REVIEW: Big Jim: Jim Mills – A Rugby Giant, by Peter Lush and Maurice Bamford

Big JimWho is rugby league’s biggest bad boy? Gareth Hock? Willie Mason? Ten years ago Barrie McDermott would have been up there, too. But none of them compare to Jim Mills, whose authorised biography Big Jim has just hit the shelves.

The former Widnes, Halifax, Salford, Bradford, Workington and North Sydney forward was sent off a staggering 20 times during his career in the sixties and seventies, a fact former Warrington forward Mike Nicholas remembers all too clearly.

“Jim and I used to keep the disciplinary committee busy in the 1970s. We used to go in with the other players on charge and they would save our hearings till last. They used a trolley to wheel our files in and the committee used to boo us as we came in.

“I was sent off 15 times and Jim 20. Jim didn’t do anything by halves; he ended up banned from the whole southern hemisphere at one point. He got sent off everywhere except New Zealand, and that’s because they wouldn’t allow him in the country to play.”

Nicholas recently attended the launch of ‘Big Jim’, where 250 guests gathered to pay tribute to a man who won 17 caps for Wales and six for Great Britain during a career that took in three Wembley Challenge Cup finals for Widnes and 11 other finals for a team known as the ‘Cup Kings’.

“There were two firsts,” says Nicholas of the launch event. “One was the first round of applause I’ve ever had from a Widnes crowd, and the second was to get a handshake from Jim instead of a headbutt.”

Doug Laughton, who Mills played alongside at Widnes before the pair teamed up in the club’s coaching set-up, shares his own memories of Mills in the book’s foreword.

“As a rugby player Jim was a huge, very fit, fast, intelligent, tough forward who I never saw take a backward step. You would want Jim in your team anywhere, anytime,” says Laughton.

But it is an amusing tale that Laughton remembers that perhaps most sums up the reputation Mills carried during his illustrious and often notorious career.

“When tackle counts came into our game I was assistant coach to Frank Myler,” says Laughton. “One day Frank said to me: ‘Doug, big Jim has only done one tackle all game.’ I said to Frank: ‘Have a word with him,’ and Frank did.

“’Jim, you only made one tackle in all the game, what have you got to say?’ Looking Frank straight in the eye, Jim said: ‘Frank, would you run at me during a game?’ The team meeting ended in laughter as nobody in their right mind would run anywhere near big Jim.”

Big Jim is an entertaining read for fans who remember a bygone era in rugby league, spreading light on one of the sport’s biggest personalities of the time.

Now approaching 70, he still enjoys watching rugby league. And as authors Peter Lush and Maurice Bamford put it, “at least now if he is heading along the M62 towards Leeds, it is usually for a social occasion or to watch a match, and not to try to explain to the disciplinary committee why he got his retaliation in first.”

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Big Jim: Jim Mills – A Rugby Giant, by Peter Lush and Maurice Bamford, is available now. ISBN 978-1903659700, published by London League Publications. Buy now and save on the cover price. This title is also available in Kindle edition.

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.”

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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.

REVIEW: Three Fartown Aussies: Hunter, Cooper, Devery, by David Gronow

His open-necked shirts, ripped jeans and leather jacket have made Nathan Brown one of the most recognisable Super League coaches. But the quotable Australian, who is the overseas recruit to have had perhaps the single biggest impact on Huddersfield during the summer era, is just the latest in a long line of Aussie imports to the club they used to call Fartown.

Club historian David Gronow’s latest book on the Giants, Three Fartown Aussies: Hunter, Cooper, Devery, celebrates the contribution made by those men who used to travel to the north of England seeking fame and fortune.

Winger Lionel Cooper would only sign for an English club if he could bring a friend to help him settle into life in the UK. Plenty of clubs were keen on Cooper, but few were willing to risk funding another Aussie – the relatively unknown Johnny Hunter – until Huddersfield took a punt on the Antipodean duo.

And along with Pat Devery, a man who was to become the club’s captain, they formed the most formidable trio in Fartown’s all-conquering team of the late 1940s and early 1950s. [Read more…]

REVIEW: The King of Brilliance: James Lomas – A Rugby League Superstar, by Graham Morris

The King of Brilliance

The King of Brilliance, by Graham Morris

Rarely can a rugby league book have required such research and dedication, but in The King of Brilliance author Graham Morris has produced a work that is worthy of its subject – the early 20th century star James Lomas – as well as providing a remarkable insight into British rugby league before the first World War.

The King of Brilliance is a grand tome from the moment you set your eyes on the 272-page, nearly A4-sized hardback.

It’s the kind of book that is fitting of a man who captained the Northern Union team on its first tour of Australia and New Zealand back in 1910. Tales from that tour are outlined in Tom Mather’s Best In The Northern Union, another worthy historical title from London League Publications. [Read more…]

REVIEW: A Welshman in Halifax: Garfield Owen – rugby footballer, by Andrew Hardcastle

A Welshman in Halifax, by Andrew Hardcastle

A Welshman in Halifax, by Andrew Hardcastle

It is a measure of Garfield Owen’s quality and profile as a rugby union player in the 1950s that his signing of a Halifax rugby league contract was televised live on the BBC’s Sportsview programme.

One of the most gifted full backs of his generation, Owen moved north from Newport and fell in love with West Yorkshire, where he still lives now. The title of his biography, A Welshman in Halifax, could not be more apt. [Read more…]

REVIEW: The Warrior: Jeff Grayshon MBE, by Maurice Bamford

The Warrior: Jeff Grayshon MBE, by Maurice Bamford

The Warrior: Jeff Grayshon MBE, by Maurice Bamford

Only a select group of British rugby league personalities have been recognised with an honour from the Queen.

The Warrior: Jeff Grayshon MBE tells the tale of how a Yorkshire lad rose from Batley High School to Buckingham Palace, stopping off at Dewsbury, Cronulla, Bradford, Leeds, Featherstone and Batley on the way.

During a remarkable career that eventually came to an end at the unbelievable age of 45 – at least 10 years more than most of today’s rugby league players manage – Grayshon established a reputation as a powerful forward who could split the tightest of defences with his exemplary distribution. [Read more…]

REVIEW: Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story, by Phil Holmes Jr and Phil Holmes Snr

Reluctant Hero - The John Holmes Story

Read our two part interview with Phil Holmes Jr, co-author of ‘Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story‘, by clicking here and here.

Anybody searching for a rugby league book that combines emotion, nostalgia and dignity can stop looking now.

Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story charts the career of one of England’s finest ever rugby league players.

That it brings to life so well a man who was regarded as quiet and unassuming is testament to the quality and hard work put in by Holmes’ nehpew and brother. [Read more…]