London Irish RFC is an English rugby union club based in Sunbury, Surrey, where the senior squad train, the youth teams and senior academy play home games, and the club maintain their administrative offices. The club competes in the top division of English rugby union, the Aviva Premiership. The club also compete in the Anglo-Welsh Cup as well as one of the two Europe-wide club competitions—the European Champions Cup or European Challenge Cup, depending on their performance in the previous season. The club will continue to play their home games at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire until 2026.
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.
As the 1950s dawned, the club was fielding six teams most weeks making it a thriving hub of London rugby with a growing reputation for the fun to be had off the pitch as well as the commitment and organisation on it. It was also at this time that the club began a schoolboys' section that was to be important in the years that followed.
In 1951 London Irish became the first club in Britain to host a touring Italian team when Roma came to town and played at Blackheath. Indeed the early 1950s saw a host of great rugby teams coming to Rectory Field to play either Blackheath or London Irish. The only problem from an Exiles' perspective was that the club was split in two with the junior teams using the steadily improving facilities at Sunbury and the senior team playing in the south-east of the capital.
By the mid-fifties the club had started to put together the nucleus of a squad that would one day provide the club with its finest season in its first hundred years. Prominent among the players was a young scrum-half called Andrew Mulligan who played his first season at Irish in 1952-53 when he was only 16! He was to go on to play for Cambridge, Ireland, the Lions and the Barbarians.
The improving quality of fixtures demanded a change in attitude to training and playing as the sixties became the seventies. Under the leadership of the great hooker Ken Kennedy, with the assistance of exceptional players like Mick Molloy and Barry Bresnihan, London Irish became a force to be reckoned with once more. In 1976-77 the Rugby Football Union introduced proper club merit tables and in that season London Irish finished first in the London Division with six wins out of seven.
In playing terms the eighties were another period of inconsistency. The first team struggled to find reliable form as work pressures made more demands on players' time making them unavailable for regular training and matches. Happily, at the lower levels and socially London Irish continued to thrive. Among the most exciting developments was the advent of mini-rugby at Sunbury and the launch of a related tournament that continues to set the standard for similar events throughout these islands.
London Irish moved into their brand new £12 million training complex on the 1st July 2014 to begin the new era of London Irish Rugby Club.
The new 63-acre site is four times the size of the Avenue training facility and features 17 pitches, five full-size pitches, one of which is an artificial 4G surface, and 12 junior pitches. The clubhouse is state-of-the art and includes elite equipment required for a professional rugby team.