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Open Letter to Brian Facer


By Griff
December 20 2018

The waiting is over, Irish have announced that they're moving their home games to Bremtford Community Stadium at the start of the 2020/21 season. It's been in the air for a long time and it's good to finally know what's happening. As a member of the Reading 4 - so called because the marketing manager at the time of the move to the MadStad said that every supporter lost from West London would replaced by 4 from Reading - it's bittersweet news. We obviously want what's best for the club but worry this may signal the end of our active support for the team. Irish CEO Brian Facer wrote me (and all season-ticket holders I assume) a letter detailing his, and the team's. excitment for the move so I've written a response which I hope sums up the feelings of similarly placed supporters.

Dear Mr Facer,

Thank you for your letter regarding London Irish's move home to West London - it is an exciting prospect and one that I hope does the club a great deal of good. I'm writing this, partially because we need an article to keep our site alive but also because I hope my experience with the club can help with the next phase.

I became an Irish supporter at the time of the last move - to Reading - but I'll start a little earlier than that if I may. As a Reading resident I began my journey with professional rugby with Richmond when they came to the MadStad. It was a reasonable matchday and the rugby was entertaining enough, sadly their backer pulled-out and left the club in a horrible position. They, along with London Scottish, were forced to fold their professional teams and that was that.

I'd only been a supporter for a few years but it still felt terrible to see "my" team evaporate in front of me. I thought that was it for me and professional rugby, I certainly wasn't going to switch my allegiance to another team...

Then Irish came to the Madejski. I still felt the same way but, being a sports fan and having got used to watching live rugby regularly, I thought I'd go along and get my live sport fix - I had no intention of becoming a supporter.

From the first couple of minutes on arrival at the stadium, however, it was obvious that this was a different proposition entirely. The supporters who made the move from London to Reading along with the club staff were so incredibly welcoming - I'd hardly interacted with any of the other supporters or staff at Richmond. The difference was incredible and the experience one I will cherish to my last breath. It felt like I'd come home.

Over the past nearly twenty years I've followed this team all over the place - I've missed out on a lot for annoying real-life reasons but I think I've covered a great many of the highlights. I'm no longer a Reading resident but I still make the journey for almost all home games.

The matchday experience at the beginning was incredible. Sure, a big concrete bowl less than half-full was challenging but the club worked hard and made it as good a home as they could. The cow-shed was pretty cold some days but it was always a party and we all felt part of the team. I met so many lovely people and a great many of them are friends to this day.

In order to combat the empty-concrete-bowl we started bringing drums - one of our number was particularly taken by the drums in Toulouse on an away trip and thought it could help. I think it did and, for more years than I care to think about, I've been one of the drum corps at home games (and a very few away).

One thing that has happened is that the matchday has become less and less special. We've lost a lot of the original folks who made it so for a lot of different reasons - some to mistakes by the club, more from changes to their lives. It will always be the case - the move back to London will cost a great many of the Reading-based support. The issue wasn't that these people stopped coming, it was that they were not replaced. It has felt over recent years like the club has lost a lot of its soul. It doesn't feel, no matter how many marketing phrases the club put out to that effect, like we the support are part of the club.

I suspect that matchday support is quite a small part of the club's income, and it's a difficult part to affect - you can blow lots of money trying to gain new support and it doesn't always, if ever, pay off. I would urge you, though, to consider the uniqueness of our erstwhile support. Those people who came from London (and elsewhere) to Reading really were the difference that made this club so special, not because of where they were from but because they understood London Irish. Indeed many of the newcomers from Reading were shown that understanding and took it on themselves.

Sadly a lot of that has gone and, for me, the main reason was that the club never engaged with the local community. The few forays in Reading always felt like outreach programs not genuine attempts to build a community and the bottom line was that Irish would always return to London and so Reading and its people mostly felt like guests, not members of the family. When Mr Crossan and his consortium took over they, not unreasonably, voiced this intention to return home and the serious crowd decline began.

Please don't misundesrstand me, I do know that's where the team feels is home, and as I said at the beginning I think it's an incredible opportunity to fix what I hope I'm illustrating.

