REVIEW: In Full Bloem, by Jamie Bloem and Andrew Hardcastle

Jamie BloemJamie Bloem is standing in a corridor in the bowels of the Halliwell Jones Stadium, coffee in hand, preparing to commentate on one of the coldest matches Super League has ever witnessed.

Twenty years ago, he had not heard of rugby league. Now, after a rollercoaster career, he is a former international player, a current BBC pundit and a Championship One referee – and that’s without touching on any of the controversies.

As a player, Bloem was a polarising figure. But with the release of Andrew Hardcastle’s biography In Full Bloem, the public is being given a chance to see Bloem in a different light.

“London League Publications got hold of me, said they wanted to do a book on me and asked if I’d be interested,” he explains. “We’d already done a book in the past with Steve Deane, but that wasn’t really what I wanted it to be. Peter put me in touch with Andrew Hardcastle, and we met every Monday for 14 or 15 months.

“I wanted to be part of it. I wanted it to be about me, not about what people think about me. The way I was on the field is not the way I am off the field. I’m a family man and I wanted that to be put across – and I’m really pleased with the end result. It’s everything I wanted it to be.”

In Full Bloem is not a long book, but his story is utterly remarkable. Say his name on the terraces at most rugby league grounds across the country and even now, 19 years on, there are two words that are likely to come back: drugs cheat.

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done in my life. Every part of your life, no matter how good or bad it is, makes you the person you are today. My daughter’s nine and my son’s 15, and I’ve made them read the book. They needed to read every single part of it. They never knew about the steroid stuff – it was way before they were born – so I’ve made them read the book and ask me questions.

“When I got banned in 1994 my wife and I had only just met. I said to her then if she wanted to go, she could go – but she stuck by me. For two years the only salary we had was hers, which was £580 a month. That’s all we had. We had to pay rent and live off that. When you do that, you learn the value of money and the value of your relationship.

“We became so close over those two years that our bond became stronger than anything else. Do I regret taking steroids? No I don’t, because if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have been with my wife right now. I’d have probably been one of the idiots running about like other rugby players do, doing stupid things.

“Instead I became very grounded and when I got signed on at Widnes 18 months into my ban, I really appreciated what I’d got. People often say, ‘do you regret it?’ I don’t regret it one bit.”

Bloem is clearly at peace with his past. One of the book’s more remarkable tales is his flirtation with American Football while banned from rugby league, with only his determination to succeed in the 13-man game preventing a professional career.

“London Monarchs offered me a contract after about three or four weeks of playing with London Olympians. It was £500 a week, and £5,000 a game, which was a lot of money for me. I was quite keen, but they wanted me to move to London so I could train most days.

“It’s a totally different game; it looks like it’s slow, but the collisions are a lot more strenuous, especially on your knees. They use their helmets to dive at your knees, instead of tackling you, and I could just imagine my career not lasting very long. One hit on the side of your knee, and it’s gone.

“My wife and I sat down and sat ourselves some goals. I wanted to come back to rugby and prove to people I wasn’t the player I was because of steroids. I wanted to play international rugby again. I wanted to play Super League. In doing all of that, I couldn’t afford to get injured playing American Football – even though the money would have been great.”

He now runs a landscaping business alongside his refereeing and commentating commitments. “I’m doing Championship One games this year and I’m hoping to progress through that. I’m really happy. I’m not refereeing for money, I’m refereeing because I enjoy it.

“I could have done media work and earned the same money as I do from refereeing, but I chose to referee and I do it because I enjoy it. I don’t mind going to Hemel, Gloucester, Oxford or Gateshead – I just love being part of it and giving a little bit back.”

Buy Now

 

In Full Bloem, by Jamie Bloem and Andrew Hardcastle, is available now. ISBN 978-1903659656, published by London League Publications. Buy now and save on the cover price.

This review first appeared in the April 2013 issue of Forty-20 magazine.

NEWS: Paul Loughlin: I’m proud of autobiography

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

Rugby league legends including Andy Gregory and Royce Simmons last night gathered for the launch of Paul Loughlin’s autobiography From grass to glass.

Former Great Britain centre Loughlin has worked on the book with ghostwriter Andrew Quirke and is understandably proud of the final product – although he admitted he had initially needed some persuading to tell his story.

He said: “When Andrew phoned me I was a bit unsure, really. It’s been over 10 years since I played, and I was wondering whether people had forgotten me or whether I’d forget players’ names or situations in games.

