Garside has gone from barman to Saintsman

Karl Garside is now a full-time Saints player
Karl Garside is now a full-time Saints player

Just a year and a half ago, Karl Garside was working behind a bar.

Eventually he decided he needed a more lucrative lifestyle and applied for a job as a PE teacher at St Martin's Preparatory School in Northwood.

To his delight, Garside got the gig.

But one 'mad month' later, his dream career came calling.

The 22-year-old had been playing rugby since a young age, lining up for Ampthill in National League 1 and also representing England Counties at Under-20 and senior level.

But while he had dreamed of playing professionally one day, he didn't feel a breakthrough was beckoning.

That was until his coach at Ampthill, Paul Turner, told him Saints were looking for a tighthead prop to play in a Wanderers game at Sale.

Garside answered the call, making the long journey north, and doing enough to be invited back to face London Irish and Newcastle.

"They needed a prop for an A League game at Sale and it was quite a long trek," Garside explained.

"My coach at Ampthill (Paul Turner), who has been really supportive of me, asked if I'd be interested and I said I'd love to play for the Saints.

"I went up there, played and it went all right."

The Saints coaches had seen enough, and soon Garside was parachuted in to train at Franklin's Gardens.

With Paul Hill and Jamal Ford-Robinson injured, Ehren Painter unable to play and Ben Franks rested, Garside got the chance to make his first-team bow as a guest player in a Premiership Rugby Cup clash with Bristol Bears last October.

It was a real success, as Saints cruised to a 51-24 victory, and the only way was up for Garside.

He went on to make his Premiership debut in another impressive win, against Wasps at the Gardens in November, and the Harlow-born prop has now been handed a full-time deal by Saints boss Chris Boyd.

"It was a bit of a mad month last year in October time," Garside said.

"In the space of that month I went from playing in National League 1, not really expecting to make a breakthrough and then going into a couple of A League games and making my Prem debut.

"It was a nice surprise and I really enjoyed it.

"I started against Bristol at home and that was wicked, running out at home at Franklin's Gardens.

"It was a bit surreal for me because I'd never really played in front of a crowd like that.

"I went from playing in front of 300 people a week to running out at a full stadium so it was all moving really quickly.

"I expected just to be playing at Ampthill for the rest of the season but I went on to be starting for Saints and it was a really good experience."

While many members of the squad are probably enduring rather than enjoying the relentless grind of pre-season training, Garside is clearly revelling in it.

After all, he is now living his dream.

"I'm really enjoying getting stuck in," he said.

"It's been pretty tough, a shock to the system coming back after a month off, but I'm enjoying all the hard work.

"This time last year I was just playing semi-pro at Ampthill and we'd only train for an hour and a half two days a week.

"So going from that to this is quite a big shock to the system but I'm just having fun with it and hoping to go into the new season firing."

The fact Garside is able to be part of life at Saints owes much to his determination and ability, but he was also fortunate that his old boss was a big fan of the black, green and gold!

"I'd been at the school working as a teacher for about a month and then Saints started so it was quite a shortlived job," he explained.

"I used to work part-time behind a bar abouit a year and a half ago as well as playing for Ampthill and then I decided I needed more of a full-time job to save some money.

"I put in for the school, got that job but then my rugby picked up another level.

"It was quite a quick turnaround but luckily the school headmaster was a big Saints fan and when I explained the situation to him he was happy to let me go.

"If I needed to come back he would let me but if I needed to leave he was okay with that.

"I was always trying to work towards being a rugby player and hoping I could make a break."

Garside has certainly done that and he is savouring being part of a professional environment.

It is something he hasn't experienced before, though he does feel his time with England Counties, a representative rugby union team that is open to English players who play in the County Championship and the third tier of the English rugby union system, has stood him in good stead.

"A couple of years ago, I played England Counties Under-20s and I did two tours with them," he explained. "I went to Russia to play against them and then played against the Netherlands the year after that.

"Then the year after that, I played for the England Counties senior side in Romania.

"It's quite a different experience and I would describe it as a professional atmosphere.

"Going from semi-pro to one of these tours, where everything's done for you, it felt just like going into a professional environment.

"Of course when the games are over, everyone likes to have a good time but it was quite professional before the games and during the games and that really pushed me on.

"I hadn't represented England before I was 18 and it was my first chance, so that experience really gave me another step forward."

Without the budget of the Eddie Jones' England, you may think England Counties didn't exactly live in the lap of luxury when abroad.

But Garside never had any issues with his tour surroundings.

"Russia was quite nice, quite posh - we were expecting somewhere to be a bit of a dive," he said. "The outside area was a bit rundown but I quite liked experiencing that.

"Romania was good fun - it was up in the mountains where we trained, a bit of altitude training.

"We (the players) didn't really know each other, we were all from different counties, lots of lads with funny accents, so it was a good chance to bond.

"With the senior side we did two weeks of training in the mountains and at the end of the season everyone was knackered and had little niggles, but we really bonded over that."

Garside is now bonding with his new Saints team-mates as they go through the rigours of pre-season training.

And he is taking every bit of knowledge he can from his established team-mates as the build-up to the new season, which begins with a Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Sale on September 21, continues.

“At the moment I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can,” Garside said.

“In my position we’ve got World Cup winners like Ben Franks, and I’m trying to learn the most I can from here.

“The staff here are also another step up and I’m trying to learn as much as I can, trying to progress.

“It does feel like the season is quite a long way off because we’ve got a few weeks more of running to do yet, but we’re very much looking forward to it.”