You may have noticed I've not actually mentioned the rugby at all in my journey. When Irish arrived in Reading they were one of the lower placed of the Premiership and, while we had a brief sparkle for a while, we've pretty-much stayed at that level. The last few years of yoyoing between Prem and Championship have obviously been a low-point but here's the thing - back at my beginning it didn't matter, not because I didn't care about the results - believe me I used to care so much that waking up the day after a loss was painful (and I'm not alluding to hang-overs, it felt like grief at times). The reason it didn't matter was that we were all in it together and the team, while not having the same number of star players as our opposition, never stopped playing. I've seen some terrible, terrible rugby matches but I've seen my team grind out ugly wins that meant more than life itself in the moment. The rugby isn't the thing - it's the team.

So, here we have a new chapter, and one that can be glorious so long as we make the return more than just a physical one. There are some who have stoicly come from their London homes to Reading all this time and they get their team home but they are not the whole story. The success of this move will come from building that home, making it inclusive and restoring some of the soul of the club.

The transport issues people have and will continue to raise are very real. I know people in London think their transport system is fabulous, as an outsider I'd have to beg to differ. Certain places in London are really difficult to get to - Sunbury for instance, is a nightmare. Kew/Brentford will be a new experience for me - I'm hoping it'll work out but I really don't know. As a drummer I drive to home games currently because I have to transport my drum. I gather parking is going to be considerably reduced but, to be honest, I'm not sure I'd drive into London anyway - I mostly avoid it currently as the roads are so congested. This could be a good thing if we as a club can reduce our environmental impact but I fear the obstacles public transport will present could well prevent me and many others from attending - without facility to store the drum at the stadium it will almost certainly stop me drumming (again, not necessarily a bad thing).

As we can see, for my part, I may become a casualty of the move but I don't think that's important. As detailed above we lost people on the move West and then lost more people for a myriad of reasons. Those losses, though, must be replaced this time - I've seen little evidence of the huge number of people waiting for rugby to watch in West London. What I suggest is that there are people who want Irish back in West London and here I'm echoing my experience with the club. Give them the Irish I came to love a couple of decades ago, not a professional rugby team - they already have them, and Quins - give them London Irish.

Merry Christmas and good luck with the move. I hope, but can't promise, to be a part of it.

Yours sincerely,
Graeme Griffiths a.k.a. Griff

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Open Letter to Brian Facer
Discussion started by The Craic www.londonirish.org , 20/12/2018 14:53
The Craic www.londonirish.org
20/12/2018 14:53
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Iron Lung
20/12/2018 16:00
Nice words Griff, I've been following Irish for a few years less than you but I can certainly relate to the difference between my first visits in 2005 and more recently.

I, like you, really hope the club can find its identity again and hope I can be part of the future.

orsoncart
21/12/2018 06:26
Good one, Griff. Like you I have been going since the move to Reading, but it has become more of a chore than a pleasure, probably ever since the original Brentford announcement.

I'm sure that the powers to be strongly believe that the Reading supporters will be replaced many times over (would these be the Brentford 4?) and I sincerely hope that they are right.

I've banged on about the need to engage, so will park that particular issue for now.

Jester
21/12/2018 08:32
Very well written Griff. I think you've hit the nail on the head (from my point of view) in that LI went from helping out the local community clubs, I often borrowed Digger for club parties, to wanting to charge for everything under the sun. The day, the craic, the people (Zoe and Poss) were what helped make the club what it was.

Hey ho! If anyone wants to watch some decent rugby tomorrow then come along to Old Bath Road as Rams (formerly Redingensians) are taking on London Irish Wild Geese, kick off 2pm.

SirBurger
21/12/2018 08:52
The experience at Reading definitely changed for the worse over the years, coinciding, unfortunately, with a downturn on the pitch as well. Hopefully we can recreate those early days in Brentford and match that with some success on the pitch.

Bazzo
21/12/2018 10:35
In reality as a close to Reading based person, who was not around in those early days, I understand the feelings that are well expressed. I do not have a season ticket now and only did for a few years. It is hard to make every game. I will try to go to as many games in Brentford when the move happens and I intend to take public transport up there. It would be nice to see us play in front of some big crowds.

