by PREETI VIRDEE
TO captain Leicester Tigers is akin to captaining Manchester United if we were talking football. But this 6’5” rugby legend in every sense did not stop there…Martin Corry MBE has captained the Tigers, the Barbarians, England and the British and Irish Lions. He has won five Premiership titles, two Heineken Cups, and the small matter of a Rugby World Cup in 2003. He has been honoured by the Queen in becoming a Member of the British Empire, and after a highly successful career, finally hung up his boots in 2009.
Not a year had passed before he was enticed back to the pitch and told to bring his boots and captain’s cap to the Twickenham Stoop for a one-off game - the Stuart Mangan Memorial Match - in aid of The Matt Hampson Trust and The Paralysed Rugby Players' Fund, raising money in the UK and Ireland for injured sportsmen. On the eve of the RBS Six Nations England vs Ireland clash across the road at Twickenham Stadium, an all-star legends bout was arranged. Almost 12,000 supporters turned up that night, and despite Billy Whizz performing his magic, Ireland -led by Shane Byrne- just nicked the result 17-15.
But the ‘one-off’ match has turned into an annual event, where fans can just one more time a year see legends from both great nations pull on their boots for 80 riveting minutes of old fashioned rugby with an average of 23 players aside and rolling substitutions to allow for Jase Leonard!
At the return match in Dublin in 2011, the England Legends got their revenge at Donnybrook, and in 2012, the match fortuitously falls on the eve of St Patrick’s Day. Shane Byrne is still captaining the Irish, Jason Robinson will still be tearing through the defence, and Martin Corry remains England Legends captain. So we caught up with for a little chat about life, the universe, and everything…
On why he agreed to return to the paddock, Corry - or Cozza as he was unimaginatively named at Tigers - said after the loss of 26 year old Stuart Mangan in 2008, who passed away following a spinal injury playing for Hammersmith against Fulham RFC, it was a no brainer that if as a result of the match awareness, and more importantly money could be raised for vital causes that looked after those incapacitated through rugby. And being a Leicester man himself, supporting fellow Tiger Matt Hampson in regaining the semblance of a happy and fulfilling life after he was rendered paraplegic in training with England U21, well what is a chap to do!
The inaugural game was a really special, made so mostly by the 11,000-odd phenomenal crowd that turned up and raised around £100,000. “When you’re just 5 minutes into the game and you’re breathing out of your backside and thinking really why did I come, we were completely blown away by the support and so we thought if we can raise those sort of monies, why not do it again?
“As rubbish as I was, and in as much pain as I was in afterwards, it was clearly a pain that I’d forgotten to a degree so I said yes to the next one. In terms of my on psychological makeup, I figured can play two games a year at most.”
Consequently, in the first year, the England Legends took on the Springbok Legends during the Autumn Internationals, and lost not too badly 11-21, considering the Bokke Legends actually trained, had fit players, and even though retired, guys like Braam van Straaten did Iron Man so they were supremely fit. Whereas Martin did not even know if he owned any boots on the morning of the game, still at home in the Midlands, worried he had thrown them out in a charity clearout.
So Martin we asked, how hard is it really? “I find it really hard. The reasons why I finished playing was my bad back. After 5 minutes into the first game, my back went into spasm and I found it such a slog and I didn't get too much enjoyment out of it.
“I did get loads of enjoyment after the final whistle and we celebrated like we were the world’s best players, but playing wise there wasn’t too much enjoyment in that.”
So the following morning must be dreadful? “I hope I’m full of an anaesthetic of some description just to ease the pain for the immediacy, but then it tends to kick in a day or two after and stays for a little while.
“The bar afterwards is the only thing which is getting me through this. The whole charity angle is great but ultimately you’re looking for another reason to get together with a few old mates and have a reason to stay up til the early hours.”
Highly entertaining was Martin’s description of the teams after just 40 minutes, “At half time, everyone thinks oh you can have a break at half time, but that’s when rigor mortis sets in. I’d like to say everyone ran out at HT in the game against Ireland, but it was more like a bus trip off a saga holiday! We must have looked like a bunch of geriatric old men!”
