There’s no doubt Nigel Wray’s legacy has been tarnished by the salary cap scandal but we should remember all the good he’s done for rugby, not just Saracens.
It’s human nature that people remember what’s happened most recently more than everything that came before it and there is still a lot of ill-feeling surrounding Saracens’ salary cap breaches but Wray has done so much for the sport.
He’s a great bloke and the charity work he does, including for the Matt Hampson Foundation, often goes under the radar but shouldn’t be underestimated either.
He first invested in Saracens in 1995 and the change in the club over the last 25 years has been remarkable. Five Premiership titles and three European Cups in the last decade show what a force he has helped them become but it wasn’t always so.
They were playing at Southbury Road in Enfield all those years ago and, despite their somewhat insalubrious surroundings, he attracted the likes of Michael Lynagh, Philippe Sella and even South Africa’s World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar to the club.
Clearly, money talks but he built the club from the ground up to where it is now. Allianz Park and the work done in the community around Hendon, including the Saracens High School now, is all a reflection on him.
And, the fact that nine of this current Saracens squad played a part in England reaching a World Cup final in 2019 won’t be forgotten either. It’s true that some of those have been bought in but the likes of Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Owen Farrell have all come through the academy and that forms a huge part of his legacy.
I’ve been on the receiving end of his generosity as well. When I joined Saracens he let me stay at his house for a couple of weeks while I was getting my own house sorted and it was his actual family home I was staying in.
I wasn’t part of the family and obviously it was a large house so I wasn’t under his feet but he didn’t have to do that.
I played under a lot of different owners over the course of my career and I can honestly say I got on with all of them but what sets Nigel apart is his longevity. To pump the amount of money in that he has over a quarter of a century and have the impact that he has had is phenomenal.
He may have a net worth in excess of £300 million but the fine for the salary cap breaches was £5.36 million and the legal bills and additional expenses on top of that mean the overall cost to him has been far greater than that.
Everyone has a limit and I think the saga has clearly taken an emotional toll on him as well. Owners of other clubs have said certain things and he might not want to have to go to board meetings and work with them any more.
I don’t think Nigel would be stepping down as chairman right now if it wasn’t for the salary cap scandal but he is 71-years-old and you can certainly make the case for him needing to enjoy retirement and the club needing a fresh start.
You can’t just forget the salary cap scandal because he’s stepping down and seeking a “fresh start” for the club. Whether it was intentional or not and whatever the specifics, it has had an effect on people at other clubs as they’ve tried to compete with Saracens.
Plus, there has been a seismic shift in tone from his initial video response in the aftermath of the allegations coming out to what is being said now, which will leave a sour taste in the mouth for many people.
Ed Griffiths coming back as interim chief executive as part of this move is surprising to me as well. Perhaps someone who knows the ins and outs of the club is needed in the short term but he left under something of a cloud after they were first rumoured to have breached the salary cap.
I know a lot of agents don’t like working with him from his first spell at the club because rumour has it he wanted players to do individual deals directly with the club. It’ll be interesting to see how he gets on and what the future holds for Saracens.
Nigel Wray’s parting statement indicated that “the Wray family will continue to provide the required financial support to the club”. Only time will tell what that means in terms of the amounts of money being invested.
That is for the future but for now we should pay tribute to a man who has played as big a part in English club rugby’s move into the professional era as anyone and who has built Saracens into the most successful club in Europe in recent years.
Everyone who has been in contact with him through Saracens or more widely will have fond memories of him and things to thank him for as a man.
It’s important to take a balanced view and the salary cap scandal has tarnished his legacy but he’s done far more good than bad for the game and will be remembered as a hugely generous man who has played a pivotal role in the sport for a quarter of a century.
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