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North Stand re-named to recognise Barwell family legacy

The new Barwell Stand celebrates the contributions of Leon Barwell, Keith Barwell and Ella Bevan © Linda Dawson / www.atsportphoto.com

Club News North Stand re-named to recognise Barwell family legacy

The new North Stand at Franklin’s Gardens will be called ‘The Barwell Stand’, recognising the Barwell family’s integral role in making Northampton Saints the club that it is today.

Saints chairman Tony Hewitt made the announcement at this evening’s Season Ticket Holders’ Forum (Wednesday, February 26th, 2014), saying that naming the stand after the Barwell family would continue their legacy for generations to come.

The Barwell Stand follows in the tradition at Franklin’s Gardens of naming parts of the stadium after individuals who have played a pivotal role in the 130-year-plus history of the club.

This includes the Sturtridge Pavilion, which was named after former president and Hall of Famer Gordon Sturtridge, and the Gordon Terrace, so-called in honour of Jerry Gordon, who was club secretary from 1929 until his death in 1965. Indeed, Franklin’s Gardens itself owes its name to John Franklin, a hotelier who bought the site in 1886.

Keith Barwell's initial involvement in the Saints was in the late 1980's as part of a Recruitment Committee with Hewitt and other businessmen from Northampton.

But when English club rugby union became professional in 1996 Barwell’s interest became financial, with a £1 million investment which secured the signatures of the club’s stars, including Tim Rodber, Matt Dawson, Nick Beal and Paul Grayson. Over subsequent years Barwell’s level of investment grew, and when Northampton Saints became a plc in 2000 the Barwell family became majority shareholders, a position they maintain to the present day.

Keith Barwell’s time as Saints chairman included the 2000 Heineken Cup success, and the 2009 Amlin Challenge Cup and 2010 LV= Cup title-winning campaigns. Just as importantly, he also insisted that the club become financially sustainable so that its future would not come under threat. This ambition has also been realised, with a 13-year record of profitability unparalleled anywhere in English club rugby underpinned by the development of Franklin’s Gardens from a small terrace and wooden stand into the state-of-the-art stadium it is today.

Keith Barwell’s final game as chairman was the 2011 Heineken Cup final, after which the reins were passed to his son, Leon, who had also been on the board of directors since the club became a plc.

Leon Barwell’s time as chairman was tragically cut short in 2013, soon after the Aviva Premiership final, when he passed away after a long battle with cancer. But his impact in his two years at the helm is also long-lasting, not least as the club re-shaped its relationship and interaction with supporters for the 21st Century.

Leon’s sister, Ella Bevan, is continuing this legacy by chairing the Saints Supporters Liaison Group, a face-to-face discussion forum between members of the club’s senior management and its supporters.

“Without the Barwell family Northampton Saints would not be where it is today, both literally and metaphorically,” Hewitt said. “Without Keith’s investment in 1996 it would have been very difficult to maintain a smooth transition into the professional era, and we could have ended up like so many clubs, with a proud name but no place at the top level of the game.

“Keith’s ambition was to have a successful team on the field funded by a sustainable business off it. Here at Franklin’s Gardens we are delighted both to have been realising this aim for a number of years and also to have laid the foundations to keep the Saints at the top end of club rugby for years to come.

“Leon’s involvement cannot be understated, either. As a director he did a great deal of work behind the scenes, and as chairman he took us into a new era of positive and personal engagement with our supporters, a record made all the more remarkable given his long battle with cancer.

“Gordon Sturtridge will continue to be remembered within the new stand, as will the contribution made the sale of the Old Members’ shares, but naming the whole structure as ‘The Barwell Stand’ is the very least we could do to take the family’s name to a future generation of Saints supporters, and it will be unsurprising to hear that the decision was unanimous among the club’s directors.

“It is the next step in the project’s development, and we are all looking forward to seeing the Barwell Stand be built in the summer of 2015 to be ready and open at the end of the Rugby World Cup.”

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