London Irish fear proposed new owners could sell training base to NFL

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Fears have been raised that London Irish’s ailing takeover could see the club’s Hazelwood training ground turned into an NFL franchise base.

Sources close to the club have revealed concerns that the long-term aim of proposed investors would be to pave the way for the Hazelwood facility to be sold to either the NFL itself, or a London franchise.

Jacksonville Jaguars have long been tipped to make the leap across from the US to become the first overseas NFL franchise.

Irish’s state-of-the-art Hazelwood facility has hosted NFL teams in the UK and could fit the bill for an eventual training home should a team set up full-time shop in London.

Two-time Super Bowl winner and ex-Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis numbers among the consortium of former NFL and NBA stars bidding to buy London Irish from Powerday founder Mick Crossan.

Irish have until Monday to complete the takeover or prove funds for the full 2023/24 season, or face being booted out of the league structure by the RFU.

“The longer this has dragged on the more everyone has begun to worry,” a source close to the club told Standard Sport. “The Hazelwood training ground is an amazing facility that everyone at the club rightly prizes.

“But right at the front of questions being asked is how would a new group of investors benefit from buying the club. Hazelwood is the top asset and the links to the NFL are clear.

“The players and staff have repeatedly been told that the deal is close to being completed, but the deadline is looming and still no one has been given any detailed information or concrete assurance that the takeover will be completed in time.”

Irish are inching ever closer to becoming the third Premiership team to go bust this season, with the consortium led by US investment firm NUE Capital still understood to be battling to secure financing to complete the deal.

The entrepreneurial group, including Lewis and former NBA stars Julius Erving, Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo, are still yet to hand over any detailed information to the RFU on their takeover deal.

Industry experts have told Standard Sport there would still be time to complete the deal ahead of the deadline.

The consortium aiming to complete the Exiles takeover insist that their full focus remains on completing the deal to take charge of the Premiership outfit.

“Everything about London Irish will be bigger and better, the consortium partners remain entirely confident,” said a spokesperson for the Exiles’ prospective new owners.

“Everyone is working around the clock to complete the transaction, and working towards the deadline that the consortium has been aware of for some time.

“There are no plans other than to complete the takeover and to drive London Irish forward.”

Irish’s players and staff went unpaid for six days at the start of the month, after the prospective owners failed to deliver their promise of covering the payroll costs.

Crossan stepped in to pay the overdue wages, but only after significant pressure from both Premiership Rugby and the RFU — and Irish’s players threatening to submit breach-of-contract notices.

Irish’s players are trying to tee up escape routes if the worst happens and the club goes bust.