The Legends Gallery, in the Caterpillar Stand, was officially opened on Friday and features memorabilia from eight of Leicester’s greatest players, as well as a portrait of Johnson commissioned by the club and painted by noted artist Bryan Organ.
Wheeler, a former Tigers and England captain, said: “We have had a long and successful history as a club and the Board voted to create this Legends Gallery to honour some of the club’s past players.
“As well as items of memorabilia from each of the players, we are delighted to be able to have the portrait of Martin Johnson produced by Bryan Organ. They are both Leicestershire men of world class in their own field and we are very pleased that the painting is at last being hung at Welford Road. We hope it will give a lot of pleasure to people who see it here.”
Matthews, who made a club record 502 appearances in a 19-year playing career at Tigers before serving as director, president and life member, said: “I’m almost lost for words when you see what these players have achieved and what they have given to this club.
“We are very, very lucky when you think of the players who have played for Tigers. This club is one of the greatest in the world and we are among the lucky who have been able to play here.
“The club has been so successful over such a long period of time, it has progressed off the field as well as on it and it is a pleasure to look at these showcases and see the ex-players involved.
“On behalf of the players and our families, I would like to thank everyone for their hard work in putting the displays together and opening the Legends Gallery.”
Artist Bryan Organ, who created the displays together as well as the imposing portrait of Johnson in Tigers kit, said: “My aim was to try to find the ‘definitive imagery’ of Martin as a player and captain.
“We tried a few things but then I came round to thinking that the painting should hang at his exact height and try to capture that ‘half-frown’ because I wanted to get a feeling of his imposing character for people who may see this in 50 years time and didn’t see him play. I’m delighted it is now hanging at Welford Road.”
Johnson took time out of his preparations for the World Cup as England manager to attend the opening of the gallery and said: “I was totally ignorant about anything to do with artists but it was amazing to see the process. I remember once seeing it and thinking it was nearly finished, then Bryan added the depth and it looked amazingly different.”