London became the first official Founder Partners of the stadium last month.

Related Articles