David Matthews, Leicester Tigers’ record appearance holder and former player, captain, coach, president and director, has died at the age of 82.
Dividing his time between his Rutland farm, his family and his rugby, David served the Tigers for more than 60 years.
He made 502 first-team appearances from his debut as a teenager in 1955 up to retirement in 1974, but his contribution to the Leicester Tigers and to the game of rugby as a whole, as well as the warmth of welcome he presented to friends old and new, cannot be quantified merely in the statistics.
A man described as “the heart and soul of the Tigers” by club chairman Peter Tom CBE, a team-mate in the 1960s, and as “the legends’ legend” by former Leicester and England captain Peter Wheeler, who becomes RFU president this year, his record at the club will never be beaten.
Born on the family farm in Barrow in Rutland in April 1937, Matthews was part of the first-ever unbeaten team at Oakham School and played for Oakham Town 1st XV – from the age of 14 – and for Stoneygate before establishing himself at Leicester.
As a back-rower blessed with natural talent, the strength of his farming heritage and a deep appreciation of the game, David made his Tigers debut as an 18-year-old and became a regular in the forward pack two years later.
His 502 appearances brought 119 tries, a figure which stood as a record for a forward. His total of 14 tries in the 1960/61 season was more than any other forward had achieved in nearly 50 years and he then scored 21 times in 1968/69. A year earlier he had added goal-kicking to his responsibilities and ended the season as the club’s top points-scorer.
He captained Leicester for three years from 1965, leading the club to 30 wins in his first season and 33 in his second.
His 500th appearance came against old rivals Northampton in February 1974 and he went on to coach the team from 1988-91 before joining the Board of directors and served as president in 2001-03, a term of office which fittingly coincided with the club’s historic back-to-back European Cup triumphs.
David's brother Andy also played for Leicester as a prop.
In presenting Tigers Life Membership in 2005, club chairman Peter Tom said: “It is a fitting tribute for someone who has done so much for no financial reward. He gave his all as a player and coach, and remains a highly influential figure at the club, epitomising all that is so special about the Tigers.”
A dinner in David’s honour was organised at his spiritual home at Welford Road in honour of his 75th birthday and attracted many of his team-mates and playing rivals as well as rugby guests from across the generations, all united in their respect for a man who had given so much to the game.
He holds the record for County caps with Leicestershire and played for the Midland Counties (East) against Australia in 1966 and South Africa 1969, and was selected to play for the Barbarians in the same two years. He also played in three England trials.
For all his achievements in the game and his record-breaking career at Leicester, it was David's warmth and humility which shone through and made a similarly lasting impression with anyone in his company.
Rather than celebrating his own record, David firmly believed it was a privilege to serve the Leicester cause, saying: “This club is one of the greatest clubs in the world and we are among the lucky ones who have been able to play here.”
He will be missed by family and friends, and by the legions who played alongside or against him, cheered from the touchlines or met him in his later roles as coach, director, president and life member of the club he served so proudly for more than 60 years.