I do understand the move and feel that in all honesty, not enough people in the Reading area want to watch top class rugby. We are a premiership club with the structures and facilities to play at the top level. Not sure that our current squad or coaching team is good enough, it remains to be seen.

I do agree that the Premiership should be ring fenced now. The CVC money gives them all a new chance to start, it is stupid to keep losing so much money as a business in rugby and to get the chance to start again should be taken. Brentford and the CVC deal is good for us to re-set the dial. Start again and do not mess it up this time.

waltham
21/12/2018 11:19
Well summed up Griff... almost exactly our perspective as well (except that we moved out here FROM Brentford!)...

Shawshank
21/12/2018 12:08
Interesting stuff Griff.

Out of the old regulars/ST holders I know who do not now attend, I would say 50% are due to moving away/University etc., and the other 50% due to the declining performances on the pitch.

None have said its because they don't feel engaged with the Club.

I'm not sure that an insipid 'Craic' has much to do with dwindling crowds.

b.q.f.m
21/12/2018 17:22
Beautifully put Griff.

Saz's old man
22/12/2018 08:45
Nice one Griff, I had a similar sort of journey starting with Richmond. We use to only go to home games, but then Irish arrived and it became party time following them around Europe and some hospitable clubs at home. The move to Brentford will mean every game becomes an away day and with cost involved we'll be choosing when we attend, and supporting our local team Redingensians..

LI Bohemian
22/12/2018 11:58
Very good perspective on you and probably most of the Reading 4 supporters situation, I have worked out that a one hour journey is going to be a two hour journey, when we relocate, this to me is not a problem as I have always felt a sense of belonging to the Irish supporters, this being the reason I followed the team in the first place.
I donít care that the club isn't reaching out to me, the only way it can grow is to win games and develop an attractive way to do this. I like the people I meet at the matches and have good memories of better days, with hope that they may return, but if they don't I will still hope.

Babs O
27/12/2018 11:23
Griff,

Very well put and thank you for putting your thoughts down on paper.

I have a genuine question to you and the rest of the messageboard. You mention about wanting more than just a professional team... I wonder how many of the people that are against the move to Brentford go to any other events run by the club outside match days? Also how many of those people travel to the away games? The reason I ask is because those events were and are now held at the club base and not in Reading. I can only think of a few events that have been hosted at the Madstad. South West/West London has always been our home and we just had to play our games in Reading. We always felt like tenants and I hope that feeling changes in Brentford. My opinion is that whilst London may not be ideal for everyone, whether you like it or not, it offers a wider catchment area for atracting more fans in general. It will of course help if the team is doing well too. I know practically it doesnt work for everyone but neither does Reading.

BaltiBoy
27/12/2018 14:22
Quote:
Shawshank

Out of the old regulars/ST holders I know who do not now attend, I would say 50% are due to moving away/University etc., and the other 50% due to the declining performances on the pitch.

None have said its because they don't feel engaged with the Club.

For me personally Shawshank has got this right, I am one of those that left several years ago due to the declining performances on the pitch. Up until our relegation the first time round I was a season ticket holder for the best part of 12 years, followed Irish around Europe and was very active on this message board.

However times have changed and my waning interest with Irish correlated significantly with their performances on the pitch. Over the years I had spent a significant amount of money following the team and felt that the performances on the pitch did not represent value for money. Week after week spending good money just to watch your team get constantly thumped, and knowing that you were going to get relegated (even before Christmas) was quite frankly (for me) not enjoyable.

As simple and as mercenary as it may sound I simply wanted to watch decent premiership rugby. Something for a variety of reasons LI have failed to do for a number of years now.

I am fully appreciative and understand that supporters enjoy that sense of belonging and engagement that supporting a team brings, and want to be a part of what is happening both on AND off the pitch, but like Shawshank mentions, for me that was never the case.

We are all different (thank goodness), and like others have said, I personally had no interest in the club reaching out to me, or trying to engage me, or trying to get me to 'bleed green'. Equally I don't care for the good old days, the nostalgia, the pre/post match day experience,

I simply want to see good rugby knowing that on their day my team has a chance of winning. Not something that could have been said about the last two Premiership seasons.

