Wasps, double European champions in the days when they strode across the sunlit uplands of the professional club game, have spent the last few seasons lost in the darkness, to the extent that even their front-line players had no idea whether they would be paid at the end of a hard month’s thud and blunder.
According to Mark Rigby, the Londoners’ former captain and current chairman, “the cloud of uncertainty was very black indeed”.
Yet on Monday, five days before the start of their Premiership campaign, Rigby was feeling confident enough to predict a bold new future, including a move to a new, revenue-generating home within the next five years. He also said Wasps would seek to broaden their investor base, rather than rely on one man’s wallet.
The man with the wallet this term is the Irish businessman Derek Richardson, who bought the club from Steve Hayes – not everyone’s cup of tea as a rugby union financier – a few months ago.
“Derek is very realistic about the timescale relating to the things we’re trying to achieve here,” Rigby said. “We need to reach a position of financial sustainability and that means part-owning, at the very least, the stadium in which we play. Without that, you find yourself trying to perform the physical impossibility of pushing water uphill.
“So yes, we’re looking to move in three to five years. We have certainty of tenure at Adams Park [Wasps’ present home on the outskirts of High Wycombe] and it’s an open-ended arrangement. But, ultimately, we can’t develop our business to its fullest extent without offering a first-class match-day experience.
“Now we are on a more secure financial footing – there really is no comparison between where we are now and where we were – we can begin to move towards that.”
There is no clear idea yet as to where Wasps will ultimately base themselves. There have been whispers about a move back into town on a groundshare basis with Brentford, but that would not give the club the ownership rights they crave. And as land in the western reaches of the capital is just a little on the expensive side, even a five-year deadline might prove difficult to hit.
In essence, the multi-Premiership title holders find themselves playing catch-up after the roughest of rough spells. Rigby accepted that mistakes had been made in the recent past, but praised Hayes for the way he had conducted the handover to Richardson. “Steve could have made life very challenging indeed for us,” the chairman remarked. “He didn’t.”
There were two significant developments for Wasps yesterday: a major sponsorship agreement with the City-based property services specialists CVS and the signing of the long-serving Italian Test hooker Carlo Festuccia from the Azzurri franchise Zebre. “We can’t go through a season with only two players in such an important position,” explained Dai Young, the director of rugby, referring to Tom Lindsay and Neil Cochrane. “It’s a great bonus to bring in someone with such experience.”