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Geoff Allen looks back on over half a century at Franklin’s Gardens

Over the years, Saints supporters have often been left wondering how their Club would replace star players and coaches.

But one of the biggest voids to fill will be the one left by Geoff Allen at the conclusion of Saturday’s game against Worcester Warriors.

Allen, known fondly as ‘Uncle Geoff’, has been part of the Franklin’s Gardens fabric for an incredible 56 years, starting out as a player in 1963 before fulfilling roles as team secretary, club secretary, president, chairman, chief executive and – to the present day – stadium announcer.

He has been the voice of the Gardens for the past 37 years, but this weekend will mark his final match with microphone in hand.

And the job awaiting his successor appears to rank alongside replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as manager at Manchester United in terms of how difficult it will be.

Put simply; Allen’s wit, humour and innate charm is pretty much impossible to follow.

And his knowledge of the Club is unlikely to be replicated, as he has had a connection with Saints since his father, Bill, took him to his first game at the age of just three.

“Because I behaved myself I attended all the way through the fifties,” Allen recalls.

“I can remember some of the really legendary players at Saints, like Dickie Jeeps and Ron Jacobs, some of whom I went on to play with.”

Allen’s playing career as a centre at Saints started at the age of 19.

Having attended Kislingbury Primary School and then Northampton Grammar School, rugby had always been on his radar.

“My mother tells the story that when I passed the Eleven Plus in 1954 all I said was ‘good, I'll be able to play rugby now’,” Allen says, laughing warmly.

“I got to go to Northampton Grammar School, where rugby was the main sport, and I started to play for the Old Northamptonians in my final year there, alongside Bob Taylor, who I met at school.

“He went a bit further than me and was playing for England and the Lions!”

“I can remember some of the really legendary players at Saints, like Dickie Jeeps and Ron Jacobs, some of whom I went on to play with.”

Geoff Allen

With Jerry Gordon and Doctor Gordon Sturtridge keeping their ears close to the ground, local talent was sourced for Saints.

Allen was one they had heard about and he was parachuted into the first team, having not even previously featured for the seconds.

“I was selected to play for the first time away to Moseley and we lost that game,” he said.

“Saints played four games in eight days at the end of that (1962/63) season because the season was very irregular then, and as my father said – you only played rugby when there was an ‘r’ in the month as that was what it was there for.

“Our second game was Monday night against Coventry, who were the bee’s knees in those days, and we won that game at the Gardens.

“I then got flu and missed the next two games that week, but that was the start of my Saints playing career.”

Allen, who worked as a municipal accountant for the Borough Council and County Council during his time as a player, featured in a total of 136 games for the men in Black, Green and Gold before a knee injury curtailed his career.

“I had two knee operations about the age of 29 and every time I tried running on it, it blew up with fluid,” he explained.

“I went to see the surgeon on a regular check-up visit and said I was thinking of packing the game up, thinking he’d say ‘don't be silly, we'll get this knee right’.

“But he actually said ‘I think you’re very wise because you want to still be walking when you’re 40’.

“I was only ten years away from that so I then turned my attentions to work off the field.”

Allen was then elected team secretary and held the role for a decade before handing it over to Bunny Ingram and stepping up further to become club secretary.

“Then came the interesting bit,” says Allen, taking up the story.

“I’d written a paper for the committee, saying we should move away from a selection committee selecting the side and appoint a coach and assistant coaches to give them the responsibility of selecting the team.

“It's the pattern today. You appoint a director of rugby and he’s responsbile for getting the results you want.

“I was responsible for suggesting that in the amateur era.

“About the same time, the consortium (known as ‘The Gang of Seven’) – the guys who produced the revolution of 1988 – had heard of my paper for the committee and they invited me to be chairman.

“I agreed with what they were proposing and offered my resignation to the old committee. I was stunned when they refused to accept it.

“I was left in an awkward position where I couldn't resign from my position as secretary because the committee wouldn’t have it, but I was sitting with the consortium planning how we were going to defeat the committee at the AGM.

“I had to prepare all the paperwork for the AGM and get that out to all the members and no one ever made any complaint to me that I’d done it in anything other than an impartial way.

“It was a peculiar situation because I was hearing both sides planning how they were going to defeat one another. It was very weird.

“The consortium were successful in gaining control of the club in 1988 and Saints appointed a playing administrator, Barrie Corless. In these days, that role is known as director of rugby.

“I’m very proud of the fact that Northampton Rugby Football Club were the first club in the country to appoint a paid playing administrator. Everyone’s got one now.

