Tom’s first introduction to rugby life came at the age of 10 when he featured for his school, Dean Close.
Initially starting out at a scrum-half, the talented youngster soon fell in love with the game and his qualities led to him being named captain of the 1st XV in his final year.
It was not until he went to Oxford Brookes University that Tom reverted to his now accustomed position in the back-row. Whilst studying he had spells at local club side Chinnor, before moving on to feature for Reading.
Whilst Tom enjoyed his rugby, never did he believe he could make a career out of the sport. That was until a letter from Coventry Rugby Club arrived on his door matt.
Penned by club coach Mike Umaga, brother of legendary All Blacks star Tana Umaga, Tom was offered a one-year contract with the then National League One club.
Tom spent two years playing for the Midlanders, amassing over 50 games for the club.
His on-field talents were clear to see and it was no surprise that rival clubs were keen to recruit the all-action forward. One of those pursuing the player were the Exeter Chiefs, who ahead of the 2007-08 season brought him to Sandy Park.
In the ensuing years, Tom has not only featured in 181 first team games for the Devon club, but he has played a major role in helping the Chiefs rise out of the RFU Championship and forging themselves as an emerging force within the Aviva Premiership and European Rugby competitions.
On field success has included Tom helping the Chiefs to the Championship title in 2010, the LV= Cup in 2014 and, more recently, the Premiership A League champions in 2016.
Whilst in 2012, Tom won the first of his eight international caps for England, thus becoming the first Exeter player in 48 years to represent the Red Rose country.
In 2014, Tom helped England to lift the Triple Crown and has also toured South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand with his country.
He has also represented the England Saxons on numerous occasions, winning the Churchill Cup in 2011, as well as playing for the well-respected Barbarians team.
Away from the field, Tom is married to Jess who together have a beautiful daughter Heidi.
Can I first say how pleased I am to be writing a few words on Tom for his testimonial. Not only has he been an important player at this club but also an important man. That he has been here for ten seasons is great testament to the qualities he has shown in his time at Exeter. Tom has grown and developed with the club from being a good championship player to an excellent Premiership player and through hard work and dedication become an England International.
In the modern era of Exeter Chiefs Tom could really be described as our International trailblazer and I know from speaking to the England management at the time that they were very impressed with his desire to succeed and his professionalism. There is no doubt that his time with England certainly helped the Chiefs players who have followed him because the England coaches had experience of the calibre of player who would come from this club.
Tom has been one of a small number of players who played in our Championship winning team and then helped establish us in the Premiership, play in the Amlin Challenge Cup, the LV cup, the Heineken Cup, The Challenge Cup and the Champions cup. Through all this period he has embodied our main foundation qualities of hard work, enjoyment and playing with emotion.
Everyone who has watched Tom’s career with us will be aware of his playing qualities but rugby clubs are often just as driven by what happens in the changing room. Tom has always been able to help keep the squad well balanced and not get too carried away with winning or losing, has stayed positive when times are hard and kept his infectious humour flowing, the video of him slapping Brett Sturgess in the face with a wet fish will live with me forever!
At Exeter Chiefs we often talk about creating something to be remembered together. Well Tom has certainly been involved with making history with his team mates and he will always be able to look back on his achievements with pride and satisfaction and who knows what further history he may be able to write in this his testimonial year?
Well done TJ.Rob Baxter
I am pleased to be able to contribute to Tom’s testimonial and provide a little insight to the man himself and my relationship with him. I first met Tom when I was coaching the England Saxons where his dynamic ball carrying form for Exeter grabbed my attention and we got Tom into the squad. He was different to other players I had coached, a lot of whom had come through Academy and International age grade programmes, he seemed to have a free spirit, not really constrained about game plans etc, he just ran around (at high speed!) getting his hands on the ball playing some form of hybrid flanker come centre role!
I also found it really refreshing to coach a player who had come on this different route which wasn’t dissimilar to my own. I think Tom joined Exeter in 2007 which was the year I left Leeds Carnegie to take up the role with the RFU. I knew Exeter well having played them many times and coming up against them in a 5 way shoot out for the Championship Title in that 2006-07 season. So when we met we had a lot in common and I admired him for earning his International recognition the hard way but also coming the route he had done, he was a bit more ‘old school’ and definitely had experienced a lot more than others which made him an effective leader and certainly someone who could be trusted.
One of the great privileges of coaching the National team is awarding players their first cap and it was great to use my knowledge of Tom to good effect and give him that opportunity. He has been capped 8 times for his Country and on each and every occasion he has always played well and the three test series in South Africa sticks in my mind as an unbelievable rise from Junior Rugby to playing on the highest stage in World Rugby and he loved it!
Unfortunately injury has not helped Tom recently but knowing Tom, he will have taken it in a positive manner as he always does. Also knowing Tom he is probably planning to be around for another 10 years anyway which will make him nearly 50!
Exeter Chiefs have been a great example of how you can rise from the Championship to the very top and that is based on many things including good recruitment, good people who are prepared to work hard and naturing the best out of the talented players they have. Exeter Chiefs and Tom are a perfect fit in that regard and I wish him and the Club all the best in the future.Stuart Lancaster
When Tom asked me to chair his testimonial year I was absolutely delighted.
As a massive Exeter Chiefs fan and Sponsor I have known Tom since his arrival as he has enjoyed several ‘Big boy’ Rib Eye steaks for his many Man of the match performances!!
A charming, talented, hardworking back row player, Tom has been a massive part of Exeter Chiefs rise to its present position in the rugby world. Along the way winning England caps, England Saxons caps and also invited to join the Barbarians – what an honour.
A special word of thanks to the committee – just like Exeter Chiefs they make things happen.
We have come up with some fantastic events which will be great fun and at the same time raise money for Tom’s chosen charities.
So please join in, have some fun, raise some money and help celebrate the career and achievements of MR TOM JOHNSONPaul Parnell
Tom Johnson is one of the nicest guys in rugby, a great club man, and truly deserving of a very well supported Testimonial Year. i was delighted to be asked to go on the committee and help put together some events to celebrate his time with the Chiefs.
A glittering career on and off the pitch, and I for one wish him every success in his last year with the Chiefs and wish him and his family every success in the next chapter of their lives together.Martin Breading
The first of the Chiefs recent England representatives, TJ pioneered the way for many others to follow due to his diligence, hard work and professionalism. A tremendously loyal man, he has been instrumental in the transition of the Chiefs into premiership mainstays and thoroughly deserves to be honoured with this testimonial.Dean Mumm