Rugby Union: Forgive me if I have a tear in my eye at Twickers

Mark Evans, Saracens' director of rugby, anticipates the fulfilment of a dream
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Saracens walk out on to the Twickenham turf to contest the Tetley's Bitter Cup final on Saturday, we shall see the culmination of a remarkable transformation. After so many years struggling with inadequate resources it has been a revelationsuddenly to be able to compete on a level playing field with the Leicesters and Baths of this world.

Much has been made of the rags to riches story of the modest, friendly north London club, who found a latter-day fairy godfather in the shape of Nigel Wray and went on to become the belle of the Premiership ball. It has indeed been a whirlwind ride during which the rate of change has been staggering - the arrival of and influence of Lynagh, Sella, Bracken, Pienaar et al has been central to the recent successes of the club.

At a time when the sport itself is searching for a new identity our club has forged one of its own. Thousands of Saracens fans will descend on south-west London resplendent in fez and fiercely committed to their recently adopted team. For many of them it will be their first visit to HQ and they will be eager to take part in a big rugby occasion. Most of them are not the traditional type of rugby fan who holds a debenture or has been a member of a local club for many years. A higher then average proportion will be women and young children - the same spectators who have made Vicarage Road, Watford, such a friendly and uninhibited venue all year. They will bring a freshness and enthusiasm which can only enhance the day.

But amid all the razzmatazz and new-age trappings there will be a smaller but no less enthusiastic group of people - among whom I must count myself - who have been at the club for much longer then the last remarkable two and a half years. With the exception of Francois Pienaar, the whole playing- management team have been at Saracens for at least five years. Among the playing staff, stalwarts such as Diprose, Ravenscroft, Lee, Botterman, Hill, Olver, Sturnham, Sorrell and Chuter have never known any other senior club. Key administrators such as Mike Smith, Bruce Millar and Bruce Claridge have put years of unpaid effort into keeping their club afloat. For all of us, and many others, it will be a truly emotional day.

It will also be a day to remember for those men who kept us up among the elite clubs of the country when all logic decreed that Saracens should have been down with the likes of Esher, Rosslyn Park and Metropolitan Police. Key players such as Alex Keay, Floyd Steadman, Lee Adamson, John Buckton and Brian Davies along with dedicated and talented coaches such as Tony Russ and John Davies.

The night before the final well over 100 ex-players are attending a dinner at Vicarage Road. The 1977 team who reached the cup semi-final (the nearest Saracens have ever been to Twickenham before this year) will be the guests of honour. Also in the throng will be Alain Penaud - symbolising the future - and Richard Hill representing the present squad. Saracens have been eager to embrace change but it has also been important for us to remember where we've come from.

To make those who have contributed in the past feel part of the present is central to what we are trying to do. To move forward does not mean you have to leave everything behind and this Saturday will be a real celebration of the whole club from Nigel Wray right down to the under- sevens mini-rugby team.

The last word should go to the late lamented Kitch Christie who was such a huge influence on our inspirational player-coach Francois Pienaar. Just days before his death, on hearing of our achievement in reaching the final, he remarked: "Now Cappy, when we get to a final we don't lose - do we?"

So when the Men In Black theme tune booms out across the hallowed turf don't be surprised to see one or two of us with a tear in our eye. This day has been a long time coming and we intend to make it the first of many.