Mr Barwell has been synonymous with the Saints for over 20 years. One of the club’s first box holders in the late-1980s, his initial million-pound investment in 1995 ensured that the Saints made the transition to professional rugby union successfully and Mr Barwell has remained one of the driving forces within the English club game ever since.
During Mr Barwell’s time as chairman the Saints won the Heineken Cup, European Challenge Cup and LV= Cup, provided the coach for the successful British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1997 as well as numerous players for several international teams as well as the Lions.
Off the field Franklin’s Gardens was turned into the pre-eminent dedicated rugby facility in Europe. The stadium was completely rebuilt between 2001 and 2002, with a further extension in 2005, and in the last 18 months Mr Barwell has worked tirelessly to ensure that the arena will be completed with a new North Stand.
With Mr Barwell at the helm the Saints has also demonstrated that it is possible for a rugby club to also succeed as a viable business. After an initial public offering in 2001, Northampton Saints plc has continued to run at a surplus in every subsequent year, the only club in England to do so.
In 2009 Mr Barwell was honoured with an OBE for services to Northampton.
“I have had the fortune of being involved in club rugby during a very exciting time and it has been an honour being chairman of the Saints,” Mr Barwell said. “I have worked with a superb board of directors and some excellent directors of rugby and coaches. It has been a roller-coaster ride, with both silverware and relegation, and every minute of it will live long in the memory.
“Although I have been chairman, I am first and foremost a Saints fan and have had the privilege of watching some world class players wear the black, green and gold. It has also been an honour to serve the Saints fans, who put in considerable amounts of time and money supporting the club, and we have had an excellent relationship, as I have had with the staff at the club.
“I believe that it is the right time for me to be stepping aside as chairman. The club is on an upward trend on and off the field and will be in safe hands going forward.”
Although he is standing down as chairman, Mr Barwell will continue on the club’s board of directors for a further 12 months with the Barwell family remaining as majority shareholders.
Mr Barwell’s son, Leon, will take over as chairman in September, following a unanimous vote of the Northampton Saints board in early March. A director of The Barwell Corporation and VSG, a nationwide security company, Leon Barwell has been on the Saints’ board since 1999 and has been involved in a wide range of projects, including the initial public offering and formation of Northampton Saints plc and the redevelopment of Franklin’s Gardens.
“It’s a huge honour for me to be able to play such an active role in a club that means so much to me,” said Leon Barwell. “As a family we’re very proud of what’s been achieved at the Saints over the past 15 years, and one thing you know for sure is that we have to go as far again in the next 15 if we want to stay at the top of the game.
“I feel very lucky to be coming into the role with a very strong board around me, a very good executive management team on and off the field and the best supporters in the country. I’m certainly looking forward to working with all of them, especially Tony Hewitt as vice-chairman, and with the current squad of players we’ve got and the players that are joining us I’m looking forward to leading the club to consistent levels of success through the coming years. Throughout the club there is that burning ambition which is a great driver for us.
“Keith is obviously a hard act to follow, not just within the environment in Northampton but the impact and presence he has on the national scene. He has put Northampton well and truly on the international sporting map. But I am no less passionate or determined than he is and it’s a challenge I’m relishing.”
Saints chief executive Allan Robson also paid tribute to Mr Barwell.
“Keith will live on forever in the history of the Saints, and deservedly so,” he said. “The club would not be where it is without his time, effort and commitment. He has constantly striven for success both on and off the field, and has shown that you can achieve both in professional club rugby.
“As one of the original chairmen whose money helped club rugby turn professional in the first place, Keith has also been one of the driving forces behind the development of the club game as whole and Premiership Rugby will not be the same without him.”
In addition to Leon Barwell taking over as chairman, September 2011 will also see the appointment of Tony Hewitt in the brand new role of vice-chairman. Mr Hewitt has been on Saints’ board of directors since 1995 and played a leading role in the redevelopment of Franklin’s Gardens as well as the share offer for Northampton Saints plc.