THE long wait is over. Fourteen months after the Saints faithful shuffled out of the ground grumbling following a particularly uninspiring defeat by Huddersfield, the fans were back – and this time with beaming smiles on their faces.

Well, at least some of them were, namely the 4,000 members lucky enough to win their place in the ballot for the first batch of games with supporters after the change in the lockdown restrictions.

It created a buzz around the ground – and town for that matter – that has been sorely missed during this past, troubled year.

Since live rugby league returned at the end of July 2020 the only outward evidence that games have been taking place at the Totally Wicked Stadium has been the lit-up floodlights. The events have been staged in silence – no roars when Regan Grace scorched down the flank, no traditional songs apart from that of the winning team in the dressing room, and a match day missing that surge of 10,000 red-and-white clad hordes via the odd hostelry en route.

And although a thinner, more time-spaced trickle of fans made their way over the Steve Prescott Bridge on Monday night to find new, socially-distanced specs on the ground – it was nevertheless a joy to behold.

And the players, who have been having to create their own atmosphere for more than a year, lapped it up with coach Kristian Woolf remarking afterwards that the volume of the fans made the hairs stand up on the back of their necks.

You could see there was a mutual respect at the reunification at the end of the game when the players stood in front of the West Stand to be serenaded to ‘Oh When the Saints.’

Plenty has happened in the world since that first lockdown, with Covid tragically claiming more than 128,000 lives in the UK. Livelihoods have gone, business closed, staff furloughed with normal family life put on hold and lifelong friends only speaking via Zoom.

In that context what happens on a sports field – and whether that action is watched from the West Stand or your front couch – seems insignificant.

But for a place like St Helens, with rugby league in its DNA and each landmark year and big personality indelibly etched into the town’s folklore, it means so much more.

For some diehard fans missing out on one game is tough – but losing a whole year and then throwing the bitter-sweet experience of a Grand Final victory over Wigan is a monumental sacrifice.

And in the club’s hour of need those fans have rallied around, donating their tickets where they are able to, in order to keep the wolves from the door.

So understandably, there was a real bounce in the steps of those supporters walking in on Monday – and a real smile on the faces as those limited numbers sang their hearts out, even if it is not yet ‘normal’.

Welcome back – you have been missed.

By admin