To mark the club’s final season at Madejski Stadium, we have spoken to London Irish players from over the years to discuss their current roles and professions and their best memories of running out in a London Irish jersey.
We recently caught up with Justin Bishop, a winger who made over 250 appearances for the Exiles.
Born in England to Irish parents, Justin also amassed 25 caps for Ireland and was a key part of the London Irish squad that won the 2002 Powergen Cup. Following retirement and coaching roles with the club’s Academy and first team, Justin is now working as Marketing Director for the F3 Group.
“We are a development management company, based in St James’s Street in Mayfair. We also have an office out towards Gatwick. We are an FME, a small company and carry out development projects at the high end.
“What we do is manage a number builds for main contractors and we also have funds that we put in as well. We are quite unique because we have our own USP which is our fuse web enabled portal, we deliver for clients.”
This seems a far cry from wearing the famous London Irish jersey which is where Justin poured all of his efforts for over a decade as a player and coach. He also had the fortune of playing with a number of high calibre players as Justin alludes to.
“For me, a player who changed London Irish was Brendan Venter. He was the guy who came into the organisation and brought his culture and mindset to the club. We won the Powergen Cup at the time and he was hugely important to the squad. At the start of my career, Conor O’Shea was a huge influence and I played alongside him in the back three.
“I had the opportunity to play with Seilala Mapusua and he was an unbelievably talented individual, with a unique skillset. At the time there probably wasn’t southern hemisphere guys with his size and skillset in the English game and he could do things that other players couldn’t do.”
Rivalries and St Patrick’s Party games were always the days that Justin looked forward to both whilst playing at the Madejski and also whilst at the Avenue and The Stoop.
“The rivalry games were always memorable for me, playing against Harlequins home and away was always a highlight.
“The St Patrick’s games as well, even back in the Sunbury days, it was big, but the club then brought it to the Thames Valley and it was a game that was key for us from a marketing and rugby point of view. There was always something extra to it because it was part of London Irish’s heritage and for me coming from an Irish background especially.”
There is still time to keep in contact with old teammates but given they are based all around the world, it usually via digital platforms than in person.
“There is a London Irish WhatsApp group where we all stay in touch, we don’t see each other much because we are all in different parts of the world, but we update each other with what is going on. Ryan Strudwick was over last year so I manged to catch up with him.”
Having represented the club at the Madejski on numerous occasions and having experienced some great times, the former winger does believe the stadium move back to the capital is appositive for the club.
The club has had a number of years at the Madejski, but I think it is time for the club to go back to its roots. It is not too far from Sunbury, it is a great opportunity to re-engage with the Irish community in London. I think the club can really establish itself in London and in the Premiership in the coming years.
“I will try and get down and watch a number of games before the end of the season and will be coming to Brentford next season too.