Despite being one of the oldest clubs in English rugby, the Saracens Rugby Club had to endure decades of struggling in the lower leagues, before finally breaking through into the Premiership, after the ‘professionalisation’ of rugby league in 1996. Today, the team is one of the best-known and most successful squads in the UK and their black and red strip is recognisable not just in their native Watford, but all over the world.
The Saracens were founded in 1876 by the old boys of the Philological School in Marylebone, central London. The team played in 11 different home grounds before moving to Bramley Road for the 1939-40 season. However, their first match there would not be until after World War II. Facilities were poor and some of England’s best teams refrained from arranging matches against them. Nevertheless, a number of international players emerged from the club during this era. From then on, the Saracens did play against England’s leading clubs but it would be some time before they would manage to accomplish any notable achievements. Whilst struggling against better-financed and better-equipped teams in the 1970s, the closest they got to any accolade was the semi-finals of the National Cup. The 1980s proved to be a low point for the club. However, by the end of the decade they had improved their play and finished 1989 at the top of the second division.
The following year, the Saracens found themselves in the First Division and they surprised many by finishing fourth in the league. However, their years of switching between divisions was not yet over. Within the space of two years, Saracens had lost several of their star players to bigger clubs and when the leagues were changed again in 1993, the Saracens were relegated. The next year they came third, narrowly missing promotion. However, at the end of the 1994-5 season, they finished once again at the top of the league, thus winning their way back into the Premiership. It appeared that they were heading back down the following year but a fluke of changes in the league saved them, as the Premiership expanded to accommodate 12 teams, rather than 10.
In November 1995, the Saracens’ fortune took a turn for the better when they gained substantial financial backing, enabling the club to recruit international stars such as Francois Pienaar and Philippe Sella, as well as new home-grown talent. The money also secured a move to Enfield FC’s ground but they could not achieve Heineken Cup qualification, as they finished seventh in the league.
The 1997/98 season was a landmark year. The club moved to the 22,000 seat Vicarage Road stadium, which the club share with Watford FC. A new marketing director, Peter Deakin, ensured the club gained heightened media attention, as they lost only 3 games during the season, finishing second in the Premiership. They also beat the London Wasps 48-18 in the Cup final – their first major cup win. After a solid start to 1998/99, the Saracens seemed to be having a difficult season but they fought back impressively to finish in 3rd place. In 1999 they signed even more big names including Thierry Lacroix and Scott Murray and finally qualified for the Heineken Cup.
However, by October 2001, Saracens had effectively crashed out of the Cup after a series of back-to-back defeats. They finished 5th in the league and so missed out on the final Heineken Cup place for the next year. This disappointment provoked the management to make some changes. During the 2001/02 season, a number of established players including local hero Tony Diprose, left the club. The young squad which remained started well but fell towards the relegation zone. Coach Pienaar resigned and was replaced by a syndicate of senior players in the absence of a proper replacement. This upheaval led to the team finishing 10th. Wayne Shelford, an All Blacks legend, was drafted in as the replacement coach. Yet again, the season started well but a string of defeats sent them towards the relegation zone. However, the team pulled together and finished 5th. They made it to the European Cup final where they put up a good fight but lost to Leicester. This disappointing form led to Shelford’s dismissal and he was replaced by ex-Australia and Leicester player Rod Kafer. However, Kafer failed to make the difference. Furthermore, the World Cup call-up affected the Saracen line-up particularly badly and they finished 10th. At the beginning of the 2003-4 season, the club signed a number of new English players, as well as international legend Glen Jackson from New Zealand. They failed to recover from their mid-season slump but finished in 5th place. Furthermore, success in the European cup secured them a place in the Heineken Cup.
Defensive coach Mike Ford was appointed new head coach at the beginning of the following season, which started surprisingly badly. Despite some impressive play, overall performances were poor and the Saracens finished 10th. For the 2005-6 season, the Saracens signed Australia’s national coach as their new coach. The new season also saw the arrival of Neil de Kock and Andy Farrell, as well as the return of Richard Hill, who received a standing ovation from both sides of the stadium when he returned to the pitch following surgery on his knee. However, any hopes of glory were extinguished following a defeat by Bath in the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup. This meant that the Saracens had lost out on any chance of gaining the Premiership top spot. Nevertheless, as the end of the season drew near, tensions were high. The results went Saracens’ way, though, and they made it to the Premiership playoffs for the first time. However, the season ended with a disappointing defeat to Gloucester. Ultimately, the season showed a team progressing rapidly and Glen Jackson finished as the season’s PRA Player of the Year.
The Club Today
The Saracens’ status in the English rugby league now seems fairly secure, especially with the signings of Gordon Ross, Brent Russell, and All Black Chris Jack at the beginning of the 2006-7 season. However, Russell and Jackson both sat out the start of the season due to injury, causing consternation amongst supporters. The season got off to an uneven start for the Saracens, with some wins and some defeats. However, victories against Wasps, Leeds and Leicester managed to keep them near the top of the table and the squad performed respectably in the EDF Energy Cup and the Heineken Cup. Saracens ultimately finished the season in a strong fourth place. Fans have good reason to be hopeful for the Saracens in 2008.
- Tetley’s Bitter Cup Champions 1998
- Top Try Scorer: Darragh O’Mahony – 26
- Top Drop Goal Scorer: Andy Goode – 9
- Top Penalty Scorer: Andy Goode – 71
- Top Points Scorer: Andy Goode – 364
- Greatest Victory: 59 – 5 vs Rotherham Titans (24 Sep 2000)
- Worst Defeat: 13 – 55 vs London Irish (22 Nov 2001)
- Most tries scored in game: 9 vs Bedford Blues (16 Apr 2000)
- Most tries conceded in game: 7 vs Leicester Tigers (24 Feb 2001)
Saracens Head Office:
34 The Parade,
Herts. WD17 1EA
Tel: 01923 475222
Fax: 01923 475275
Contact details for other offices and individual email addresses, etc. can be found on the contact page on the website.
The ground is a 15-20 minute walk from Watford Junction station. There are fast, frequent trains from central London: trains run from Baker Street or Euston underground stations. For directions to the ground from the station, maps, and traffic information check the directions page. This page also has links with information on coach services running to and from matches.
Fans often organize car-pools for away matches – check fanzines and websites for details.
Price information and tickets are available at the online box office – though shoppers have to register.
Telephone ticket line: 01923 475222