'Total nightmare' - Saracens' lowest ebb during year in Championship
Saracens Chairman Neil Golding says he wants the club to be the ‘poster children’ for adhering to the salary cap as they look to rebuild the brand following the financial scandal that rocked the club in recent years.
Saracens – who were fined £5.6 million and were automatically relegated to the RFU Championship in 2020 due to breaches of Gallagher Premiership regulations – are now back in the English top-flight and eager to rehabilitate their image, according to Golding.
Golding took over as chairman from longstanding club backer Nigel Wray in 2020 and says Saracens are aiming to be best in class regarding the cap and regulatory matters and balks are the idea that the former champions got off lightly.
“The way it came about, the relegation thing was agreed with Premiership Rugby. If wasn’t as if Saracens just said ‘I didn’t select the punishment. If people didn’t like it then bad luck’. It was part of a fairly detailed discussion with Premier Rugby,” Golding told Jim Hamilton in an exclusive interview on The Rugby Pod.
“People can take their own view of the severity of the punishment. I think it was it was pretty serious – a year being relegated.
“It’s all very well in hindsight, ‘oh well, you bounced back’. But you get relegated, straight after we get Covid. There was no guarantee that we going to keep the squad together. As it turns out the players have shown a tremendous amount of loyalty. You take Max Malins and Ben Earl and Nick Isiekwe, the guys who went out on loan to other clubs, they came back.
“What are we saying? That we should have been relegated for two years? Three years, four years? If people think Saracens should have been punished out of existence, they can think what they like. From my view, it was a pretty serious punishment.
“Then Covid made it worse because you’re relegated to the championship and as most readers will recollect, there was no guarantee there would even be one [a Championship season]. So the question was, how do you get promoted out of something that didn’t exist? So for me, that was almost the most difficult time, when the Premiership had started in September, and we were just in limbo.
“Then it starts and it’s a 10 game season. Frankly over a 20 to 25 game season you’d back Saracens, we’ve got a sufficiently good team to come back up. So 10 game season, no margin for error, first game of the season, Cornwall – we lose. Total nightmare.”
An experienced lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Golding is part of the consortium that acquired a majority share in the north London club last month, with Wray becoming a minority shareholder in the process.
“Nigel did fall on his sword and he has no executive role in the club since I started. As you’ve seen from the press release, Nigel confirmed that although he’s going to be a shareholder, he’s going to return to being a fan, albeit a super fan.
“Everything has changed. He’s had zero executive responsibility from January 2020. Zero.
“In light of this new financing, I think his role has changed again. If people think it’s same old, same old, that’s absolutely not the case. It’s a very different situation at Saracens now.
“Nigel’s a minority shareholder and he’s a super fan. He’s had a contribution to the club over time has been huge but that’s in the past and we’ve moved on from that.”
Golding says that any suggestion that Saracens might be tempted to breach salary cap regulations again are farcical.
“From the club’s perspective, any more salary nonsense would be doubly disastrous. It’s already been a bit messy, to say the least.
“From the start I said we are going to be the ‘poster children’ and what that means in practice is that we have a salary cap committee. I sit on that. It is chaired by a very senior ex-PWC partner who knows his business and we’ve got the finance director of the club as well.
“We’ve laboured the point. We’ve had training for the employees, training for the players, we’ve got the new Lord Myners salary cap report, we’ve had conversations with Andrew Rogers, the new salary cap director. It’s really not that difficult.
“Leave aside the club, frankly from my own perspective. I’m a solicitor. I’m been in the same firm [Freshfields] for 31 years. It’s a pretty respectable firm. It’s what the journalists call the magic circle. The firm’s been around since 1740.
“The idea that I have any interest that I’d have any interest a headline that read ‘Freshfield partner Golding in salary cap scandal’ is complete BS. I cannot tell you how inconceivable that is to me. It’s complete nonsense.”
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