Illustrious Tigers including England captains Martin Johnson, Peter Wheeler, Martin Corry, Paul Dodge and Lewis Moody attended an event to celebrate Matthews’ 75th birthday and his 57-year association with the club.
Playing rivals – and long-time friends – Budge Rogers and David ‘Piggy’ Powell were among those from outside the Tigers family who paid tribute to a man hailed as the “heart and soul of Leicester Tigers”.
Matthews scored 109 tries in 502 appearances for Tigers and shared memories of his early years trying to attract the attention of the club selectors, the changes he has witnessed in the game and his joy at seeing the club reach national and European success.
“When I first came to Welford Road with Leicestershire Schools I had never even seen the ground, let alone played there,” Matthews recalled.
“When I came to play for the seconds, the first-team had been playing Llanelli and I was in awe of those guys. They were enormous and I wondered what chance I could get against them.
“You cannot think about playing that many games when you start – at that age you just want to play.
“In the late ’50s and through the ’60s we made progress, then got into the John Player Cup and Pilkington Cup years. They were tremendous times.
“Then there was the Heineken Cup Final in 2001 and winning the trophy for the first time. The scenes can never be beaten. The pride was fantastic.”
Colleagues from a playing career which spanned from 1955 to 1974 and members of the current squad led by Geordan Murphy were joined by legends including Rory Underwood, Dean Richards and Ian Smith, Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth to pay their tributes to Matthews.
Murphy, who passed 300 games for the club earlier this season and holds the club record for Heineken Cup appearances, said: “The passion David has for this club is so evident when he talks. If we can have half that passion we will be in a good position.”
Wheeler concluded the evening by presenting a book of tributes written by colleagues, friends and family to Matthews who received a standing ovation.