In my most humble of opinions reaching out to the community trying to engage them in a failing Rugby team only goes so far. It's very difficult to engage someone to 'buy'into a product that has been poor for a number of years.

The concept of the 'True Supporter' that follows their team through thick and thin is by and large a myth. Of course there will always be those defiant to the end and loyal to the cause but the vast majority of us out there are a fickle bunch and NOT 'True Supporters' hence we have left which is evidenced by the dwindling crowds and Craic activity!

The only way I believe the club will win back it's supporters (and me) in this most professional of eras is to have a big money backer or cash injection to buy the best players. You can market the club as much as you want but ultimately it's the performance on the pitch that counts. It's such a shame but I think we all have to accept that money in sport is the biggest factor that now determines success.

Whilst I know my sentiment and opinions will not be shared by others I just felt it was important to share my feelings and explain why a once extremely passionate Irish supporter has fallen by the wayside. I'm ashamed to say it but I just simply wanted to support a team that was delivering on the pitch. Nothing more, nothing less!

Finally I must stress these are just my opinions for becoming disillusioned with London Irish and fully respect the views and opinions others have mentioned in this thread.

I wish Irish and the supporters the very best of luck and sincerely hope they manage to turn their fortunes around when they move to Brentford. Who knows, I may be back!

Cheers & Beers
BB

GHA
27/12/2018 14:45
Well said BB

How's this for a controversial opinion:

I'm not a huge fan of the drummers (or Simon and his trumpet, or the guy that rings the bell)

LI Bohemian
27/12/2018 15:47
Quote:
GHA
Well said BB
How's this for a controversial opinion:

I'm not a huge fan of the drummers (or Simon and his trumpet, or the guy that rings the bell)

You forgot to mention twatter and your hashtag loathing and to be fair from you this is not controversial but a typical posting

PS still waiting for you to do a match report

GHA
27/12/2018 15:54
I don't like a lot of things, LiBo - I didn't think it necessary to list all of them in just one post.

#GoodThingsComeToThoseWhoWait

Bazzo
27/12/2018 18:26
I do understand where people are coming from in many aspects but do think that it is a bit much to say that we are fickle and only support the team when we are winning in the Premiership. I try to support them whatever league they are in and whilst everybody prefers winning, it is not a prerequisite for me, I just enjoy the games and the banter from all the fans.

I love the drums, love them and think they would be great in a full stadium. Twatter is something else that the club is strange at whoever runs it. The Christmas one and Facer with his ho ho ho was just the most ridiculous thing that I have seen in a long time. So yes to Twatter being one with all the stupid hashtags.

BaltiBoy
27/12/2018 19:52
Quote:
Bazzo
I do understand where people are coming from in many aspects but do think that it is a bit much to say that we are fickle and only support the team when we are winning in the Premiership.

Bazzo, the fickle point I made was not directed at the long standing supporter like your good self but was directly related to those people like me, who by their own admission will only watch and support the team when they are playing decent rugby in the Premiership.

I appreciate that this sounds completely selfish (arguably childish) but I am only telling the truth from my perspective. I don't have much spare cash, and am only going to spend good money on something that is appealing. I want to watch the top teams and the Farrell's, Vunipola's, Cipriani's and Itoje's of this world. Watching Irish slug it out against Hartpury College is not a draw for me, and I'm sure this is the case for many of the other supporters that have deserted Irish in the last 10 years or so.

It is fickle supporters like me that the club needs to win back and the only way they can do that is by playing decent rugby in the Premiership. A quick look at the stats shows our average home gate in the 09/10 season was approx 10-11k. Compare that to the 5k of last year and it highlights the fact that unfortunately for London Irish many people do just want to see a wining team.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the likes of you and the other Irish supporters who do follow the club through thick and thin. The point I was trying to make is that out of the 10k that were watching Irish in their heyday the vast majority I suspect were just jumping on the bandwagon due to Irish's (temporary) success.

In terms of location and support I genuinely don't think it matters where Irish play, whether it be Reading or Brentford. Simply perform on the pitch and the crowds will come back. Continue to perform poorly and the crowds will stay away.

