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Mark Darbon: Read the Chief Executive's programme notes

Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is full of optimism after a relentless summer both on and off the pitch at Franklin's Gardens.

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

Hello and a very warm welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for our opening home match of the 2019/20 season!

It’s been a long preseason for the playing squad, and it feels like an incredible amount of time has passed since we were here facing Worcester at the end of last season, but we have an exciting season ahead and are eagerly anticipating getting started.

“The players are relishing being back on home soil at Franklin’s Gardens this week.”

Mark Darbon

Chris Boyd has been really pleased with how preseason has panned out for our squad, and we are now focussed on defending our Premiership Rugby Cup crown for the coming weeks, and then on progressing in the Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup. Last weekend’s opening fixture, away at Sale Sharks, was a very tough first assignment for an extremely young line-up – but anyone who travelled to watch the game will know that we played with plenty of enterprise and punched above our weight against a very experienced Sharks team packed with internationals.

The players are relishing being back on home soil at Franklin’s Gardens this week, against a Wasps side we have enjoyed playing here in recent years. A very warm welcome to Dai Young and his team this afternoon; let’s hope we have another great contest.

Rugby is of course very much in the spotlight at the moment with the Rugby World Cup kicking off in Japan last week. We’re very proud that seven of our players have been selected to represent their countries at the tournament. Good luck to Courtney Lawes, Piers Francis, Lewis Ludlam (all England), Dan Biggar (Wales), Cobus Reinach (South Africa), Ahsee Tuala (Samoa) and Api Ratuniyarawa (Fiji) – but especially good luck to England of course! A win for the Red Rose can only be good for Saints and rugby in this country, in the same way it was all the way back in 2003.

“You’ll hopefully notice looking around the ground today that we’ve had a very busy summer at Franklin’s Gardens.”

Mark Darbon

You’ll hopefully notice looking around the ground today that we’ve had a very busy summer at Franklin’s Gardens. The improvements we have made throughout the Supporter Village have all been based on the feedback we received in our end-of-season survey last year. You spoke and we listened, so hopefully this season your matchday experience will be better than ever before. The most obvious change is our new awning which will provide more shelter from the elements – but we have also added more places to sit, more cashless bars to reduce queuing time, new TV screens to view pre-match and half-time entertainment, a revamped food court, and an indoor family fun zone which will be run by our Community department. Following the success of our live entertainment last season, we’ve also committed to delivering more diverse acts throughout the season, starting with Rio Brass (a five-piece ensemble) this afternoon who mix Brazilian rhythms with popular songs.

Inside the stadium bowl we’ve also broken new ground by launching the Tunnel Club; a new top-class hospitality suite under the Churches Stand which allows supporters the chance to enter the inner sanctum of the players’ tunnel. Our hospitality boxes in the South Stand have been refurbished too, and we’re more confident than ever that we are offering the very best range of matchday experiences to suit any budget in English club rugby.

We’re really pleased with Season Ticket sales, which are as strong as they have been in my tenure here – definitely a by-product of the thrilling style of rugby we played last season under Chris, but also hopefully of some of the efforts we made to make watching Saints more accessible for all. Season Tickets are still available to purchase for the season ahead – but not for much longer. We go off sale with full Season Tickets at 3pm on Sunday 6 October, just as we kick-off next weekend’s clash against Saracens, so don’t delay if you’re sitting on the fence!

“A Rugby World Cup win for England can only be good news for Saints and rugby in this country.”

Mark Darbon

Finally, I wanted to reassure any supporters that have booked onto trips for our European matches away in Lyon and Treviso with travel group Thomas Cook Sport. While of course we are sorry to hear about the financial difficulties facing one of our partners, at the time of writing, it looks as though Thomas Cook’s sports travel wing has been acquired by a new group who will continue to service Northampton Saints and the Club’s supporters. We are still working to understand all the implications of this with the new business, but rest assured we will put our supporters first when it comes to finding a resolution.

But back to today’s game, and a tough task in store against Wasps who are also looking for a first win of the season. I’m excited to see Franklin’s Gardens full of people once again, and – as ever – please do your very best to make some noise for Saints today. It makes a world of difference for the players to have all of you behind them.

Come on you Saints!
Mark Darbon
Chief Executive

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