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London Irish
Rugby Football Club (LIARFC)

Established in 1898

Image by Edgar Pimenta
LIRFC logo.png

As the 19th century drew to a close there was a consensus of opinion on both sides of the Irish Sea that a sporting club for Irishmen in London was badly needed. Part of the inspiration for this was the example of the exiles from the other home countries, London Scottish had been formed in 1878 and London Welsh seven years later in 1895. These clubs offered their countrymen a home away from home in London, a place to meet and relax while employment or education or other reasons took them away from their home country.

So, it was in 1898 that a group of Irishmen came together to form their own club, the London Irish Rugby Football Club. The founding fathers were an exceptional group of powerful personalities embracing politicians, lawyers and businessmen united by a sense of Irishness and passion for rugby. From the beginning London Irish was to provide a welcoming “home” and hospitable meeting place for all Irish people, regardless of creed or politics.

By late September 1898 London Irish was ready for action. The first game was played on 1st October against Hammersmith (alas long departed) at Herne Hill Athletic Ground in south-east London. London Irish won by eight points to three!

Louis Magee’s presence together with that of the as their influence that regular fixtures were soon arranged with most of London’s leading clubs of that era including Blackheath, Rosslyn Park, Saracens and Wasps. A decade later London Irish was firmly established.

London Irish’s itinerant existence impacted adversely in playing and social terms so the club’s officers decided that if their ambitions were ever to be realised the club needed a home of its own.

After looking at various options and locations 12 acres of land were eventually purchased at Avenue Road, Sunbury on Thames in south-west London. The transaction was completed on 16th June, 1931 for the princely sum of £1,280!

There followed a busy five months in agricultural terms! A pitch was prepared and the first game was played on 5th December against London Welsh, the result was an honourable 8-8 draw. The club thrived at Sunbury for almost a decade until the grounds were requisitioned by the Ministry of Agriculture shortly after the outbreak of World War II to grow food for the population of the Capital.

Prior to 1996, the club comprised three relatively autonomous elements: the first team, other adult teams, and youth/mini rugby.

The onset of professional rugby in 1996 caused tremors and upheaval within the game and London Irish was no exception to this general rule. A critical event, which was germane to this very topic, was an EGM of the ‘old’ LIRFC on 27th June 1997, held in the Rose Room at Twickenham, when the members voted almost unanimously (13 against) to accept the offer from a consortium of London Irish business people to buy the club. The new entity, to be known as London Irish Holdings Ltd. (LIH), took over the debts of the old club in return for the First Division franchise plus the freehold of the club grounds at The Avenue, Sunbury-on-Thames. On the field the professional team relocated its games to the Twickenham Stoop. In order to release value, the board of LIH sought to secure planning for the redevelopment of The Avenue.

At a meeting in April 1999, it was stated that the Amateur Club would be moving to (a) finalise the arrangements for the amalgamation of the adult/junior sides and youth/mini section into one club organisation, (b) negotiate with London Irish Trading on details of the proposed Facilities Agreement for Sunbury, and (c) develop a plan for London Irish Amateurs RFC to operate Sunbury as a discrete operation. They were assisted in this by two men who held pivotal roles in the professional club – Conor O’Shea and Kieran McCarthy. This enabled a formal Memo of Understanding to be put in place, governing the relationship between LIARFC and the professional club; this agreement remains in place today.

In what is a large club by any standards (4 adult, 6 junior, and 6 age-groups of mini teams), administration is set in an Executive Committee of 10-12 people, elected annually. Representation is streamlined to occasion efficiency, with one representative from each playing sector of the club e.g. Mini Rugby, apart from the main Chair/Secretary/Treasurer officers. The Executive meets on a monthly basis.

 

Since reconstitution, successive Chairmen have been Chris Kane (1999-2003), Jack Costelloe (2003-06), John Gilligan (2006- 09), and David FitzGerald (2009-16); the last named was a distinguished Club Captain of London Irish in seasons 1988/89 and 1989/1990.

A major development has been the move to a new rugby centre in Hazelwood, which has proved eminently successful. 

Another major development has been the addition of a Ladies Rugby section, now flourishing in their 8th season. You are advised to read the tremendous progress that the Emeralds have made since their inception into the club (in Detailed History). Suffice to say that last season (2021-22) they had 16 league wins in 16 games and were promoted to the top tier of the Women’s game in England. Their 2nd XV has been added and they will play at level NC2 South-East in season 2022/23, and will provide the step-up for University and U18 players coming through the club. Last, but not least, the Youth programme for girls is in safe hands.

London Irish Amateur Rugby Football Club

Hazelwood Drive

Sunbury-on-Thames

Surrey

TW16 6QU

Tel: 01932 943098

www.liarfc.co.uk

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