Written on Sunday 17th Feb 2013
For long-term Saracens fans, familiar with the roller coaster experience of the earlier years of Premiership rugby, Saturday 16th Feb 2013 will be a day to remember; one of those ‘I was there…’ days that we can endlessly bore friends, family and colleagues with for years to come. But almost exactly 4 years ago (18 Feb 2009) there was a Fan’s Forum at Vicarage Road at which a recently appointed Saracens CEO by the name of Edward Griffiths was preparing to face the questions, concerns, doubts as well as the anger of supporters coming to terms with the latest in a number of ‘new starts’ for Saracens Rugby Club. With rumour and speculation rife about a new coaching team, an extensive cull of the playing staff, threats of a major invasion of South African players, the need to move away from Watford, and (believe it or not) considerable sympathy from our Premiership rivals for the perceived destruction of our club, it was an unsettling and unhappy time.
Move the clock on four years, and we’ve had three top 3 finishes in the Premiership, played in 2 Premiership Finals, lifted the Premiership trophy in 2010-11, won the pre-season 7s tournament in 2010, reached the Heineken Cup Quarter Finals for the second year running, reached the LV= Semi-Finals, and are currently sitting 2nd in this season’s Premiership campaign. We set a world record club match attendance at Wembley last year, and regularly use Wembley as our second ground. And yesterday we moved into our very own ground, with 6 of our senior squad unable to play in the match against Exeter Chiefs as they were on international duty. Saracens’ players in international squads???? You couldn’t make it up, or could you?
It’s been a remarkable four-year journey, and yesterday represented a massive step along the way
Like moving into any new home, it might take a while to get all the fixtures and fittings to our liking, but at least we chose the right carpet! And now, 24hrs later; there’s time to reflect and add a bit of perspective to a special day, before getting on with the job of settling down and turning Allianz Park into a Fortress!
But what an amazing day; arriving at Allianz Park for the very first Premiership game to be staged at the ground, the place was buzzing! A mini rugby tournament was in full swing on the pitch; all around the ground, the catering facilities were offering good quality food and drink including Saracens Ale, Saracens Pies, a Juice Bar – a juice bar???. Blue-clad Pioneers were out in force, fielding questions, showing people to their seats and assisting wherever needed. And with the weather playing its part, it all seemed a million miles from the Vicarage Road experience. We were treated to a cracking game of rugby with a 4 try bonus point win for Saracens, to be followed by a mass invasion of the pitch, after the players lap of honour, and then it was party time with live music in the 110metre bar.
The question of who would be invited to our house warming party was in the hands of the Premiership Fixture Fairy, and as fate had it, the chosen opposition was Exeter Chiefs.
Few people would argue that they were not fitting visitors, not only because they are engaged in a mighty rugby journey of their own their own, but also for the fact that in the 2 years that they have been in the Premiership they have won numerous friends. The aficionados, lurkers and trolls of the Saracens Message Board will be well aware that Exeter Chiefs and their supporters are highly regarded amongst Saracens fans, having almost swept the board in the last two End of Season surveys. So it was with great pleasure that the SSA was able to present Phillip Briard of the Exeter Chiefs Supporters Club with a Commemorative Fez to mark their participation in an amazing day. The Chiefs were gracious enough to return the gesture with an engraved plaque for the SSA Trophy cabinet.
Leaving the ground shortly before 7pm, and taking the short cut across the pitch (where else can you do that?), Petrus du Plessis was also crossing the pitch at the same time, and he stopped, put his bag down, and gave an impromptu coaching session to a very young lad who was trying some goal kicking at the posts in front of the North Stand. It was a really special and humble moment with which to wrap up a very special day. You know, there really does seem to be something special happening at Saracens.