Exiles go in search of bigger audience at Reading

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The Independent Online

The decision of London Irish to abandon their traditional watering hole of Sunbury-on-Thames and go in search of a bigger audience was justified by events last term; their average gate at the Stoop Memorial Ground, which they shared with Harlequins, was up by almost nine per cent at 4,372.

The decision of London Irish to abandon their traditional watering hole of Sunbury-on-Thames and go in search of a bigger audience was justified by events last term; their average gate at the Stoop Memorial Ground, which they shared with Harlequins, was up by almost nine per cent at 4,372.

However, they will need an increase closer to 90 per cent if they are to fill the Madejski Stadium, their third home in as many seasons.

Geoff Read, the Exiles' chairman, confirmed yesterday that Dick Best and company would up sticks once again for the 2000-01 campaign. Their decision to play at the 25,000-seater venue on the outskirts of Reading was prompted by a serious falling-out with their landlords - "We've been forced by Harlequins to move one year earlier than planned," Read complained - but the Irish are optimistic of making a better fist of stirring the sporting soul of the Thames Valley than Richmond managed two seasons ago.

However, the portents are none too favourable. Two of the other Premiership sides playing at football venues, Saracens and Wasps, suffered drastic falls in attendance last season; indeed, Sarries' crowds at Vicarage Road were down by more than 21 per cent. The third soccer-share club, Bristol, pulled in almost 5,000 a game, but were still disappointed at the response given the deep union roots in the city.

Only four clubs - Northampton, Leicester, Gloucester and London Irish - put more bums on seats last season than in 1998-99.

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