Interview: Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson recounts to ShortList the trials and challenges of going all the way in rugby union's biggest tournament...
What sets the World Cup apart… is pressure. The expectations that you have, the expectations other people have, it’s the single biggest thing you have to deal with. We had a fantastically entertaining Six Nations this year, but it’s the World Cup that can define an era.
You have to find a way to relax… or it just becomes too big. You can get too scared to make a mistake. You put an extra sugar in your tea and think that could be the loss right there – any little decision. That was what life was like for us for two years in the build-up. But before a World Cup game, coaches would say a few words and we’d play an inspirational video. We became comfortable as a team so we didn’t really need to say anything, we knew what we needed to do.
On the night before the final… Ben Cohen walked in with his Uncle George, who played for England when they won the football World Cup in 1966. Until then, we were thinking about the game as just a game but that moment changed everything. “If we’re even in the same breath as these guys,” I thought, “that’s incredible.” If we ever doubted what it was all about it, it was right there.
Playing at home… is very difficult. You just can’t get away from it. Running out on the pitch at Twickenham will be great for England, but the rest of the time they’ll always be someone wanting to talk about it, a commercial aspect, a photo shoot and so on.
You can try and lock the world out… but it’s tough. We had thousands of fans follow us to Sydney in 2003. I remember us creaking down the hotel stairs before a game and we’d have 3,000 people in the lobby roaring “COME ON, ENGLAND!!!” But that’s what sport’s about, the memories it creates for everyone. To have people telling you that particular day was the greatest of their lives is truly special.
My winners’ medal… is still in its box. A couple of weeks after I’d got back from the World Cup a mate in insurance called to ask what I’d done with my shirt and medal. They were genuinely still in the bag I brought back from Australia. I still haven’t put it back in the bank… It sounds strange, but it’s nice to keep it somewhere where other people can’t see it.
Martin was speaking in support of Joining Jack