As the men in Black, Green and Gold prepare to take to Franklin's Gardens for the first time in the new 2020/21 season, Northampton Saints chairman John White is looking forward to an important Gallagher Premiership clash this afternoon.
Good afternoon and a socially-distanced ‘hello’ from Franklin’s Gardens for today’s match against Harlequins. An empty stadium is of course not the way we would like to be marking our first home game at the start of a new season, but, despite this, I am truly heartened that better days are on the horizon thanks to a wave of positive news this week.
Firstly, the government’s announcement that outdoor stadiums can welcome spectators back from early December is a huge boost for the Club, the Gallagher Premiership and also for sport in general. While this is not a silver bullet, it is certainly a bridge to better days. Preparations are already underway to welcomeup to 2,000 supporters back to Franklin’s Gardens for our Champions Cup match against Bordeaux in two weeks’ time. Although we will not be able to open the doors and host you as we usually would, it will be wonderful to see the stands scattered in Black, Green and Gold again.
Furthermore, the news that three Covid-19 vaccines have been produced alongside a nationwide roll-out of rapid testing, has also given the Club further cause for hope that Franklin’s Gardens may well be full again by the spring. One can only hope, but, at a time when rugby is still struggling from the crippling effects of the pandemic, it is very positive news.
The Club was also buoyed by confirmation of the government’s ‘Winter Survival Package.’ For Premiership Rugby clubs to receive up to £59m of support is a much-needed lifeline. We are yet to determine how specifically we will benefit and are currently working with Sport England in the hope of accessing funding. On behalf of everyone at the Club I want to thank the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, HM Treasury and the Government more broadly for their work to safeguard sport.
Looking to the future, I was very pleased that we could agree a contract extension to keep our Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, at the Club until at least the end of the 2021/22 season. In his first two seasons at Franklin’s Gardens, Chris has made a significant impact on and off the pitch. With Chris at the helm, alongside the excellent coaching team he has built, Saints have played some of the most exciting, free-flowing rugby in the league – and we have shown that with a young group, on our day we are more than a match for anyone.
I know he has not yet achieved the consistency of performance he is looking for and was very disappointed with the results in the second half of last season, but it is important that he has the time to bring through a squad of young players who we hope will guide Saints to success over the next decade.
Staying with the playing side, I was delighted to see Lewis Ludlam and Alex Waller announced as co-captains this season. They both join a long illustrious list of Saints legends, like Edgar Mobbs, David Powell, Tim Rodber and Dylan Hartley to name just a few. Anyone who has ever captained a sports team at any level, will know how demanding it can be at times, so I think it’s sensible move to have a shared leadership model. I would like to wish them both the very best of luck for the season and also thank Teimana Harrison for his excellent stint as co-captain last year.
In a week of so many positives, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Club President, Ron Slinn. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of everyone at Saints to express my deepest condolences to his family. Ron was a wonderful friend of the Club’s for more than 70 years and I cannot think of anyone who symbolised what it meant to be a ‘Saintsman’ more than him. He was a selfless and hard-working servant of the Club, who provided brilliant leadership as President. His passion for the Club was obvious to anyone who met him, and I feel very fortunate to have known him personally. Franklin’s Gardens will not be the same without him and we thank him for all he did for the Club.
As always, your support means the world to the team, so, wherever you are watching tonight’s game from, enjoy the action and let’s hope for a win for the men in Black, Green and Gold.
We March Together.
Chairman, Northampton Saints