In the beginning

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Northampton Rugby Football Club, more commonly known as The Saints, is one of the oldest rugby clubs in the country.

Among the clubs currently vying for the title of the best in England in the Premiership, the Saints is unique both for how it was founded and how it has remained close to its roots in a literal and metaphorical way for 130 years.

The club's origins can be traced to a boys' improvement class run out of the St James Church by its curate, Revd Samuel Wathan Wigg. The class was started as a way to let the area's high-spirited boys let off steam in a constructive way. Long before his death Revd Wigg, who fathered nine children, was to see the side develop quickly into one of the main clubs in England.

After playing in a number of venues in the immediate years after its founding, the Saints made Franklin's Gardens its home in the late-1880s. Originally known as Melbourne Gardens (pictured above), the site was a popular pleasure garden and leisure hub for the people of Northampton. Its current name was taken from John Franklin, a hotelier who bought the site in 1886, and it was not long before the stadium was known as one of the finest in England, particularly with the addition of an excellent main stand in 1927.

The Saints' original colours were black and green stripes. The gold was added in 1905 for a game against the touring All Blacks, known as The Originals. By then the Saints also had its first England player, local farmer Harry Weston from Yardley Gobion, and was soon to have its first national captain too in the shape of Edgar Mobbs.

Mobbs's name still lives on today, both in the club's Hall of Fame but also in the Mobbs Memorial Match between the East Midlands and the Barbarians, which commemorates Mobbs's bravery in World War I. Initially denied a commission, Mobbs formed his own corps that became known as the Sportsman's Battalion.

Within 18 months Mobbs was battalion commander, but he would not survive the war. Wounded three times in combat, Mobbs died as he had lived, charging a German machine gun nest in the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as the Battle of Passchendale. A memorial to Mobbs, who had no wife or children, was unveiled in front of thousands of people in Northampton Market Square in 1921.

Where Mobbs and Weston had blazed a trail from club to country others soon followed, such as big bruising forwards like Ray Longland, Billy Weston and Freddie Blakiston, who was later knighted. But it was not until the middle of the twentieth century that Northampton would be producing one world-class player after another.