They’re the biggest rugby club in Britain, but Leicester Tigers haven’t forgotten how to be polite. Rugby Rugby’s Howard Johnson samples a little of their hospitality and rues the fact that not all clubs have the same manners…
I spent Friday up at Welford Road, home of the Leicester Tigers, as they prepared for the following day’s Heineken Cup match against the Frenchmen of Clermont Auvergne. I was there to interview two of the Tigers’ England stars, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs at the ground after the traditional Friday captain’s run. And while that in itself might not be all that unusual or exciting, what I think you might find interesting is the way that Leicester Tigers do their business.
The Tigers are by far the biggest rugby club in England. This much you can tell the minute you pull up outside the ground. The front entrance on the Caterpillar Stand side of the ground has been redeveloped as the first part of a major project to update Welford Road for the 21st century. And these first results are impressive. The place looks seriously imposing and immediately marks the Tigers out as a class act.
But Leicester’s class runs much deeper than that. Despite their pre-eminent position in the game this is a club that has traditional rugby values at its core. This you can tell from watching how the boys train. It’s serious stuff; hard work, no airs and graces, seasoned internationals treated exactly the same as the newest member of the squad. And you can tell that off the field too. The organisation is efficient but never officious. Your requests are dealt with both quickly and courteously. There are never any temper tantrums. The players turn up when they’re supposed to and where they’re supposed to. They are polite, friendly and engaging. And someone even makes you a cup of coffee while you chat!
This isn’t how all sporting establishments are run. While I’m happy to say that the vast majority of rugby clubs still have what you might call ‘a rugby soul’ beating, the Tigers still stand out as a shining example of how things can be done when people really have a mind to do it. There’s another English club that out of courtesy I shall refuse to name who could learn an awful lot from the Tigers. This other rugby club has nothing like the history of success that Leicester have behind them. And they do have some decent people there. Yet dealing with them from a press point of view is like pulling teeth, a constant round of e-mail back and forths where all you get is moans and groans about why your requests are simply too difficult to deal with. If you get any response at all, that is. Who knows why someone should decide that’s the way to behave? But what in my opinion can’t be simple coincidence is that some of that club’s players have a wee bit of that ‘who are you to be asking me that?’ attitude about them too.
Now you might think I should just quit my bellyaching and suck it up. After all, I’m a member of the press whether I like it or not. A member of the British press at that. And after the way the British press has treated players, coaches and management involved in England’s unsuccessful World Cup in New Zealand, is it really any surprise that we’re not on anyone’s Christmas card list? Well, you’ve got a point there. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t just a little bit antagonistic towards those vile muckrakers. But the thing is this. I deliberately chose not to make my career writing for national newspapers. I deliberately chose not to reveal secrets and betray confidences. I deliberately chose – I hope – to prove myself trustworthy over a number of years. I wasn’t interested in who slept with whom, who got drunk in a nightclub and who jumped into the harbour for a swim. Which is why I believe I’m still friends with a number of players after almost 20 years and why I’m afforded those common courtesies at Leicester. You have to earn your stripes, to use a terrible Tigers pun.
I don’t think my journalism has suffered, though do feel free to tell me differently. You can still be interesting, informative and entertaining without having to resort to lowest common denominator stuff. And in many ways the confidence entrusted in you allows you to see people as they really are, not a pale imitation of themselves constantly on guard when in earshot of ‘the guy from the press’.
So long may the Leicester Tigers prosper with their policy of benevolence, not malevolence. They are a shining example of how you can retain your humanity and still be professional. Even to the point where Head Coach Richard Cockerill takes the time to text you on the morning of the game against Clermont to say thanks for coming. Now that is class. That is the Leicester Tigers.
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