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.

REVIEW: A Lad From Donkey Common: A Rugby League Life, by Austin Rhodes

WITH the World Cup less than 12 months away, few Englishmen have the first-hand knowledge of what it takes to win rugby league’s biggest global tournament.

But Austin Rhodes, whose autobiography A Lad From Donkey Common has just been published by London League Publications, is one of them.

The former St Helens, Leigh and Swinton goal-kicking ace was equally at home at full back or stand-off, and his skills were rewarded with Challenge Cup triumphs along with the tag of world champion in 1960, having played his part in Britain’s 10-3 win over Australia at Odsal.

This is a nostalgic reflection on rugby league as it was in the fifties and sixties, made all the more interesting by contributions from Frank Myler and Tom van Vollenhoven.

Rhodes explains: “As a result of rugby league I was able to meet my wife, buy my house and forge enduring friendships with many people at home and abroad.

“Perhaps I’ve paid the price for competing in such a tough sport with a series of hip replacements since I retired from playing. I’ve had four procedures on the same hip up to 2011 – probably a world record. But if I had my time again, would I change anything? Not really.”

 

A Lad From Donkey Common: A Rugby League Life, by Austin Rhodes, is available now. ISBN 9781903659649, published by London League Publications. Buy now and save on the cover price.

This review originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Forty-20 magazine.

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: From Grass to Glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

From grass to glass, by Paul Loughlin and Andrew Quirke

It says much about Paul Loughlin’s career that, even after 10 years in retirement, the former St Helens, Bradford and Great Britain centre can still command enough interest to publish From Grass to Glass, his revealing and witty autobiography.

Loughlin achieved so much as a player: he scored more than 2,000 points for St Helens, represented Great Britain 15 times and twice toured Down Under with the national team.

For some, he will go down as the unfortunate bloke who got to five Challenge Cup finals – and lost the lot.

But for most, the memories are of a classy centre who had natural talent. Loughlin admits he could have been even better had he been coached by the likes of Brian Smith at the start of his career, rather than at the end, but there are very few regrets in his story. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

NEWS: Garfield Owen launches ‘A Welshman in Halifax’

Garfield Owen at the launch of 'A Welshman in Halifax'

Garfield Owen at the launch of 'A Welshman in Halifax'

Welsh rugby great Garfield Owen has launched his authorised biography, A Welshman in Halifax, during a function at Halifax’s Shay Stadium.

Full back Owen played rugby union for Newport and won six caps for Wales in 1955-56 before switching to Halifax.

A Welshman in Halifax, by Andrew Hardcastle

A Welshman in Halifax, by Andrew Hardcastle

Owen signed his rugby league contract live on the BBC’s ‘Sportsview’ programme and stayed with Halifax for five years. He later joined Keighley as a player coach, before retiring in 1965.

Author Andrew Hardcastle produced A Welshman in Halifax in conjunction with Owen, detailing his early life in South Wales through to his present day fundraising for research into Parkinson’s disease.

The book is published by London League Publications and is available to buy now. We hope to review the title soon on Rugby League Books.