Martin Johnson paid tribute to everyone who has played a part in the history of the Leicester Tigers during the club’s 125 Dinner at Welford Road this week.
The celebratory event marked 125 years of rugby at the stadium, with representatives of every silverware-winning team over the last five decades among the guests.
Johnson, who led Tigers to two European Cup Final wins and four successive league titles among his other honours, said: “You get all those big names and long careers here, but there are also guys who had shorter careers and they are all part of it as well – all the lads who played. In their own way, they’ve all made a contribution.
“David Matthews played 502 games. It’s unbelievable. They won’t make many more like him, unfortunately. He is a hero to us and the most modest man you are every likely to meet and a great influence as well.
“There are a lot of unsung people too. John Allen was certainly one of those. I remember the club having to spend a lot of money on the stadium, on the old wooden stands, for safety and things like that, but they kept the place going under very astute management.
“When I first came here there were two ladies working in the office in the mornings and a groundsman, and now it’s a multi-million-pound business. Things change and move on. A lot of guys who moved here from out of the area to play for Tigers are still here, they have that affinity. It is special club.”
Johnson also spoke of his introduction to Welford Road as a young fan, even before he set out on his own medal-laden playing career.
“I came here as a kid, watching Peter Wheeler, Dosser, Deano, that backline with Les Cusworth, Paul Dodge, Barry Evans, Dusty, Terry Burwell, Rory Underwood, it was an unbelievable. They played some amazing rugby.
“I remember coming down for a cup game against Bristol, and Tigers put 40 or 50 points on them and Bristol were a really good team, with a big forward pack. I was thinking ‘I can’t wait to watch that on Rugby Special tomorrow’, it was one of the best games I’d ever seen. Rugby Special had Rosslyn Park versus Nottingham, a 6-3 game, instead and I’ve never seen anything from that Tigers game since!”