Rugby league legend Martin Offiah savours ’emotional moment’ as Premiership-bound son Tyler pulls on England jersey

Alex Spink
Tyler Offiah, son of Martin, spoke exclusively to Planet Rugby.

Tyler Offiah, son of Martin, spoke exclusively to Planet Rugby.

Martin Offiah has revealed the moment his emotions got the better of him as son Tyler pulled on an England jersey for the first time.

He has also opened up to Planet Rugby on his relief the Bath-bound 17-year-old is playing in this era rather than back when he was building the career that earned him a statue outside Wembley Stadium.

The rugby league legend was in Italy to see teenage Tyler make his full debut but missed the moment his son won his first cap, coming off the bench against Scotland the week before.

Emotional moment

What he did not miss, however, was the sound that greeted his boy’s arrival onto the pitch in Parma.

“Watching the video I could faintly hear a kid singing in the background and what I heard got to me, I have to admit,” said the record-breaking try scorer.

“Tyler obviously didn’t hear it as he had enough on his mind at that moment, but I could just make out ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. I had a bit of a moment then, I can’t deny it.”

It is widely acknowledged the England rugby anthem was first sung at Twickenham during the 1987 Middlesex Sevens in honour of a 21-year old wing playing in the colours of Rosslyn Park.

Offiah snr, nicknamed ‘Chariots’ after the 1981 multi Oscar-winning movie Chariots Of Fire, was such a hit with fans that he was serenaded with the African-American spiritual.

His spectacular speed and try scoring potency that day caught the eye of rugby league and within months he signed for Widnes, before moving to Wigan in a world record £440,000 deal.

“So, yes, hearing that for Tyler was an emotional moment for more reasons than one,” he added.

“I’m not saying I’m going to be like Rory Underwood’s mum at Twickenham if he progresses to that level [TV cameras caught Annie celebrating wildly in the stands in 1993 when Rory and younger brother Tony debuted as an England partnership against Scotland and both scored].

“But you do have to celebrate milestones on your journey. My wife and I have brought Tyler up from the womb to pull on an England jersey and see him at the dawn of his rugby career. It was a big moment.”

Hall-of-Famer Offiah snr scored 501 tries in league and has spoken in the past of the “wholesale” racist abuse he was subjected to – and how he used it to motivate him.

A generation on Tyler is exposed to a scrutiny his dad was not, through social media, with Owen Farrell one of countless sportsmen and women to have been burned in the virtual court of public opinion.

It led Farrell to step away from international rugby and it has taken until this week for World Rugby to secure its first prosecution of a troll, in this case for the abuse of a match official and his wife during last year’s World Cup.

Quiz: Can you name every Rugby World Cup Final try-scorer?

Still, Martin says he is far happier both of his offspring – youngest son Phoenix is in Brentford FC’s development system – find themselves in the environment of today than the one he had to navigate.

“I don’t care what anyone says, I think the world is a much better place now,” he reasoned. “Yes, there’s social media, you can get keyboard warriors and Tyler’s experienced what he’s experienced.

“But I’m far more comfortable him going into the world he is and not having to experience – I don’t want to go into it in graphic detail – the type of things I had to playing rugby in the 80s. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience that.

“Look, there’s always going to be criticism but Tyler’s going to be an adult in a few months, he’s going to be 18,” Offiah added.

“The world is not always a nice place but if you’re playing well and progressing, you’re probably going to be happy.

“It’s having that focus on self-development, getting up each day and doing what you have to do to get better. Do that and, I found, everything else takes care of itself.”

Mature youngster

Meeting Tyler, a 6’3″ athlete who grew up excelling at judo and athletics, basketball and American football, and you are struck by his maturity.

He is smart, articulate, well-mannered and imbued with the self-belief that helped his dad become one of the greatest to lace a pair of boots.

“You’ve got to have big goals,” he said, when challenged on his declared ambitions to be better than his father and relieve Rory Underwood and Chris Ashton of the England and Premiership try-scoring records.

“If I’m not aiming for that what am I aiming for? It’s pointless aiming to be on the bench all through my career and not break through. I guess they are ballsy calls but you’ve got to have some belief.”

This is young man who has grown up having to deal with snide remarks that “I am getting stuff because of my surname” and who feels he has to work extra hard to silence such voices.

Martin listens as he puts into words feelings he has perhaps not articulated before and nods, knowingly.

“I always knew people would look at him and think ‘oh yeah, you’re only there because of your old man’,” he said. “Having a legacy is a blessing and a curse.

“People are going to ask ‘Are you as fast as your dad’ but that’s part of life. Everyone has something they have to get over. I tell him to feel blessed for the things he has rather than thinking negatively.

“I also tell him you can have all the talent and natural attributes in the world, you need to want it. If you don’t have that desire no amount of talent will be enough.”

Deciding on Bath

Before settling on a move to Bath, where he will combine playing for the club with studying at the university, Tyler sampled both codes training first with Sale Sharks then Wigan Warriors.

He wanted first to explore every opportunity and the decision he eventually came to says much about how his make-up.

“I’m going to uni alongside my rugby because even though right now it seems like rugby is everything, there’s a lot of life to live hopefully after I finish playing,” he said. “I’ve got to be prepared.”

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