By David Matthews - Club record 502 games between 1955-74, Club President 2001-2003
I played for Leicester for the first time at the end of the 1954/5 season in two matches for Tigers "A". Earlier I had been playing for Oakham and played for Leicestershire schoolboys at Welford Road against Lancashire. I remember walking into the dressing room once and a veteran forward was in there. I looked at him, he'd got spindly legs, varicose veins, a marked face, cauliflower ears and thought, "Is that how I'm going to end up?"
I also remember coming back to Welford Road after the first team had been playing Llanelli, the guys came trooping off, there was John Jenkins, Ron Smith and Denis Bolesworth, I was gobsmacked. My first impressions were - look at those big guys how will I ever cope in senior rugby playing against big guys like that?
I played nine games in my first two years as Tigers had only got one side so I played for Stoneygate the rest of the time. In those formative years there was a changeover from the old generation and not just on the park. Eric Thorneloe was still around, Charlie Cross was President - he died after my first Easter tour, Doug Norman was around for a few more years, he was very much involved with the club. There were a lot of characters around at that time. John Elders who was my first captain and he became the first England coach, Tom Bleasdale, Mel Channer our stand off, John Jenkins, whose son went on to play for 'Quins. Of course the pace of the game has changed and you don't have the characters to the same degree now because the professional game is a different world.
Stan Pratt in action for Tigers against Barbarians in 1951
The Barbarians game was always the top game. In those days we played County rugby midweek, usually Thursday afternoon, and you could be playing a Thursday afternoon County game and then ship off to Cardiff for a Saturday game. It was hard work. Going into the 60s when I was invited to captain Tigers we had struggled for quality.
In terms of victories there were seasons when we had lost more than we had won. Mike Wade started to turn it around. The Cambridge University skipper who was a local lad, came in as captain and did a very good job. We had also got a fairly large Yorkshire contingent who played their County rugby on Saturday. We would see very little of them after Christmas. I thought we would not really turn the corner until we basically got a local team so they were available every game.
Eventually I was captain and wanted to get us to the top. Not everybody agreed with some of the type of rugby that was played because we were a bit of the New Zealand type - Colin Martin (a New Zealander) was also at no 8 - but I said it's the wins that count, and that's certainly no different to today.
|Pld 383, Won 181, Drew 32, Lost 170|
|Biggest win:||31-0 vs Exeter on 12 Apr 1955|
|Most Appearances in Era:||Tom Bleadale 261, Frank Chawner 234, Ron Smith 182|
|Most Tries in Era:||George Cullen 65, Tom Bleasdale 50, John Elders 38|
|Most Points in Era:||George Cullen 547, Mike Gavins 299, David Hazell 265|