Robert Rees: A very sad day for one of the most historical clubs in Britain

BY ROBERT REES
Yesterday broke the news that iconic club side, London Welsh are to enter liquidation, after announcing to its 40 players and staff that their jobs are gone.
HISTORY

Formed in 1885 and based in Old Deer Park, the ‘exiles’  have contributed 177 players to the Wales team and 43 players for the British and Irish Lions. On the famous 1971 tour to New Zealand, they set a record still held today with seven players going on the tour.

“This is a sad day for one of Britain’s oldest and most famous rugby clubs, but a salutary lesson of the harsh financial realities of professional rugby.” said Rugby Union reporter Chris Jones.

“In hindsight, London Welsh should never have chased the Premiership dream without the backing, management or the infrastructure to be sustainable.”

London Welsh last saw Aviva Premiership rugby in 2014/15, where they only took 1 losing bonus point all season. The now reside in the Championship where they lie in fifth place after 11 rounds.

LONDON WELSH TO LIQUIDATE

The club are seeking voluntary liquidation due to not being able to afford a playing budget of £1.7m with crowds as low as 400. Club chairman Gareth Hawkins called his club’s current business model ”totally unsustainable”.


Captain Jon Mills leads the celebrations with the trophy after London welsh victory over Cornish Pirates during the Championship Final at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford.
Captain Jon Mills leads the celebrations with the trophy after London welsh victory over Cornish Pirates during the Championship Final at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford.

The Exiles were unable to meet the December 12 deadline for paying off a £250,000 bill to Her Majesty’s Revenues & Customs, and so will have to liquidate.

London Welsh liquidating means that in the new year they will have to come up with a sustainable programme for a semi-professional structure and provide it to the RFU, along with a £300,000 bond in order to exist as a company. They can still play during liquidation, and will hope to remain playing at Old Deer Park, according to Chairman Hawkins. Entering liquidation however will see the side deducted 20 points. This would currently put them bottom, and in the relegation spot.

If this is approved they will stay in the Championship, unless relegated. If the plans are not approved they will drop out of the league system altogether.

Hawkins still maintains hope for his club, however, stating that ”Richmond have proved that a club can compete in the Championship with a semi-pro model, and I firmly believe we can make this work in 2017.” Although, Richmond currently lie rooted firmly to the bottom of the table.

ANALYSIS

This is a very sad day for one of the most historical clubs in Britain, but it holds a lesson to those who chase the Premiership dream. You MUST stay within your financial limits or face losing the club altogether down the line.

It again posts the questions of whether the Premiership should be ring-fenced or extended and then ring-fenced. The Championship is not a financially stable stepping stone into the Premiership with Jersey, Richmond and the Cornish Pirates all struggling with financial difficulty this season or in seasons past.

With hindsight, London Welsh should have thought more carefully about chasing the premiership dream without having a backer who could support the hefty costs it employs.

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