Cheers & Beers
BB

Bazzo
28/12/2018 11:10
No problem at all BB, you are being very honest and nothing but admiration for your post. I actually agree with you that the majority of people would prefer to see a winning team in the Premiership, of course everyone would, but I personally have no problem being a championship club. I have the utmost respect for you as well, you are as much a true supporter as I am, probably more so.

I am the weird one here, not you. I actually enjoy the Championship. In fairness I preferred the previous stint when Kennedy was in charge, it was a better team and i felt more comfortable about winning those games. I had thought with no playoffs it would be a breeze this year as the other teams would not have invested as much. Ealing are not going away and at times we look vulnerable especially away from home. I do not see the coaching changes having much effect. I also think the big loss was Laidlaw who was with us then.

Even when we were getting these 10k crowds that you mention, we were still playing in a 20k stadium, so it was half empty and we were still one of the lowest budgets in the league so players would leave even back then for more money etc etc As I understand it we lost money as a club back then also even in those good years so I see the logic completely in moving back to London. If you have had big losses every year in Reading and players costs and salaries are at a different level now, then it is time to try something else. I live here and see no appetite for rugby here in Reading long term.

Where I see the big problem for the club and Mr Facer is where is the money coming from to buy a team to compete in the Premiership? I am not sure that even spending to the salary cap will make a big difference, two or three big marquee signings wonít change the team that we have, it takes time and players coming through. I do think that the long term goal is ring fencing and that is why they are making this move now, it is the only way for Irish in the near future, this squad would get relegated I think and I would rather be a good Championship side than a London Welsh.

BaltiBoy
28/12/2018 12:33
Bazzo, thank you for your well informed reply, greatly appreciated.

I think the one view we both share in common is related to where the money is coming from to make Irish competitive again in the Premiership.

If a move to Brentford makes sense financially for the club then I'm all for it. London Irish must do what it feels is necessary to ensure their survival. As you say it would be dreadful for Irish to end up like London Welsh.

Let's all hope that the new year brings Irish and its supporters something to really cheer about.

Keep enjoying the rugby Bazzo,

Cheers & Beers
BB

AlecW
28/12/2018 13:02
Excellent letter / sentiments, Griff...!

For my part, I started going to LI at Sunbury in 1990/91 - and loved it... Then loved the two seasons at the Stoop and came willingly to the MadStad. My journey to Sunbury was about 80-90 minutes, to the Stoop about 70 mins and to the MadStad about the same 70 mins.

I enjoy the warmth and buzz of the MadStad hotel (but not the prices!) and I loved the CowShed. I understand that the finances in the Championship won't extend to doing the BCS, Laggan or any of the others in the CowShed, but I miss it.

However...

I still have a season ticket, but I probably only come to 3-4 matches a season. Why?

1) The rugby is much less attractive, especially in the Prem, when we were losing many more games than we won.
2) I have a cottage in Norfolk that I go to most weekends and it is a much less attractive prospect to leave at 0800 on a Sunday morning, to travel back to London, dump my bag, grab an LI shirt and scarf and set out for the MadStad (total journey time 4.5 to 5 hours as a minimum) when we are playing not very attractive, losing, rugby, in front of 3-4 thousand at best.
3) No European trips, to build camaraderie, stupidity etc with fellow travellers,
4) Several of my LI 'buddies' now come less frequently and some do not come any more.
5) Sunday rugby on a 'school night' does not really allow for after game fun, especially given how 'reliable' the trains from Reading back to Paddington are (not)...

Brentford / Lionel Road will involve a journey of no more than 45-50 minutes from (London) home, so I hope to be a more frequent visitor...

Above all, I believe that LI supporters from ALL origins will be more frequent visitors, if we start playing attractive, winning rugby again...

