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Re: 2009 - what changed?
Posted by: Mike Parton
Date: 18/03/2020 15:37
Right, have some time on my hands....

Firstly, Sam, thanks for posting this, Very interesting and you are always welcome.

And the answer to your original question is "Everything"!

As others have said, it was "The Night of the Long Knives" and 19 players were sadly culled. A lot of them were crowd favourites and the initial reaction from the fanbase was very disappointed and negative. They were largely replaced with South Africans and indeed South Africa money came into the club to help Nigel Wray mitigate his 1 million per season losses.

In also came Brendan Venter, the man who epitomises the term "marmite". He was pencilled in for a 5-year stint but after 18 months left for his long-help dream of a GP practice in South Africa. A fairly raw Mark McCall took over and the coaching team continued to be developed as detailed above.

Let's go back a step. A group of 10 or so of us had had season tickets from when we started playing at Vicarage Road. So we have had about 10/11 years of watching Sarries when 2009 occurred. And that meant watching plucky old Sarries winning about half their home games and only a couple away. The standard of rugby was quite exciting but the nitty gritty grinding out of victories almost non-existant. Relegation was often flirted with and narrowly avoided. But we were "plucky old Sarries", usually good for a win and no threat to anyone.

And then 2009 happened. After one semi-final appearance in about 2006 we found ourselves in the final the following year. We weren't ready to win but a cruel late Dan Hipkiss try was a painful experience. Tigers were still the top dogs. However, the next year there we were again in the final. And that year, after one of the most agonising defensive stands ever seen, we were triumphant.

And at that point everything changed. We weren't plucky old Saracens any more. We were now winning Saracens. And in that moment our current travails were born. I remember turning to another of the gang next to me and saying "The establishment clubs are not going to like this".

Fast forward many years. The coaching took hold, the training and playing methods evolved, always seeming to be one step ahead of our domestic rivals (it took us another 5 years, and some very painful defeats to break through in Europe). And as we kept winning so the innuendo and suspicion gradually and gradually increased. We were obviously spending up to the cap because we had an owner who could afford to let us do that. Even when the South African investors sold up two years ago, because they could no longer support a venture that by its very nature was loss-making, NW simply assumed 100% of the ownership and debt again.

As a non-traditional club we always knew that there was likely to a fairly massive bump in the road at some point. We used to joke amongst ourselves as to how long we would be allowed to "get away" with winning. That bump in the road came with the recent events. The club clearly felt that they were doing nothing wrong with both the co-investments and Maro's image rights. Let's face it, if you want to pay a player more you just set up an offshore bank account and pay him. It's not difficult (and something we were always frequently accused of!). In fact earlier in the season the Bristol owner, Steve Lansdown, was quoted as saying something like I've got 20 businesses (I can't remember the exact number), if I want to employ a player and pay him there then I will.

And this is where it comes full circle from 2009 to the present day. Plucky little club become serial winners and over the course of several seasons monumentally irritates 12 other club chairmen who can't beat them. The Daily Mail publish the original story (which we subsequently discover has been drawn up by Harlequins and leaked by the Exeter and Gloucester chairmen). Those 12 chairmen see their opportunity. Convene a carefully-selected panel and instruct them to arrive at a certain decision. Make sure it takes many months to make it look like a lot of due diligence has occurred. Make the panel eminent (although given the events of the past three years how having someone on the panel who has been associated with the Supreme Court can make it look eminent is beyond me). And then have them arrive at the pre-ordained conclusion.

So a very potted 11 year history. Full of a lot of ups and one fairly significant down! Lots of things still don't add up of course. If we had wanted to pay players more we would very simply have done it the "old-fashioned" way. To quote an example the Wasps squad of 2003-2005 didn't to anyone's knowledge have complicated co-investments in place but if you look at the squad in that era and the prevalent salary cap something was obviously "amiss".

We were most certainly guilty of failing to report exactly what we were doing, which was an absolute corner-stone of the salary cap post 2015.

Several people from other clubs have suggested (at the very least) that Nigel Wray is no longer associated with the club, and perhaps not even the sport. Contrary to their protestations, this is nothing to do with any alleged misdemeanours, more the fact that we will plummet should NW no longer be involved. There seem to be a lot of people who would like that outcome.

So Sam, what started in 2009 finished at the end of 2019. Who knows what the next episode will be?

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