Northampton Saints chairman John White is full of optimism ahead of a new season at Franklin's Gardens.
Read John's welcome and more in tonight's official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for tonight’s Gallagher Premiership game against Harlequins as we embark on a brand-new season.
It has been a very busy summer for the Club and, as you know, there has been quite a lot of change at Franklin’s Gardens since this time last season.
"We have made an excellent decision in appointing Chris and that the Club has everything to look forward under his stewardship."John White
Chris Boyd, Saints’ new director of rugby, arrived in August and is settling into his new role excellently, as are the Club’s other new coaches Sam Vesty and Matt Ferguson. I am told by the players that they are bringing an energy, enthusiasm and quality to training and that preseason was tough but hugely enjoyable. I believe we have made an excellent decision in appointing Chris and that the Club has everything to look forward under his stewardship. Undoubtedly Chris and his team will need some time to make their mark and reinvigorate the playing department, but anyone who watched last weekend’s game against Gloucester could see the playing direction they want to move towards which is hugely exciting.
Alongside the new coaching team, we have also welcomed a number of new faces into the playing squad – the last of which, Taqele Naiyavoro, arrived from Sydney last weekend and made his debut for the club on Monday night for the Wanderers in the Premiership Rugby Shield. And while I am excited to see the impact the likes of Taqele, Dan Biggar, James Haskell and Ben Franks will make, I’m looking forward to seeing how our established players like Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes will have benefitted from a full preseason, something they have not had the luxury of for a while.
I am also excited to see more of our younger players in the squad, so it was excellent to see the likes of James Grayson, Ehren Painter, Alex Mitchell and James Fish in the match day 23 at Kingsholm.
You will also see some changes around the stadium too with the old Tetley’s Stand being rebranded as the Carlsberg Stand. The rebranding of the stand was part of a larger investment by Carlsberg into the stadium’s cellars and bars to improve quality, minimise wastage and reduce queuing time – something that I know that is very important to our supporters. The Club is lucky to have such a loyal and committed sponsor as Carlsberg, who have been with Saints for over three decades now, and I thank them for their ongoing support.
The Saints Store has a new look too thanks to a refurbishment and the new playing strips have been well received and are selling well. Elsewhere in the ground we are also delighted to unveil the ‘Captain’s Club’ – our new members-only bar for Season Ticket Holders which offers members an exclusive laid-back place to mingle with fellow supporters before, during and after each of Saints’ 16 home matches. The club will be officially unveiled prior to kick-off tonight by a number of previous Club Captains including Vince Cannon, Tim Rodber, Bob Taylor, David Powell and many others. Look out for them on pitch at half-time too, when we hope to be having a word with a few of them to get their thoughts on the season ahead.
"The Club is confident that it will return to profitability and is focused on executing a four-year plan."John White
There has been change too in the league with the Premiership acquiring a new title sponsor in Gallagher – the US-based global insurance company. In a very competitive sponsorship market it is encouraging to see a blue-chip brand like Gallagher investing in the English domestic game and provided much needed shared income for the 12 Premiership Clubs.
Which brings me on to the annual financial results which many of you may have already seen. A 2.9m loss reflects a challenging year for the Club, but we can look forward with optimism. We are operating in very difficult financial conditions and it is not just Northampton Saints who face this challenge, but many other Premiership Rugby clubs. And while we are disappointed to report a loss, the Club is confident that it will return to profitability and is focused on executing a four-year plan which aims to deliver sustainable success both on and off the pitch.
It has been a year of transition at Franklin’s Gardens over the past 12 months, but one thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the incredible Saints support. With nearly 7,000 people here for a preseason friendly two weeks ago, it reminded me what a wonderful place this is on match day and how important your unwavering support will be throughout the season.
Enjoy the game.