Therefore, on the evening of Friday 16th March 2012, the geriatric friends and rivals of old lace up their boots again, pull on old-fashioned jerseys where no one has to worry about breathing out, and run out at The Stoop at 7.45pm, obviously just in order to build up enough of a thirst to last a Jason Leonard drinking session.
But we were not about to let Cozza get off that lightly, so now came the hard-hitting journalistic unplugging…
When you were playing, what motivated you?
It’s quite hard to say. Everything. I love winning and hate losing. But when I was in a side whether it was Leicester or England, I just always tried to be the best that I could possibly be.
What was your guilty pleasure?
I had two. Curry and sausages. I just love my food.
Did you discover rugby or did rugby discover you?
Rugby’s always been in my family; my dad took me down to mini-rugby at the age of 6 and I was hooked.
What is your earliest ‘defining moment’ memory of rugby?
I always knew I was going to be a rugby player, even though the game was amateur. I got selected at England Schoolboys when I was 18, and then I really wanted to focus on it to see how far I could go.
There were two in 2001. First the Leicester 2001 Heineken Cup Final against Stade Français which we won 34-30. And my first Lions cap v Australia; it will stay with me forever.
If you hadn’t become a professional rugby player?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an RAF pilot, but then realised I was too big and too blind, so that was pretty much quashed quite early on.
In rugby it was Dean Richards and Mike Teague. Outside of rugby, Ben Moses, the American 400m hurdler. He was a phenomenal athlete for over decade, and had it been a more fashionable event everyone would've been talking about him as the greatest athlete of all time.
What is your hidden talent?
Absolutely nothing! I have no unhidden talents! In rugby, my job was to do the jobs that other people didn’t want to do. I am talentless(!)
What is your favourite city?
What is on your iPod?
I’m stuck in the 80s - not new romantics! There was a time I was into new romantics but thankfully that passed me by. Guns and Roses, and even Bon Jovi.
What is your favourite film?
What is your favourite book?
Don’t really get much time now but best book…I used to like a lot of Harlan Coben, the crime writer who wrote “Tell No One”.
What gadget can you not live without?
I’m not a gadget freak at all. Anything gadgety I have to do, I send to Ben Kay and he’s the freak, so he sets it all up, tells me what to do then gives it to me. Unfortunately I’m one of those dads who’ll have to get their kids to operate everything. My eldest (Eve, who’s birth he had to charge home from RWC 2003 in Australia) is 9, and Edward is almost 6.
What do your kids think of Daddy being an ex-England player?
They had no idea when I was playing, they were too young. They knew I played rugby for a living but that’s just like running round the park.
You’ve not published an autobiography?
If you’re going to write an autobiography then you’ve got to allow everyone into your private life. So I had a rugby life that’s obviously open to everyone, and now I have a private life and I want to keep it private.
So what takes up your time now?
Doing some work with companies in the renewable sector with renewable technologies. And still doing a little bit in the rugby circles but not in a tracksuit; more on the hospitality and advisory side. And I set up a rugby development website to try and help kids with their development so they can be the best they can:
No urge to join do Strictly or Dancing On Ice or MasterChef?
On MasterChef, if you wanted a sausage curry, but that’s probably about the limit of it…I do omelettes.
Brian Moore did Mastermind - what would be your specialist subject?
Inane trivia facts - I’m obsessed with silly trivia.
Don’t laugh but when you were a player, head to toe covered in mud, and no one really saw anything else. But since you’ve retired you have become a bit of a sex symbol…
(after he finally stopped laughing) I’m more questioning your friends and what you all had to drink (the night the ladies noticed him at a swanky dinner). But I don’t get recognised anymore because the scabs have all healed up, so I do blend into anonymity.
Passions outside of rugby…
I love all sports. Growing up I played a lot of basketball and cricket so now enjoy watching it. I’ll try anything. Really enjoy being a rugby supporter now but it took a while. I go to the odd football game.
So there we have it, a little insight into a thoroughly decent and private rugby gent.
Name: Martin Edward Corry MBE
Birthday: 12 October 1973
Position: Flanker, lock, No. 8
Height: 6 ft 5 in (1.95 m)
Club: Leicester Tigers (1997-2009)
Caps: England 64, British Lions 7, RWC 11, Tigers 181