“But I had another chat with Andrew, decided to go for it, and it’s been quite easy because Andrew’s been asking me questions and helping me remember things. It became enjoyable in the end, and I think he’s done a good job. I’m proud of it really.”

The book is littered with amusing anecdotes, with one particular tale involving Matt Calland being a particular highlight.

“I wanted to make it funny and I think I’ve done that,” said Loughlin. “Hopefully people will like it, because sometimes you read an autobiography and get a bit bored. I said to Andrew that we should make it funny, and thankfully he agreed.”

Rugby League Books will be reviewing ‘From grass to glass’ next week. If you can’t wait that long, you can order your own copy here.

FEATURE: How one man crossed the great divide to write a rugby league book in 10 weeks

This is the second installment of a two-part interview with author Andrew Quirke, who here reveals a frantic schedule for working on Graeme West’s autobiography. You can read the first part here.

For most writers, taking on one book is a big enough challenge. Not Andrew Quirke.

The rugby league author has two autobiographies in their final stages, with Paul Loughlin’s From Grass to Glass set to be released in September 2011 before Graeme West’s autobiography hits the shelves later this year.

Quirke revealed: “Graeme’s moving back to New Zealand at the end of the year, which meant we had 10 weeks in total to write the book from start to finish!” [Read more…]

NEWS: Paul Loughlin’s autobiography set for release

This is the first of a two-part interview with author Andrew Quirke, who here discusses Paul Loughlin’s upcoming autobiography and will later reveal details of his next two projects.

If author Andrew Quirke did not know how to multitask 12 months ago, it is almost certain that he does now.

The St Helens season-ticket holder has been juggling a full time job with writing two upcoming rugby league titles, and has recently agreed a deal for a third rugby league book in 2011. [Read more…]

INTERVIEW: The tackle that finished John Stankevitch’s career

Being John Stankevitch

Being John Stankevitch hits the shops this summer

This is the second part of John Stankevitch’s interview with Rugby League Books ahead of the release of his autobiography ‘Being John Stankevitch’. You can read the first part here.

 

October 4, 2003 started like any other match day for John Stankevitch.

The St Helens forward was preparing for a Super League play-off with Wigan Warriors.

Having already established himself in Ian Millward’s side, Stankevitch looked set for a long career at the top of rugby league.

But just 12 hours later, it was all over. [Read more…]

INTERVIEW: Former St Helens star spills all about Being John Stankevitch

Being John Stankevitch

Being John Stankevitch hits the shops this summer

John Stankevitch was only 25 when a serious shoulder injury forced his retirement from professional rugby league.

In this first installment of a two-part interview, the former St Helens and Widnes forward, who is now head coach at Rochdale Hornets, tells Rugby League Books about the ‘therapy’ he gained from writing his upcoming autobiography ‘Being John Stankevitch‘.

With 125 St Helens appearances under his belt, John Stankevitch never envisaged that a single tackle at Wigan would end his career in such juddering fashion.

Stankevitch was just 23 years old when he collided badly with Wigan’s Craig Smith in a Super League play-off back in 2003.

He went on to make 22 appearances for Widnes in 2005, but he never fully recovered from the devastating blow that left him with nerve damage in his left arm.

By August of that year, he’d called time on a promising career and was left to find his own way in the big, wide world.

Therapy

Now, nearly six years on, League Publications are preparing to release his autobiography Being John Stankevitch.

Rather than use a ghost-writer, Stankevitch opted to write the book himself. It was a process he now looks back on with great pride.

He said: “It was a bit of therapy really. It was good to sit down, have a look through time and consider what’s happened.

“It meant I could just go over things in my own mind, and come up with reasons why I did certain things.

“I was so low at points after retiring, I was almost panicking. I bought a bar after I finished playing at Widnes, which looking at it now was a ridiculous decision. Financially there was just nothing in it.

“There is no way I’d have made some of the decisions I made then if I’d have been in the frame of mind I’m in now.” [Read more…]

INTERVIEW: Welsh rugby league author Ian Golden predicts bright future

A Welsh Crusade: Building Rugby League in Wales 1990-2009

Welsh rugby league author Ian Golden has predicted a bright future for the sport as all 14 Engage Super League teams head to Cardiff for Millennium Magic.

Golden, whose book A Welsh Crusade: Building Rugby League in Wales 1990-2009 was released just over a year ago, believes rugby league can look forward to increasing Welsh participation figures and on-field progress over the coming decade.

Golden told Rugby League Books: “We actually now have a full pathway for players, both junior and senior, and the number of rugby league matches in Wales will this year go well into the hundreds.

