A potted history of Northampton Saints Rugby
Gold, Black n Green
August 2 2002
Northampton Football Club, as it was then known, was founded in 1880, by Reverend Samuel Wathan Wigg. The Reverend was a local clergyman and curate of St. James. This is how the club came to obtain its two nicknames of 'The Saints' or 'Jimmies'.
Reverend Wigg's idea was to set up a team, which was made up of boys from the church area. He saw it as a way for the boys to let off steam, so they did not get into trouble on the streets of the town. The youngsters took to the game well and the club from those humble beginnings went quickly from strength to strength.
It was not long until Northampton had one of the major Rugby Union teams in the country. Twenty years after its establishment, the first Saints player was awarded an England Cap. This man was a local farmer called Harry Weston, and although it was only one appearance for his country it was still a great achievement for the club that had only been formed two decades earlier.
As the club progressed through the early years of the 20th century one player dominated this era for the club, Edgar Mobbs. Edgar was a hero throughout the town. He was the first Northampton player to captain his country but he is best remembered for his exploits in World War 1. After initially being turned down as too old, Edgar raised his own 'Sportsmans' battalion otherwise known as 'Mobbs Own''. Edgar was sadly killed in battle, on 29th July 1917 attacking a machine gun post. His body was never found.
People wanted to remember Edgar Mobbs, so a statue of him was erected in his honour. This can still be seen in Northampton today. The club that he was loyal to also wanted to remember him, and they arranged the Mobbs Memorial Match, which has been played every year since 1921 between the Barbarians and East Midlands at the Gardens.
(You can read more about Edgar Mobbs via a link at the foot of this page.)
In this postwar period the Saints continued to grow, and they started to produce some of the best players in the UK, some of whom went on to captain their country. They were one of the driving forces in the English game for the next 60 years producing players such as Butterfield, Jeeps, Longland, White and Jacobs and a host of other names from rugby's hall of fame but hard times were ahead.
The club failed to keep pace with movements within the game and top players were no longer attracted to the Gardens, where a 'them and us' mentality had built up between the players and those on those in charge of the club. This was too much for some former players who formed their own task force which swept out the old brigade in the 'Saints Revolution' and put a plan into action which would put the club back at the top of the English game.
Barry Corless, as director of rugby, set about restructuring the club and soon the Saints were back on the way up, helped somewhat by the signing of All Black legend Wayne' Buck' Shelford.
In 1990, Northampton Rugby Union Football Club gained promotion to the then First Division and the following year made their first trip to Twickenham to play Quins in the Pilkington Cup Final. They lost in extra time but the foundations of a good Saints lineup were beginning to show in the following few seasons.
Tim Rodber and Ian Hunter to name but two forced their way into the England setup while youngsters like Matt Dawson and Nick Beal came through the ranks.
Ian McGeechan took over as Director of Rugby, and although the club were relegated in his first season, they returned in style the next season, winning every single game of their campaign.
In 1995, the game of Rugby Union turned professional, and the club was acquired by current chairman Keith Barwell, a local businessman who was eager to put something back into the town and the club that he had supported since he was a boy. For a cool one million pounds 'Uncle Keith' bought a controlling interest in the club and he set about making his dream come true, making the Saints the top side in Europe.
In 1999, Saints came runners-up in the Allied Dunbar Premiership and achieved their very first place in the Heineken European Cup. Ian McGeechan left the club at the end of the season to return to coach Scotland, and was replaced by former Saints player John Steele who had done so well on a limited budget at London Scottish .
The year 2000 was indeed the Year of the Saint! The team reached the Tetley's Bitter Cup Final, and although they lost, they returned to Twickenham two weeks later and won the first major trophy in the club's 120-year history, when they beat Munster 9-8 in the European Cup Final. Keith Barwell's dream had come to fruition but then the problem arose of how to stay there once they had reached the top.
After a poor start to the 2001/2002 season, John Steele moved 'upstairs' and former All-Black coach Wayne Smith was appointed as Head Coach. 'Smudger' transformed the club in five short months. A team who looked down and out in November were moulded into a side that reached the Powergen Cup final and again secured that elusive spot in the Heineken Cup.
And so to the future……………..