(Sm128)

SirBurger
28/12/2018 13:15
I think all those saying that the crowds will come if we start playing more attractive and winning rugby are right. Regardless of geographical preferences that is why, for me, the Brentford move (the commercial deal is 3x better than the one at Reading) is the right one. It will enable us to build a better squad which can hopefully compete on a longer term basis and help bring the crowds back up to the 2008 numbers.

waltham
28/12/2018 16:27
Quote:
SirBurger
I think all those saying that the crowds will come if we start playing more attractive and winning rugby are right. Regardless of geographical preferences that is why, for me, the Brentford move (the commercial deal is 3x better than the one at Reading) is the right one. It will enable us to build a better squad which can hopefully compete on a longer term basis and help bring the crowds back up to the 2008 numbers.

I'm sure you are right SB. We have friends who had been long-term STH's but who decided not to renew for either of the 2 Championship seasons. For them it IS all about watching top-flight rugby every other weekend (they have never gone to away/overseas matches). They are most unlikely to even make occasional visits to the Madstad this season and infact have now taken up Quins ST's to see whether they prefer that environment: My guess is that they wont revert back to Irish at all unless Quins fall to the bottom of the Premiership pile.

I'm still to be convinced that there is a large volume of latent LI support in West London: However I really do hope I'm proven wrong. When Wasps left HYC they only had around 2400 STH's and I'm told fewer than half continued their support in Coventry for the first year (when there were fairly generous incentives) and the number dropped further apparently for 2nd year renewals: however Wasps did embark of what appears to have been a successful promotion, marketing and relationship development plan including with local rugby clubs.

Hopefully Irish can do something similar well in advance of the move, otherwise September 2020 might see an embarrassingly small attendance in Brentford.

LI Bohemian
29/12/2018 02:21
I think London Wasps moved further from their origins and became Coventry Wasps, who knows what their identity is and who they are now.
Apparently they could not carry on at High Wycombe and had to take a chance and move to Cov.
They inherited a casino, Hotel, football tenants and an arena venue to add to their revenue streams to mostly subsidise the Rugby Club for free promotional tickets, tee shirt canons etc, they are not London irish who are moving back to London, if the new place is empty it will look like the place they have just moved from.

Houghton Saint
02/01/2019 18:08
Saints fan passing by. What an excellent open letter from Griff and a fascinating discussion by you guys who are clearly passionate about Irish.

As a visitor to the Madjeski on numerous occasions, I found that the place did lack a certain soul unless it was the festive game or St Patricks Day when the place could be rocking. As for the drums.....mmmmmm....that being said we now have a lone trumpeter at the Gardens who is dividing opinion !

Obviously we know Brian Facer well and whilst at heart he may always be a 'Saint', I have no doubt he will do a very professional job for London Irish. The long mooted move to Brentford has to make sense despite the inevitable loss of some core support from the Home Counties.

The issue of ring fencing has reared its head once again with the prospect of a 'big club' falling through the trapdoor this season. Personally I think promotion/relegation should be part of the game but I would bet that this will not last much longer and that a thirteen club Premiership will emerge; however, think of the dead games at the end of the season !

Thats enough, have a good 2019. Looking forward to watching you guys at Bedford in a few weeks time.....well, we do want to see how Smyler and Tom are getting on !

MarchingIn
06/01/2019 04:55
Another Saint in peace...

Question for the L.I. faithful... You have the capacity at Brentford (17.5k?) to generate strong revenue long term, and you won't need to do the "big game" makarky taking a home round elsewhere for the cash. However, given the long association with the MadStad, how would you feel about playing one "big game" there as a Prem club against a side who may bring a half decent away crowd for an easier trip such as Bath? Would you support it? If you could pull a full crowd once a year, it might be a fitting nod to your former home and the fans from the area who have supported the club over the years, and might also keep them in touch with things better?

The vastly fluctuating crowds at Bristol & Wasps show the potential for occasional games I think? Or should the club just move on?

SimonW
06/01/2019 14:03
Ok read your piece then you mentioned the anti-christs & could read no more. A lot of our remaining support (2-3000) dont actually come from Reading (our group of 5 do a 90ml round trip from further west) so once we move for me that will be it regarding Mad Stad.

SixNineOne
06/01/2019 18:53
I think MarchingInís suggestion of the occasional Ďbig gameí at MadStad is really interesting. Weíd need to be getting decent sized crowds at Lionel Road before we could contemplate it, though, so it might be a while...

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