“We followed on in 1995 when we were the first Club to have a paid chief executive – and that was me.”

The Gang of Seven helped to lift Saints, who finished the 1987/88 season bottom of Division Two, out of the doldrums.

Allen served as president and chairman before being appointed chief executive in 1995.

“When I became chief executive another dramatic thing happened,” Allen continues.

“I was due to start work on September 1, 1995, but a week prior to that was when the game turned professional, so talk about moving the goalposts!

“I thought I was going to be administering an amateur club and all of a sudden it was a professional club.

“We’d got some good players around at that stage so there was a mad rush to get them signed up so we didn’t lose them.

“A lot of people came in and helped with that. That’s when Keith (Barwell) started to get more actively involved and put some money into the club.”

“I've never been paid a penny for any of the work I've done as a stadium announcer and I like to say I’m the last of the true amateurs at Franklin’s Gardens!”

Geoff Allen

Barwell eventually made Allen redundant as chief executive, but his strong relationship with the club continued in the role he will finally relinquish this weekend.

“To become stadium announcer was always the secretary’s job so I started doing it in 1982,” Allen said.

“Then when we had the revolution in 1988 no one else seemed to know what to do so I carried on doing it.

“I was stadium announcer and president of the club, which was quite amusing.

“No one else seemed to want to be stadium announcer and then it got to 1995 and I became chief executive.

“Three years later, Keith made me redundant as chief executive but I carried on being stadium announcer.

“I've never been paid a penny for any of the work I've done as a stadium announcer and I like to say I’m the last of the true amateurs at Franklin’s Gardens!”

It seems unthinkable that Allen's voice will no longer illuminate the Gardens on matchdays.

And what he says next should certainly be heeded by whoever takes over the role.

“I've obviously enjoyed being stadium announcer – it’s been great fun,” he said.

“You’re close to the action and I don’t know what it is I do right, other than the fact I think I’ve got what you might call ‘a microphone voice’.

“One of the problems with people when they're doing public address is that they talk too fast.

“I try not to do that, I like to give pauses between what I'm saying so people have time to digest it.

“A lot of people gabble and it doesn't always work on a microphone.

“I like to think I'm knowledgable about the game and I think that helps too.

“I also think it’s nice to have a sense of humour without detracting from the seriousness of what the players are trying to do.

“Players are the important thing, particularly now the game is professional, but that doesn't mean you can't have a smile occasionally.”

Having been part of, and seen, so many Saints teams, it is natural to ask Allen who his favourite players have been.

“In my playing career, I always say Dickie Jeeps is one of the best players I ever played with,” Allen said. “He taught me – and I know Bob Taylor feels the same – so much about the game.

“We only had one season playing with him but he was wonderful to play with.

“Off the field he was so mischievous it wasn’t true, but I won’t go into too many details on that!

“He’s one of my favourite all-time Saints.

“As a technician as a back, Allan Bateman was wonderful. I do rate him very highly because he was very competent in everything he did.

“I enjoyed playing with Andy Hancock and Keith Savage, who were both very good wingers.

“In the modern game I think there’s too much emphasis on wingers to do too much and I’d have loved to have played alongside George North because I thought all he needed was the ball in his hands more often.

“Taqele Naiyaravoro is the same – give him the ball and he’ll frighten defences to death.”

And what about Allen’s favourite games?

“The day at Twickenham (when Saints won the Premiership final in 2014) was absolutely glorious and we were sitting right behind the posts where Alex Waller scored,” he said. “It was superb.

“It was the pinnacle and I was also present when they won the Heineken Cup (in 2000).

“Winning the big trophies is a special time.”

Allen will still be in attendance at Saints home games in the years to come as his love for the club will never fade.

But he will now get to keep his wife, Wendy, company in the stands, rather than sitting in the press box, away from her.

“I’ve been down at the ground looking at where we might sit,” he said.

“It will be unique for me to sit with Wendy so we’ll attend just as regularly as before but I won’t be on the mic and we’ll have a beer after the game.”

Finally, for those fearing Allen’s exit and who might take over his role, the man himself has some philosophical closing words.

“I’ve been thinking during the past few days about my successor,” he said. “At the moment they (the supporters) might think about who’s going to follow, but you could think that about players as well, like who is going to follow Dickie Jeeps?

“Well, the two scrum-halves we’ve got at the moment are very good and, in time, everyone has a successor.

“It might be better and it might be worse, but there’s always a chance it’s likely to be better.”

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Friday 11 December - 5:30pm