In the heart of the country and strong Rugby territory sits Franklin’s Gardens. A very traditional stadium hosting a traditional rugby club: the Northampton Saints.
The history of Franklin’s Gardens
The home of Northampton saints is one of eight Premiership Grounds used exclusively for Rugby Union. Originally named the Melbourne Gardens, the stadium takes its current name from John Franklin, who changed it in 1887. He bought the ground from its original creator, John Collier.
In 1888 the ground was purchased by the Northampton Brewery Company for £17,000. This was the catalyst for major improvements that led it to become one of the best grounds in England in the early 20th century. A new main stand was built in 1927 and the Gordon Sturtridge pavilion was added in 1966.
Having been owned by a private company since 1920, the club bought back Franklin’s Gardens in 1977 for just £30,000. Since then the club has gradually added the infrastructure to make the stadium suitable for top flight rugby. Temporary stands took the capacity to 10,000 in the 1990s and after the club consolidated its place in the newly professional Premiership Rugby division, major investment came at the start of the 21st century.
A £6m rebuild of the entire stadium was completed in 2002. Further development of the North and South stands has taken place since then.
The final and most recent removed has been to build the Harwell Stand on the Weedon road end, replacing the Sturtridge Pavilion. This stand is named after Keith Barwell, who bankrolled the club during the early professional era.
Best matches at Franklin’s Gardens
2013/14 – Northampton Saints 21 vs Leicester Tigers 20
11 points down at half time, and with a prop sent off early in the second half against their fiercest rivals, Northampton seemed down and out in the Premiership semi final.
Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs crossed for Tigers in the first half, despite the loss of Niki Goneva to the sin bin. Dan Bowden and Tom Youngs followed Goneva with yellow in the second half, allowing the Saints to claw their way back.
All of this energised the crowd to fever pitch levels. Ultimately, the roof was blown off when Tom Wood over for the winning try and sent the Saints to Twickenham.
The future of the stadium
With the completion of the Barwell Stand, Franklin’s Gardens is now a fully 21st-century stadium. In recent years the ground has hosted the LV Cup final, and is the currently preferred ground for the Premiership Rugby 7s tournament. It will host this event for the third straight year in September.
The current capacity of the ground is 15,429 and the club will surely look to increase this in the future. After a slump in form at the end of the Jim Mallinder era, crowds inevitably shrank before rising again under the new exciting management of Chris Boyd.
The 2018/19 average attendance was 15,397, leaving little room for supporter growth.
If Saints can match or improve last season’s fourth-place finish, they may find they need to expand the Gardens again. There is enough space around the facility to allow for expansion, and we might expect capacity increases to top around 20,000 in the next 10-15 years.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images