Wasps won 60-0 on Saturday afternoon, to cement their place in the middle of the table, and then there were beers and laughs, and club ties were showcased, amid a scene of timeless rugby clubhouse in Twyford Avenue in Acton, West London.
Unless you know your English rugby club inside out, this description can be confusing. The headlines of recent times have been full of The terrible fate of waspsas the sextuple Premiership champions were suspended from competition, in the face of a possible forgetting.
But this is the story of two clubs, not just one. Wasps FC, the amateur side, play in tier eight of the league system, proudly preserving a shared history dating back to 1867.
This duality of amateur and professional clubs bearing the same name is also more or less operated in Worcester, Saracens, Sale, London Irish and Ealing, among others, and it is explained with notable care by Richard Green, the entrepreneur and restaurateur who is chairman of Wasps FC, as we watch that 60-0 win over Finsbury Park in London and south east counties 2 Herts and Middlesex.
“The idea of ’Once a Wasp, Always a Wasp’ isn’t just a marketing slogan for the pro team, it’s what everyone who’s worn the jersey feels,” Green says, citing the motto familiar to many international players over the years.
“The aim of Wasps FC is to bring sport, including rugby, to its local community and beyond. We are also at the center of a network of people who have played or supported the club, pretty much all over the world. There’s Wasps Golf Society, Wasps Cycling Club, The Charity Foundation, The Legends – if you played in the first XV in the 1950s your kids will contact the office here to say ‘can you find the team roster?”
Financially and literally, Wasps FC are well placed. Kate Hallett, the operations manager making a nice cup of tea, and the gardener are full-time employees; all others are volunteers. The club has full ownership of 26 acres of prime London land, turning down property developers on a weekly basis, as a legacy of deals struck in the tumultuous years after rugby union opened in 1995.
This was when Wasps pros, under the ownership of music mogul Chris Wright, were selling the club’s name and logo in search of a more marketable proposition, moving from their former home ground in Sudbury, north from London, for Loftus Road – in Wright’s joint venture with QPR FC – then Wycombe Wanderers and finally, in 2014, Coventry.
To be at Twyford Avenue, where the Wasps professionals trained in the heyday of the 2000s, was to be reassured. The gymnasium used by Lawrence Dallaglio, Danny Cipriani and the others had been emptied to make way for a reception hall; the broom closet desk where Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards manned the training ground is unchanged, and the bar is covered in black-and-white photos of past teams.
Today’s first team is a cheerful bunch with day jobs. The “great” Jim Hynes of Brisbane, Australia, moved into a flat around the corner six years ago; Ollie Tycer is a science teacher with a “side hustle” in photography – the current team photos are his great work.
“We have a Kiwi couple, a French couple, an international for Pakistan,” says Hynes, as he receives Wasps FC honors draw from Green, who spent 13 years as a scrum-half after arriving at the age of 40. .
Hordes of youngsters play here every Sunday morning, and their mums and dads are described by Green as “who’s who in town.” Yet there is also a struggle. Finsbury Park showed up without a full front row, reflecting the drop in numbers in the men’s game, so the result came as a surprise. The second XV of Wasps has already had three matches canceled this season.
The latest news with the Wasps professionals is that they have supporters of a phoenix plan pleading with the Premiership to be able to keep their P share, even in the event of relegation. As for the women’s team, which plays in the Premier 15 and is based at Twyford Avenue, I understands they need around £300,000 in a matter of days to continue this season and plan for the next. Some promises have been made.
Wasps FC has always held a small stake in Wasps RFC, but it is not reciprocated; they are separate entities in terms of the legal and governance of rugby.
“We all consider ourselves part of the same family and we’re crossing our fingers that someone can put the professional side to the job,” says Green. “But we are not here to offer our land as collateral. We have a lot to contribute – no less than 60 children each year, that’s 120 parents, so another 180 people who see black and gold as their team colours. What you saw this afternoon will happen every Saturday in the rugby season – as long as we have our full property and people are willing to donate their time, and we don’t do anything stupid with our full property, rugby will be played in a Wasps shirt, forever.