The Honest Player
“The honest player gets up in the morning and looks himself in the mirror, and sets his standard. He sets his stall out and says I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better.”
This article originally appeared in May 2021
Delivered by one of sport’s great orators, Jim Telfer’s ‘The Honest Player’ has gone down in the pantheon of rugby’s iconic soliloquys. Immortalised in 1997’s Living with Lions documentary, the words have resonated across generations around the world, perfectly encapsulating the drive to be the best you can be.
Mention that drive to any Warrior past or present, and one name comes up time and again. To many team-mates, supporters and coaches, Chris Fusaro is the epitome of The Honest Player – although he’s far too modest to accept that himself.
“I think it’s just always been part of my personality,” the flanker said.
“Whatever team I’ve played for, I’ve wanted to win – the passion and determination to succeed means I’ll do whatever it takes. That means demanding the highest standards from myself, because I would never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.
“I’ve tried to carry that mantra through everything I do, whether that’s in the gym or clearing up the changing room after an away game. It’s all geared towards representing this club the best way I can – maybe sometimes it comes across as me being a bit of a p**** on the training pitch but I don’t mind that!
“The more people you have buying into your culture and that are singing from the same hymn sheet, the better you’re going to do on the field.”
The esteem with which the 31-year-old is held within the minds of Glasgow rugby was evident across social media on Wednesday, following the flanker’s announcement that the 2020/21 season will be his last as a professional rugby player.
183 appearances, eleven seasons and countless historic moments in a Glasgow shirt. Not bad for someone who was written off as too small for the rigours of the professional game.
“He’d probably have disbelieved you and said you were too small because that’s what everyone else was telling me!” laughed Fusaro when asked what a younger version of himself would think if told what he’d go on to achieve in the game.
“To be honest, I went to university and always thought I’d end up being a chemical engineer. I’d had a fair bit of success in rugby with Howe of Fife and Bell Baxter High School, but I was never really thinking of rugby as a professional career.
“I have to pinch myself that it’s turned out the way it has – it was almost a fantasy, but it’s been eleven years now and it’s been my entire professional life. I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone by.”
It goes without saying that much has changed since Fusaro’s first steps into the world of professional rugby. For starters, the 2010 vintage of Glasgow Warriors were still plying their trade at Firhill, and many now established as club stalwarts were still to make their respective breakthroughs.
Even back then, though, the traits of The Honest Player were clearly present in both Fusaro and his team-mates.
“You had the backbone of the Scotland team back then, really, too – Al [Kellock] was there as our captain, you had the Killer Bs in the back-row, Doug Hall, Chris Cusiter came along a couple of years later, these guys were playing for Scotland so you were very much aware you were in the presence of guys who had achieved so much in the game already. I never thought I’d follow them in playing for Scotland, though.
“We joke about it but it’s true – because I’m quite small, I have to put in a lot of effort and graft to prove myself. I’ve always enjoyed that side of it. I know I’ve always had to be at my best to be in contention for selection.
“If you have guys playing for Scotland in your position who are your team-mates, then you know you need to be at the very top of your game to even have a shot at selection. That drive started permeating throughout the squad and it led to us winning the title in 2015.”
Indeed by 2015, Glasgow were no longer accepting anything other than the highest of standards. Stung by defeat in the 2014 RaboDirect PRO12 Final, the Warriors were ready to take the next step, and in what style they took it.
“It was unbelievable,” grinned Fusaro as he recalled his memories of that famous evening in Belfast.
“It was the culmination of what we’d been building over the previous few years – you had guys who had come through the system with the club, then you had guys coming in like Niko [Matawalu], Naks [Leone Nakarawa], DTH [van der Merwe], even someone like Finn [Russell] who was just starting out really.
“The whole season we never really felt like we were going to lose a game, to be honest. I was on the bench next to Al for the final in Belfast and I remember looking at him at half-time and thinking ‘we might have won this game already’.
“Everything just clicked and that feeling is a difficult one to put your finger on. Everyone was just flying.”
For Fusaro, though, the title was made just that little bit extra special by the presence of one particular team-mate in the matchday 23. From the playing fields at Howe of Fife to now sitting third and fourth in the all-time appearances chart for the Warriors, the flanker and Pete Horne have been together for every step of the journey.
The pride in Fusaro’s voice is evident when the conversation turns to his friendship with Horne, with only the slightest crack in his voice betraying his emotions.
“We were in P3 I think when we started at Howe together, so it’s been a long old slog!” laughed Fusaro.
“He signed as a pro a year earlier than me which was no surprise to me – I always knew he’d make it because he’s one of the most driven men I’ve ever met. When I managed to sign as a pro we lived together for about three years or so and he still lives round the corner from me.
“It’s a bit of a fairytale, I guess, and it’s been incredible to have someone like Pete there with me for the whole time. He’s my best mate and it’s been pretty special sharing the journey with him.”
On to the next challenge, then, and you can guarantee that the drive to keep his standards high will be transitioning with him into his next career.
Indeed, he’s got some pretty high standards to live up to already.
“I’m going home to Fife to start working for the family business with a view to taking over with my big cousin, Emily, once my dad and my uncles start winding down,” explained Fusaro.
“There’ll be a good couple of years of learning how things work and taking their knowledge and wisdom on board, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting to think about building on their legacy.”
And as for his own legacy? How does the man himself want to be remembered?
“Just as someone who gave everything for the badge. It’s a very short career, really, and it’s a massive honour to be in a spot where you can give your all for a cause.”
Honest to the last. Those that dismissed Fusaro as too small? They didn’t reckon with the size of his heart.