North London Allianz

What’s the newest professional sports stadium in England?  It may have escaped your notice that it is in North London, and is now the home to Saracens RFU.  We sent Mike Miles along to check out the Allianz Park.

Saracens have been making a load of hay out of the fact that their Allianz Park pitch can be used every day of the year rather than for eighty minutes once a fortnight. Indeed Chairman Nigel Wray was emphasising this same message in his programme notes. He also wrote of another plus. ..That, adjacent to the M1 and the North Circular it is “without doubt the best located ground in the country.”It may be for you Nigel, with your reserved parking space but for the rest of us mortals getting to your “home” presents a few more problems. Car parking around the ground is very limited, and all the streets in a mile radius have signs warning calcitrants not to park there on “event days”

The club’s web site lists various alternatives using public transport, but bearing in mind that this was a Sunday, and various bits of the tube and train network tend to be out of action then getting to Hendon provides an additional challenge, especially, if, like me you are travelling from west London. The best option appeared to be the Piccadilly line to Bounds Green, and then a 30-minute bus ride on the 221 to near the ground. My rule of thumb is that once you get near the ground you will just need to follow other fans. But there seemed to be a suspicious absence of them on this particular service, and just when doubts were beginning to set in the bus pulled up outside Copthall Sports Centre, and what the website describes as a five-minute walk to Allianz Park. And just in case you had the urge to wander the suburban streets of Hendon the club had laid on Olympic-style volunteers to point the unitiated in the right direction.

123The ground itself is a curious mixture of the new and permanent, like the East Stand, and the West Stand, where I was sitting in the front row. This is clearly designed to be removed when the season ends to let the athletes in. My feet were resting on the running track. I also uttered a quiet prayer of thanks to the weather gods. This part of the ground is not under cover, and had the game been played 24 hours earlier I would have been soaked.

Saracens were already top of the Premiership pile and a win today would have guaranteed them a home Premiership semi-final. They were up against a team in no danger of relegation and who hadn’t won away from home in an awful long time. Pre-match the other main topic of discussion was the planned minutes silence for Margaret Thatcher. “It was a question of respect, it wasn’t political” claimed Sarries’ chief executive Edward Griffiths,I’d like to think with some sense of irony. She had been the local M.P. and there didn’t appear to be much opposition among another sell-out crowd.

That Allianz Park’s synthetic surface suited Saracens was clear again .Worcester coach Richard Hill was not in favour, as “it creates a different type of game and I’m definitely a grass man.” The highlight was David Strettle’s 25-minute hat-trick, but it scored well for coach accessibility too judging from the short time it took Sarries’ head coach Mark McCall to reach the touchline. He had raced to remonstrate with the officials after his scrum-half Neil de Kock had been flattened by an unpunished high tackle.De Kock was led away to the wonderfully named “Concussion Bin.”

It is rare to see McCall so enraged, but that it took the incident to animate him testifies to his players’’ hunger after he made nine changes. The contest was as good as over before Josh Drauniniu crossed for Worcester after half an hour. Chris Ashton finally got on the score sheet with a late try, but by then the game had lost all its rhythm due to the inevitable onslaught of substitutes.  Saracens were worthy winners and are now odds on with the rugby betting companies to win the Aviva Premiership this season. To be honest I missed both his and Wray’s try in injury time. I was already embarking on the long trek back to west London, rather than slipping into my car in the car park and hopping straight up the M1.

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