“Twenty years ago I think there was Aberavon amateur club and a few student sides.

“Now, we’ve got Crusaders fixtures at U15s, U16s and U18s along with two Welsh sides in the U18 National Youth League, the Welsh Conference, and Valley Cougars up in the National Conference, meaning players have got a level between the Welsh Conference and the South Wales Scorpions.”

He continued: “We’ve also got 150 schools sides in the Carnegie Champion Schools tournament and that figure is increasing every year.

“The more players that get involved, the more we’ve got to pick from and the more Welsh stars we’ll see coming through.”

Devotion

A Welsh Crusade: Building Rugby League in Wales 1990-2009 was the product of Golden’s own devotion to the 13-man code.

“I first thought about writing it a couple of years ago when I was watching a Wales football match at the Millennium Stadium.

“Putting the book together was good fun. I did a lot of research during the off-season and a lot of writing when I was on the coach going on long away trips with the Crusaders when they were still based in Bridgend (Golden worked as the Crusaders’ media officer until the club’s relocation to Wrexham).”

He added: “I made a few trips to libraries, gathered some material from the books and DVDs I already owned and one of the real pleasures was getting to interview David Watkins at his home as part of the research.”

Structure

Golden admits he approached the book in a methodical way.

He said: “It was a very big task, but I did it in a structured way by breaking it down into chunks.

“I knew I had a certain word-count for the book to reach, so I worked out the chapters first and then put appropriate word counts for each chapter that made sure I hit the overall word-count.”

Golden’s first live rugby league match was the 1990 Charity Shield when Wigan met Widnes at The Vetch Field in Swansea.

His next, Wales versus Papua New Guinea, came more than a year later. But one of Welsh rugby league’s unsung heroes certainly won’t be struggling for live action any time soon.

INTERVIEW: John Holmes’ nephew, Phil Jr, remembers a rugby league great

This is the second installment of a two-part interview with Phil Holmes Jr, co-author of Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story. Here he talks about John’s remarkable talents. You can read part one of this interview by clicking here.

Reluctant Hero - The John Holmes Story

John Holmes was always known as a special talent on the field, and a quiet guy off it.

A Leeds hero of the 70s and 80s, most South Standers regard Holmes as a magician – a master craftsman with the ball in his hands.

Holmes’ nephew, Phil Jr, told Rugby League Books: “His first wife, Jenny, and his second wife, Karen, were telling him he was special and that he needed to celebrate that.

“Towards the end he did, but John just found the game of rugby league very easy.”

He continued: “John grew up playing against his two brothers. One was four years older than him, and the other was eight years older than him.

“When he turned professional there were guys coming to take his head off, but he was used to it because ‘our kid’ had been doing it all his life. I don’t think he really knew how difficult other people found the game. [Read more…]

INTERVIEW: Phil Holmes Jr, co-author of ‘Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story’, on writing a tribute to a Leeds hero

Reluctant Hero - The John Holmes Story

This is the first of a two-part interview with Phil Holmes Jr, co-author of Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story. Here he talks about gathering material for a book about a man who meant so much, to so many.

Few in rugby league are held in as high regard as John Holmes.

At Leeds, nobody is.

So when Holmes’ nephew, Phil junior, decided with his father, Phil senior, to take on the task of producing Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story, they realised the challenge they were undertaking.

“One of the reasons behind the book was John being so quiet,” Phil Jr told Rugby League Books. “There were things my dad was finding out through John’s team-mates, there were things John’s team-mates were finding out through my dad, and there were even things John’s Great Britain team-mates were finding out from his Leeds team-mates, and vice-versa.

“He kept himself to himself, but he had an absolutely massive bond with the guys he played with.” [Read more…]

INTERVIEW: Ray French… and rugby – memories of a sporting great

Rugby league author Ray French

Rugby league author Ray French

Ray French is a rugby league legend. We’ve tried, but there is no other way of putting it.

A dual code international more than 30 years before the likes of Jason Robinson and Henry Paul, he won the Challenge Cup in 1966 before moving into radio and, more famously, television. He was the BBC’s commentator on every Challenge Cup Final between 1982 and 2008.

Asking Ray French about the magic of the Challenge Cup is like opening a box of chocolates: it can be difficult to know where to start.

For nearly 30 years, French’s unique voice broadcast the competition’s climax to the nation’s armchair viewers – but his personal love affair with rugby league’s oldest trophy is now well into its sixth decade. [Read more…]