The problem lies in the requirement of a professional club to be able to generate income, running into history. The London Scots have shared the ground with Richmond for more than 125 years but Richmond now own all the family silver. When London Scottish sold themselves to Tony Tiarks at the start of the professional era, they also sold their half of the RAA lease.
Richmond did not make the same mistake when Ashley Levett was throwing money at them. They not only kept their half of the RAA lease, they then bought the London Scots’ half from the administrators when the club went to the wall after Tiarks moved on.
The net result is that the London Scots make almost nothing from the ground – even the bar money on their home games goes to the RAA (now owned by Richmond) – and they have to pay a seasonal rent thought to be in the region of £150,000.
Moreover, Richmond Rugby have planning consent for a £10 million makeover off the old facilities, including a new pitch with a 4,000 seat capacity, hard up against the neighbouring Royal Mid Surrey Golf Club. The plans include two full sized artificial pitches and various smaller ones.
The new development may mean that the sum Scottish currently pay to rent the ground rises sharply to help cover the costs.
As we have witnessed with the likes of Exeter, Northampton, and more recently Wasps, who moved to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, the only way to make a long-term success of a sports franchise is to own the ground and make use of it seven days a week for conferencing, weddings, training facility, Christmas parties etc etc.
Carson Russell is the club’s new chief executive and he stresses that the exiles are going nowhere in the immediate future. The Athletic Ground is the London Scots’ spiritual home and the club isn’t going to up sticks and decamp anywhere without fully consulting all the stakeholders including a small but loyal group of core members.
As things stand, the SRU and the club share the cost of the Lensbury Club which the Scots use to train but that is expensive and while the newly revamped RAA will boast excellent facilities, Richmond will pull rank and train on the Scots’ preferred days, Tuesday and Thursday evening. In short the exiles need a new training ground and Russell may have identified one potential alternative just down the road.
“Staines RFC is a 25-acre site just off the M3,” says the Scots’ new boss. “It has five pitches, two of which are floodlit, and Wasps were apparently thinking about playing there about eight years ago.
“Staines play in the eighth level of the English leagues and run just two teams. Like a lot of community clubs, it is struggling for numbers at the moment.
“It is a ground that we have looked at and it has potential as a training ground although the facilities would need to be upgraded.”
Any move for training or potentially playing would be a shame since the Exiles’ site in Richmond has long been a focal point for Scots, especially around the biennial Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham.
However, professionalism has underlined the need for a regular source of income and London Scottish make almost none from their old stomping ground.