Exeter Chiefs’ legendary fly-half Gareth Steenson is set to be granted Freedom of the City of Exeter.
When they meet next Tuesday (December 1), Exeter City Council’s executive will discuss presenting the honour to the player in recognition for his years of service to the club, the sport and the city.
Steenson, who joined the Chiefs from the Cornish Pirates in 2008, made 311 appearances for the club, winning two Premiership titles, a Champions Cup, LV=Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup.
The 36-year-old, who is the club’s all-time leading points-scorer, announced his retirement earlier this month following the historic League and European double the Chiefs achieved.
Councillors are recommended to request that full council, when they meet on December 15, confer the title of Honorary Freeman of the City Status to Gareth Steenson.
In response to the nomination, the Irishman said: “To receive freedom of the city would be a huge honour. Exeter is my adopted home and the warmth the people of Exeter have shown me over the last 12-13 years has been truly humbling.
“I have been welcomed into the heart of the Exeter community, which means so much to me. I have been fortunate to be part of an incredible journey at Exeter Chiefs and witnessed first-hand the growth of not just the club but the city and community as a whole.
“The support I have received both on and off the pitch has been overwhelming. To receive this honour from a city I love would be an incredibly proud moment.”
The report of John Street, corporate manager democratic & civic support, to the executive, says: “Gareth Steenson has achieved national and international recognition for his rugby playing career with the Exeter Chiefs, including being a part of the playing squad which saw them gain promotion to the Rugby Premiership, and culminated in the team being crowned double champions in October 2020, by winning both the Heineken Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership.
“As a key member of the playing squad, Gareth helped put the name of Exeter Chiefs firmly in the mind of all rugby fans, and helped spread the profile of Exeter far and wide.”
The report says Exeter Chiefs have had a massive community impact in Exeter.
Since the move to Sandy Park, the Club has developed an extensive academy system that is responsible for developing thousands of young people, some of whom have gone to excel at the highest level of sport including the British Lions and national representation.
Sandy Park has also become an international stadium, hosting Rugby World Cup games in 2015, as well as women’s internationals and international 7s tournaments. The influence of the club now stretched across Europe and to a global television audience.
The report concludes: “Gareth has been a symbol of this growth in the impact of the club, he has been an ever present presence through this period of growth and accomplishment. For commentators and fans of rugby outside of Exeter, Gareth has been the leader and character behind the team and the personification of the qualities that have made Exeter unique.”
If the honour is approved by councillors, Steenson will follow Chief Executive and Chairman Tony Rowe and Director of Rugby Rob Baxter in being granted Freedom of the City.
The executive will make their recommendation when they meet next Tuesday, before a full council meeting on December 15 will make the final decision.
Under the Local Government Act 1972, Exeter City Council is allowed to grant the status of Honorary Freeman to those who deserve the honour.
There are a number of rights traditionally associated with freemen such as the right to drive sheep through the city or carry a sword in public.
While sheep have occasionally been driven through Exeter, the “privileges” are now effectively symbolic.
Freedom by succession is still granted today to any person who can prove descent from a deceased freeman.
Proof of descent is required by the production of the usual certificates of death of father, marriage and birth.