Way of the Tiger
If the thought of sharing the same square of Leicester soil as the Tigers team of the mid-to-late 1990s chills you to your boots - think Martin Johnson, Dean Richards, Neil Back and more jagged edges than a breakers yard - then spare a thought for those condemned to share the same Welford Road changing room.
"I was just 18 when I made my first-team debut," recalls Leicester legend Lewis Moody. "When I walked in, all my heroes were there. 'Deano' stood up and I thought he was going to welcome me to the club. 'Lad', he said, pointing through the door, 'the youth team changing room is down the other end of the corridor.'"
It is a revealing snapshot of the forbidding, clannish culture that has made Leicester the most enduring English team of the professional era and carried them to an eighth successive Premiership final, against Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.
"It might sound to outsiders like a horrible place to be, but it draws you closer as a team," says former Tigers lock Ben Kay. "It's not the most comfortable environment to be in. But if you're driven by success, it's exactly where you want to be."
The Leicester ethos can be boiled down to a couple of lines from Tennyson: "The path of Duty was the way to Glory... he that walks it... learns to deaden love of self." Or, for those who like their poets more grounded, a line from Bremner, the exemplar of Don Revie's Leeds United side of the 1960s and 70s: "Side before self, every time."
Martin Johnson and Lewis Moody cut loose against great rivals Wasps in 2001
"A player is only at Leicester for a short period of time, on loan almost," says Moody, a World Cup winner in 2003. "It's never your club or your position. The culture is drilled into you as a 14-year-old: no-one is a star and no-one is bigger than the team. Everyone understands you're here to work, you're here to win, and that's the end of it.
"Some players that come through from the Tigers academy are talked up as the next big thing and they've very soon departed because of a lack of application. And some guys that came from other English clubs or from overseas who don't buy into the philosophy will leave quite quickly.
"It's not about bringing in big-name players and buying trophies, they'll create a squad from players that you wouldn't consider to be the best in the world. Look at Geoff Parling: he had been at Newcastle for six years, came to Leicester having had no real recognition and all of a sudden he's an international player. He's a great example of how players can suddenly thrive in the Leicester environment."
"When did Leicester last have a genuine superstar, like a Jonny Wilkinson, a Shane Williams or a Richie McCaw?" says World Cup-winning England scrum-half Matt Dawson, who waged many battles with Leicester for East Midlands rivals Northampton and as part of Wasps' great side of the mid-2000s.
"It's never about that with Leicester, it's just about winning trophies and being part of a winning team. That seems to flick a Leicester player's switch, being more than an individual. And if anyone does step out of line, they get it verbally and physically."
Leicester's feared front row of Rowntree, Cockerill and Garforth
Dawson's views are informed by myriad bar room tales from Leicester pals of training ground spats and legendary, character-testing hazings. "Even if it was a game of touch, you knew at some stage a scuffle would break out," says Moody, who spent 14 years at Welford Road before two years at Bath and retirement in March.
"It was an intimidating environment for a young man but it was about fronting up at every opportunity and not taking a backward step. If someone confronted you, you had to confront them back. It was like a test of your manhood.
"I remember fights between Neil Back and Fritz van Heerden, Julian White and [current Leicester head coach] Richard Cockerill. I didn't really have a fight with 'Johnno', more of a disagreement - he hit me and I fell over.
"One day we were having a ruck and maul session and someone landed on Will Johnson's ankle and broke it. Everybody heard the crack, he was in a lot of bother. 'Wellsy' [John Wells] just moved us about 20 metres to the right and we continued as if nothing had happened. If one player went down, another one came in and replaced him. Nothing ever got in the way of us succeeding."
Kay, who made 281 appearances for the Tigers between 1999 and 2010 and was also part of England's World Cup-winning team, recalls: "It would erupt and there would be no referee to stop it. I never got punched by Johnno. Lewis did, but he was never exactly the brainiest member of the squad.
Teenage fly-half George Ford is part of an exciting back-line at Leicester
"It was like a tempestuous relationship you might have with a sibling that you love more than anything. But if the guys were prepared to do that to each other in training they would do twice as much in a game for each other."
While Revie's Leeds were simply labelled "dirty" by fans of rival teams for their robust style of play, Leicester, as is the way in the sometimes wilfully myopic world of rugby, are rather more charitably lauded as "masters of the dark arts".
"There was always something going on when you played against Leicester," says Dawson. "Darren Garforth, Graham Rowntree and Cockerill - the old 'ABC Club' - wouldn't have finished a game in this present climate, they would have been sin-binned or sent off because of all the little bits and pieces and the niggle.
"And Welford Road is a hell of a place to play rugby, right up there with some international stadiums because it is so oppressive. I only remember winning once or twice at Leicester, it was a very, very intimidating place to go."
What now seems an almost organic connection between players and fans was in actual fact man-made. A succession of wily businessmen and administrators took a side that attracted gates of less than 1,000 in the early 1970s and built it into a forward-thinking, cup-winning amateur outfit before steering it, full-mast, into the professional era.
A compliant council saw Welford Road swell to 24,000 fans by 2009, with another 6,000 seats planned, making it the largest purpose-built club rugby ground in England. Compare with Wasps, nominally of London but who play their home games in Wycombe and whose prospective new owners want to move to a site off the M40.
Financial reasons apart, Kay cites more spiritual reasons as to why Wasps, whose two Heineken Cup triumphs match Leicester's back-to-back victories in 2001 and 2002, have fallen off the pace, to the extent they were nearly relegated last season.
"It's not so much that Wasps were a team of players who thought they were big stars," says Kay, "but they certainly built a team on a lot of very good individuals. When a lot of those players retired there wasn't that natural succession. At Leicester, it's ruthless: as soon as you're not good enough, no matter how big a name you are, it's a case of 'thank-you very much, we'll find someone else who's on the way up'."
While Moody talks of the Leicester ethos and history being "continually churned through", with the likes of Cockerill and executive director and front-row great Peter Wheeler tangible links to a glorious past, Dawson is keen to point out that all that churning serves another purpose, namely to keep the ingredients fresh.
"One of the strengths of Leicester has been their ability to move on," says Dawson. "They can still play that tight game if they want to. But when they want to counter-attack and offload they've got the likes of Geordan Murphy, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, real international-class players.
"They had a couple of years of being a little bit more attritional but they didn't want all their old titles to become history, they wanted to stay in the present and that means a team that plays from 1-15. Conversely, it was plain for everyone to see how Wasps played in their heyday and no-one could stop us. But this year and last, Wasps didn't move on and tried to do the same things they'd done for years and years."
So while Wasps face a period of rebuilding - both literally and metaphorically - Leicester carry on as they always have done: taking the path of Duty to Glory, through "stubborn thistle, bursting into glossy purples". Or as Cockerill puts it: "Just hard work." Prose over poetry, spoken like the Leicester front-row he was and always will be.