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John White: Read the Chairman's programme notes

Northampton Saints chairman John White is relishing the prospect of a sold-out East Midlands Derby at the Gardens.

Read John's welcome and more in today’s official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...

Good afternoon and welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for this afternoon’s East Midlands derby match against Leicester Tigers.

I don’t know about you, but this is the game in our calendar that I look forward to the most when the fixtures are announced. Talk to any former Saint, and they’ll tell you it’s the game they’d want to play in one final time. There’s nothing quite like derby day at the Gardens.

The intensity and raucousness of the crowd, together with the unpredictable nature of the game, is what makes an East Midlands derby so unique. You may as well throw the form book out the window – these games tend to be one-offs. Whether you’re a player, a supporter, the referee or even the ball boy, these are very special occasions to be part of. We’ve had some crackers over the years and I’m sure today’s game will live up to expectation.

"There’s nothing quite like derby day at the Gardens."

John White, Chairman

It was fantastic to see so many travelling supporters out in Treviso last weekend, getting behind the team on our first European away trip of the season! I really enjoyed meeting so many of you out in Italy and hearing your thoughts on our excellent start to the season. It was remarkable to see how many people travelled from all over the UK and beyond – and it means so much to the team to hear ‘Oh When The Saints’ chanted on foreign soil. I’ve no doubt the trip to Leinster next month will be just as lively!

This week we bid a fond farewell to Alan Dickens who stepped away from his role as Saints Defence Coach to become Head Coach of England men U20s. ‘Dicko’, as he was affectionately known around the Club, has been a fixture at Franklin’s Gardens for over 11 years, initially starting out as an Academy Manager before climbing the ladder to the first team as both an attack and defence coach.

As someone who helped coach Saints to multiple titles – including the Premiership during the 2013/14 season – we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He will be greatly missed and we wish him every success in his new role. Although it won’t be too long until we see him back in Northampton; Franklin’s Gardens will host his England U20 side when they take on Ireland in the Six Nations in March next year.

On that note, I was delighted to see six young Saints announced in a 45-player squad for the first England men U20s training camp. Congratulations and good luck to Tommy Freeman, Josh Gillespie, Emmanuel Iyogun, Ollie Newman, Ollie Sleightholme and JJ Tonks for their call-ups. Our Academy continues to produce the next generation of talent, and I’m sure we’ll see and hear lots more from them in the coming years.

Another young man we’ll be seeing more of is Rory Hutchinson, who has extended his contract at Saints. Rory has been in exceptional form over the last 12 months and it was no surprise to anyone he made his international debut for Scotland earlier in the summer. He is an important player for Chris Boyd’s side going forward and is quickly becoming a supporter favourite at the Gardens, so we’re thrilled to see him sign on again. 

Off the field, no doubt you will have seen that Saracens announced a week ago that they will not contest their points deduction and fine for breaching the league’s salary cap. I believe this is the right outcome for English club rugby and I hope now that this process has concluded – it means we can draw a line under this whole affair and move on. Our focus should shift towards growing the game we all love, and ensuring we continue to build a competitive and successful league.

"Rory has been in exceptional form over the last 12 months, so we’re thrilled to see him sign on again."

John White, Chairman

I am sure, like me, you were saddened to see the terrible news that former Saints prop Tom Smith is battling stage four cancer. Tom spent eight years at Franklin's Gardens from 2001 until his retirement from playing in 2009, and was part of the Northampton side that won the European Challenge Cup in his final season.

Tom is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and as a consequence he has been unable to work and support his family. I gather the outlook is uncertain, but he is fighting hard. On behalf of everyone at Saints I am sure you’ll join me in wishing Tom a very speedy recovery in what must be a very worrying time for him. If you would like to support his fundraising or attend Tom’s Testimonial Dinner, details can be found on the Club website.

But back to today’s match against Tigers – I know Chris Boyd and his side will be desperate to get the win that keeps us at the top of the Gallagher Premiership, so make sure you get behind the boys today, and in the same vein make sure Leicester Tigers know they’re on Northampton soil!

Enjoy the game, and come on you Saints!

John White

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