London Irish ready for ‘milestone’ night in capital as fans return after winter false-start

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

London Irish Chief Executive Mark Bensted describes tonight’s meeting with Exeter Chiefs as a “milestone” moment as the club settles back into life in the capital.

Brentford Community Stadium has been their home since November 29. A week later, they welcomed 2,000 socially-distanced fans for the first time. But the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that was merely a false start.

For their final two home Premiership matches in their pursuit of Champions Cup rugby next season, Irish will host 4,000 fans.

“It has been more than a bit frustrating not to have anyone there,” said Bensted, who took over from Brian Facer at the start of the year. “Tonight is a milestone. We are absolutely delighted.

“There is a bit of a bounce going on around the place, that buzz of expectation.”

Bensted believes he is steering a ship moving firmly in the right direction, and is desperate to grow the club’s fanbase – both by bringing back those fans who drifted away during their two decades in Reading, and attracting a new, younger audience.

“We are definitely on a journey,” he says. “The start was when we moved into Brentford and signed the players in anticipation of that. We are going in the right direction. What happens on a matchday is only part of what is going on. You don’t get progress on the pitch unless everything else is right.

“Off the field, in terms of making the stadium work and having the right team, that is a parallel process which works hand in hand. Commercials, bums on seats, sponsors – everything is helped by fantastic performances on the pitch.

“We are very fortunate to have a great relationship with Brentford. Both clubs are pushing on at the same time. It’s their stadium, we are humble tenants, but the relationship has been bang on.”

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