Northampton Saints chairman John White reflects on a busy week at Franklin's Gardens, which sees supporter return to the stadium for the first time in 2021, and Club co-captain Alex Waller reach a hugely impressive milestone.
Good afternoon and a very warm welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for the first time in 2021 – I can’t tell you how good it feels to finally be able to say that!
Barring one European fixture back in December where we were allowed up to 2,000 people through the gates, today marks our first home match since February 2020 with supporters in the ground – and while we still are not yet at full capacity, it is wonderful to know that almost 4,000 of you will be drenching the stadium in Black, Green and Gold for today’s Gallagher Premiership match against Wasps.
I don’t think anyone imagined when the pandemic began that it would take so long for us to be together again at the Gardens, but after everything the last 15 months has thrown at us, it’s safe to say that this will be an emotional afternoon for everyone at the Club. Our players and staff have been counting down the days to the moment they can run out in front of our loyal supporters again, and I know it will mean the world to them to see all of you back in the stands.
“It’s difficult to sum up just how much Alex means to us Franklin’s Gardens, but there’s no doubt he often does not get the credit he deserves.”John White, Northampton Saints Chairman
Emotions will also be running high because of what today means to our Club co-captain, Alex Waller. After 299 matches so far in Black, Green and Gold, ‘Sue’ brings up a triple century of Northampton appearances this afternoon – a feat only matched by 23 other Saints amongst over 2000 players to have represented the Club, and a truly remarkable milestone in the professional era! It’s difficult to sum up just how much Alex means to us Franklin’s Gardens, but there’s no doubt he often does not get the credit he deserves. Since his debut back in 2009, he has been doing the hard yards in the front row through all the highs and lows, reaching finals and lifting trophies for his hometown Club. No doubt his name will be etched forever amongst the Club’s long list of legends, but I know Alex won’t want too much fuss today, as he feels he still has plenty left to give Saints – and we hope there are many more games and milestones to come for him at Franklin’s Gardens.
It would be remiss of me not to also extend my congratulations to Api Ratuniyarawa, who marks his 100th Saints appearance this afternoon. Api is another often unsung hero within the squad, but he’s incredibly popular amongst the group and offers a lot of ballast on the field as well. Not many people know that he named his son ‘Franklin’ after his birth in 2019, and that should show you just how much the Club means to him!
“Around the Club it remains busier than ever, and I must congratulate all our staff on their efforts to continue to deliver such fantastic results.”John White, Northampton Saints Chairman
Away from the pitch, we’ve been delighted to make a number of exciting announcements over the last fortnight. We have extended our nine-year partnership with Official Vehicle Supplier, Spirit Hyundai, and earlier this week we were thrilled to launch another limited-edition bottle of Gin in collaboration with our partners Warner’s Distillery. We also welcomed Bite Street NN on board for the summer earlier this month, with the popular street food pop-up moving from the County Cricket Ground to the Supporter Village at Franklin’s Gardens for the summer. We are always looking for innovative ways to use our fantastic facility, and Bite Street absolutely fits the bill for what is shaping up to be a fantastic summer of outdoor events.
Meanwhile, our Community department also marked a milestone recently as our incredibly successful Wheelchair Rugby team were able to safely return to training finally after a long hiatus.
Suffice to say, around the Club it remains busier than ever, and I must congratulate all our staff on their efforts to continue to deliver such fantastic results while also preparing tirelessly for the safe return of crowds to our stadium!
On to today’s match then, and while our last two results have been incredibly disappointing in the context of our challenge to reach the top four, you can rest assured that our players still feel like they have plenty to fight for against Wasps. While mathematically we can still reach the Premiership’s semi-finals, Chris Boyd admitted last week after the Newcastle match that our race is probably run for this year. But, the playing group have pride on the line and are desperate to give our supporters inside the ground something to cheer about on their return to the Gardens.
So, be sure to play your part from the stands... and COME ON YOU SAINTS!