Northampton Saints chairman Tony Hewitt says that supporters will be forever in the debt of the Barwell family for their investment, time and commitment in putting the club at the top of English rugby.
Keith Barwell’s £1 million pound investment in 1995 ensured that the Saints was able to make the transition into the professional game, with further millions over the next five years establishing the team as the best in Europe, bringing home the Heineken Cup in 2000.
But Barwell also had the belief in creating a club which could stand on its own two feet financially, and since the turn of the millennium Northampton Saints has been the only club in the Aviva Premiership to have been profitable for each of the past 16 years.
Meanwhile on the field the Saints has lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy, won multiple European Challenge Cup titles and the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
This Saturday supporters will have the opportunity to thank Keith and the rest of the Barwell family for their contribution to the history of the club as the Barwell Stand is formally opened at the north end of Franklin’s Gardens, completing a development that began in the summer of 2001.
“The Saints wouldn’t be where we are today without Keith Barwell,” Hewitt says in a special video which will be shown at half-time. “Keith invested the initial amount of money in 1995, as well as in that period between 1995 and 2000 when expenditure didn’t meet our income and a lot of clubs that were in the top flight couldn’t afford to continue.
“He introduced a breath of fresh air into the club, introducing modern business methods, modern marketing ideas. He is very much his own man, unique, and helped shape the future of the game. Premiership Rugby wouldn’t be the same without him.”
It has been a real family affair between the Barwells and the Saints, with Keith succeeded by his late son, Leon, as chairman between 2011 and 2013, and with Ella Bevan now on the board of directors.
“Leon’s legacy to the club will be his supporter engagement, which has been taken over by his sister, Ella,”
Hewitt adds. “It was a difficult period for us on the playing side, and Leon had the foresight to have the first Season Ticket Holders’ forum to engage the supporters and then achieve success.
“We do know that we have to keep that engagement with our supporters going forward.”
As well as the formal opening of the new Barwell Stand, which will happen shortly before kick off, Saturday will also see the presentation of a number of club legends to the crowd, and the unveiling of a mural celebrating the Saints’ proud history that has been completed by 20 Northampton primary schools.
Supporters are encouraged to arrive earlier than normal, and to be in their seats or terrace spaces no later than 2:30pm.
As well as the video on the big screen, half-time will also have a performance from the 100-strong – and always popular – Rock Choir on the main pitch.
A special programme will commemorate the occasion, including contributions from former players Pat Lam, Matt Dawson and Budge Pountney, former director of rugby Sir Ian McGeechan, and a number of other influential people from the 21-year history of professional rugby at Franklin’s Gardens.
Tickets remain on sale now for the game, which can be booked online 24 hours a day, seven days a week at
www.tinyurl.com/SAI-IRI-1516, and by using Print@Home supporters can beat the match day queues and save the admin fees.