Nathan and Damon Flynn spoke to the Northampton Chronicle and Echo’s Tom Vickers this week after a remarkable attendance streak came to an unfortunate end last week.
You can hear the rueful tone in Nathan Flynn’s voice as he speaks about the fateful trip to Italy in December 2009.
Because during a 19-year period, it was the one that had got away from him and his dad.
The Flynns were on a sensational streak of successive Saints games when snow struck their chances of watching the 21-18 Heineken Cup success at Treviso 11 years ago.
But even though they didn’t make that match, it didn’t deter them. Nathan and Damon had been present for every game since, until Covid-19 sent rugby behind closed doors and put another spanner in the works for the dedicated father and son.
It means last Sunday’s Franklin’s Gardens defeat to Wasps was only the second Saints match the Flynns had missed out of a massive total of 637.
It is an incredible effort and one that they are extremely grateful to have been able to enjoy – but they still can’t forget what they call ‘the infamous story’ of what happened in Italy 11 years ago.
“My dad doesn’t fly so we were going by train to Paris and then on from there to Venice,” Nathan explained.
“Long story short, they had the worst snow they’d had for years in Italy and the train got stuck in the snow in the middle of the Alps.
“The engine broke down and we had to wait for a new engine to come so they could take us into Venice.
@SaintsRugby home&away every week since age 7. Taking out a disaster trip to Italy in 2009 my Dad and I have been to a huge 635 CONSECUTIVE Saints matches in this time. BUT our record has finally met its match! COVID, you have won temporarily, but we will be back! @WheresTommyV pic.twitter.com/U2qwa0OUM2— Nathan Flynn (@nathan_flynn) August 15, 2020
“We arrived at Venice eight hours late, missed the game and got there just as all the fans were arriving back into Venice so it was not ideal.
“That was the only one we missed out of 636 games before last Sunday.”
The fact that Damon doesn’t travel by plane makes the Flynns’ achievement of attending almost every game, home and away, even more incredible.
But while they have overcome so many obstacles in the name of Northampton Saints, last Sunday was one they simply couldn’t hurdle.
“It was my first-ever time watching Saints on TV and it was surreal and strange,” said Nathan. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in.
“It’s a strange one because no-one is allowed to go so in a weird way I don’t feel like I’m missing out because there’s no alternative.
“It’s not like we’ve chosen not to carry on going to games – it’s just what’s happened.
“It’s a surreal feeling and knowing I’m going to have to watch more games on TV is weird but it’s just counting down the days until we can get back into the stadium.”Nathan Flynn
The streak of consecutive Saints games all started for Nathan when he was seven.
He and his dad attended the home match against Saracens in April 2001, and it went from there, never missing a beat, even during illness.
“We’ve both been very lucky health wise,” Damon said.
“The only time we’ve really been ill was when we both had flu and we went to Viadana, spent 26 hours on a bus and it was called off anyway. We were ill as anything.
“One of the most difficult places for us has been Castres because it never has a train out after 7pm and a lot of the time we’ve kicked off at 6pm. One of the times we got the Club to arrange for a coach to go from Toulouse to Castres and back.”
Nathan and Damon happily admit ‘we know every single local chip shop at every ground going’.
And though they don’t necessarily love trips to distant domestic grounds such as Newcastle and Exeter, they just can’t stop watching the Saints.
It has got to the point where they even plan major life events around the action.
“My wife accepted she was a rugby widow when we met each other when we were 15, so it’s all sorted,” Nathan said, laughing.
“I’ve got a first child on the way and it was meant to be planned so it was outside of rugby season, but the wife managed to mess that up spectacularly.
“But it’s actually due on November 12, which is actually rugby off-season this year. So as long as it’s not more than a couple of weeks late, it will be perfect.”
With an abundance of Saints matches in the suitcase, it is tough to unpack the most valuable memories as there are simply so many of them.
“You can’t look too far past the league title win (in 2014) but there have been quite a few different ones,” Nathan said.
“The Heineken Cup final in 2011 was definitely a highlight, even though we lost it. The whole culture behind it, the excitement and quality of the match was great.”Nathan Flynn
“We were insanely good in the first half and then Jonny Sexton was insanely good in the second.
“European games in general, going over to France and Italy is always a highlight, and going to San Sebastian (for the game against Biarritz in 2007) was great. There are loads really.”
As for favourite players?
“Mine probably would have been Ben Cohen,” Nathan said. “When England won the World Cup they had a presentation at the Guildhall in Northampton with all the Saints players who won it, and I was chosen by the Supporters Club to present Ben Cohen with his town badge.”
And for Damon?
“It’s very difficult because, as an ex-prop, I always like the props, but it’s probably Bruce (Reihana),” he said. “We were very lucky in that we saw every one of Bruce’s Saints matches – he didn’t play the one we missed.
“To see a bloke in his whole career in Northampton was great, especially because of how much he gave on the pitch and how good he was with the supporters.”