Hugh Godwin: Wasps didn't have to send themselves to Coventry

The club were invited in as partners in a new stadium near London
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The Independent Online

There was a chance for Wasps to return near to where they were born and bred, but they decided against it. A Centre of Sports Excellence is being planned for Borehamwood, about 10 miles north of Wasps' old home (now a housing estate) in Sudbury, near Wembley.

The Premiership club were invited in as partners by the landowners, Legal & General, and the local Hertsmere Borough Council, with a 15,000-seater stadium worth £22 million and a hotel on site for added revenue. But Wasps wanted to own and control it. End of deal.

Another option was to continue ground-sharing with a football club, as Wasps and half-a-dozen others have done since rugby's Year Zero of 1995, when the sport went open and a little old clubhouse and homely single grandstand wouldn't cut it for a "customer experience".

Among the many sports clubs jockeying for position around London, in some of the world's most expensive real estate, Brentford FC have a stadium planned near Chiswick. Again, Wasps could not see the point. They wanted a better business plan.

So Wasps are off to Coventry, led by two men who have been involved with the club for barely two years: Derek Richardson, the Irish owner, and Nick Eastwood, the former Rugby Football Union financial director, who is chief executive.

There is another Wasps, of course – the amateur rugby club based in Acton, west London, who are already looking for new tenants to use the training facilities currently being rented by the professionals. For the avoidance of confusion, let's call the amateurs Wasps and the professionals Pro Wasps.

Eastwood has spent the week explaining the decision, unapologetically after the fact. Richardson, who is said to dislike the limelight, has yet to present himself to the press; perhaps he will do so when Leinster, where his rugby heart is said to lie, visit Coventry in January. Even though Pro Wasps are taking on a £13.4m loan at the Ricoh Arena to add to their existing losses, and they will need to spend on training facilities, marketing and the playing squad, they are confident in their gamble.

It is a trifecta based on rising TV revenues, a crowd ready and waiting in the Coventry area, and ancillary revenue streams at the Arena making the whole thing workable. In this Sky Blue thinking, Eastwood is predicting to break even in "three or four years".

If it comes across as ad hoc – Pro Wasps' first match at Coventry is in mid-December – then it is only in keeping with the knee-jerk nature of English rugby. Year Zero 1995 was when a coherent plan for the professional game might have been made. All we got was a mad rush to jam as many competitions into the season as possible – and if the players are smashed to smithereens, make sure there are doctors at every match to pick up the pieces.

The Rugby Football Union favour light-touch regulation. Nominally the governing body, the RFU describe the Premiership clubs as "independent". They have had nothing to say on the Coventry move other than to confirm, if anyone asked, that as long as Pro Wasps keep their academy licence in the London area, they are not flouting the regulation designed to stop a club being bought in one place and parachuted into another, treading on others' toes and avoiding the tedious hard work of fighting upwards through the leagues.

So while Pro Wasps move to Coventry, we have Pro London Welsh playing in Oxford with very few Welshmen, and Pro London Irish, similarly, employing a cosmopolitan squad in Reading. There is no Premiership club in the rugby hotbed of Cornwall; Pro Sale Sharks have lost supporters, not gained them, by moving 20 miles from Stockport to Salford, but still they strive with a vision of representing the North-west. In Leeds, we have Yorkshire Carnegie: a club or a county?

English rugby is what you might call an unplanned economy, but perhaps we should take solace in it reflecting the glory of the game itself, forever teetering between the ordered and the chaotic.

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