You can buy success but you cannot buy heart and soul. Franklin’s Gardens has always been a wonderful place to watch rugby. The trappings of professionalism, the big money, the importing of foreign talent. Be it George North from across the Welsh border, or the Pisi Brothers, Samoans via New Zealand, they have not frayed the umbilical cord that attaches the Saints players to the community. The bottom line matters but so too does the shirt.
Northampton Saints are probably unique among professional sports clubs in that they have made a profit every year since 2000.The ground has a capacity of 13,591 and is widely considered one of the best club stadiums in British rugby. Quite rightly in my opinion, even if a pint of Tetleys is a London-beating £5.00.
At the end of a week when Wasps announced a move a 100 miles away to Coventry, it is fitting to salute the Saints’ firm foundations. The Gardens, originally known as Melbourne Gardens, were created by John Collier, and after his death in 1886 they were bought by John Franklin, a local hotelier, who renamed them Franklin’s Gardens the following year. The Saints moved there in the late 1880’s.
During the 1990’s a raft of temporary stands increased the capacity to 10,000. Then the stadium underwent a complete re-build in the early 2000’s. The Tetley’s and South stands were opened formally by Ian McGeechan with the horseshoe stadium completed in the summer of 2002 with the building of the Church’s Stand.
The final part of the jigsaw is for a new North Stand, to replace the current Sturidge Pavilion. This would take the capacity up to 17,000.
Northampton have also shown how to get things right on the field. The defending champions sealed their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership with what proved to be a comfortable win over toothless Sale Sharks, who have not won at Franklin’s Gardens since May 2006, and showed no signs of doing so here. With Stephen Myler and Danny Cipriani competing to pull on the England No 10 shirt next month a battle of the fly-halves loomed, but it was Northampton’s American no 8, Samu Manoa, who grabbed the headlines with three of the Saints’ six tries. Sale did batter the home line a few times but they lacked the composure to keep the ball safe for long enough to seriously trouble the meanest defence in the league for the first hour. Ironically their solitary try was probably the best scored in the match.
Apparently, Sale’s Director of Rugby, Steve Diamond, left the ground early, and was “too angry” to attend the post-match inquest. You couldn’t blame him…