Leon Barwell: a true Saintsman

DRIVING FORCE - Leon Barwell (right) and his father Keith (picture by Linda Dawson)

DRIVING FORCE - Leon Barwell (right) and his father Keith (picture by Linda Dawson)

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Leon Barwell: a man of action, a man of the people, a true Saintsman.

That is how I will remember the former Northampton chairman, who sadly passed away aged just 46 on Friday morning.

Having met Leon on a number of occasions, it was clear to me that this was a man of the utmost sincerity.

He was a genuine character unbowed by the rigours of professional rugby and by the illness he endured for a long period of his reign at Franklin’s Gardens

During his 18 months as Saints chairman, Leon did not just sit back and rest on the good work done by his father, Keith, before him.

No, Leon was a man of action. He did a sterling job to ensure the club was competitive, on and off the pitch.

Saints continue to be stable financially, thanks to the good work of the Barwell family, allowing the team to consistently challenge for honours at the top of the game.

A tight ship has been run, but director of rugby Jim Mallinder has not been short of backing.

This summer, the likes of George North and Kahn Fotuali’i will arrive to bolster the squad. And what a squad it should be next season.

It is just an immense shame that Leon will not be at the Gardens next season to see his good work come to fruition.

But the sight of him at Twickenham on grand final day will live long in the memory.

Though it wasn’t the result Saints wanted, the fact their chairman defied his illness to watch his final game at HQ was a huge achievement in itself.

But, typical of Leon, he did not just sit in the stands and watch on as events unfolded. At the game’s conclusion, he made his way onto the pitch to console his players.

He put an arm around Dylan Hartley, when the skipper, who was sent off during the game, needed it most.

Leon was a man of the people.

And it’s not just those working at the club he reached out to. His warmth extended to the supporters, too.

When some were questioning the club’s approach midway through the season, with the team struggling, Leon stepped in.

He was the catalyst for events such as the fans’ forum in February and April’s open day. Both were a huge success, and both restored faith in the club and the professional game.

Leon expressed his desire to bring back the ‘old-fashioned rugby club culture’, with barriers between players and fans broken down. He did that.

For me, he was never anything but a pleasure to deal with. He was always on the end of the phone if questions needed to be asked.

Some shy away from the media, fearing it as if it’s an ogre about to beat down the door. But Leon didn’t.

When whispers reached me about the possible signing of North - one of the biggest in the club’s history - Leon was happy to give me an on-the-record reply.

He thought carefully about what he said, before giving me a story for which I will forever be grateful.

Even when I called him during a skiing holiday, he fielded the call and spoke kindly from on the slopes.

Put simply, his was an approach which should be a lesson to whoever takes over the role of chairperson at Northampton.

Leon’s legacy lives on. He was a true Saintsman.