There are different ways of achieving your goals in life, a bit like there are different ways of scoring a try in rugby. Now some rugby players, usually massive forwards, when faced with a human wall of opposition take the battering ram approach. They run as hard and as fast as they can in the hope of breaking down the defence and score a try. Others like say, a tricky winger, will try to outrun the opposition, maybe a chip over the top and run around the side.
I always like the players who could see a gap that no other player could see. Once they see that gap they still need to be fleet of foot, they might need to throw in the odd side step as well but it is the gap only they had spotted that allowed them to break through.
James Hook was just such a rugby player. Looking back at his career you know he had lots of natural talent. How many other players have represented their country in so many different positions, fullback, centre and fly half?
He could kick. Remember that last minute, 50 metre winning kick for Gloucester against Saracens. OK, so I suppose we should also add mental strength to his list of talents to be able to calm himself in front of a capacity Kingsholm stadium and in front of a Live TV audience and stroke the ball between the posts.
But looking back at a selection of tries on YouTube I think the thing that stands out most for me is that ability to see the whole picture and then…find the gap.
James Hook and his rugby mad sons.
So it was, with his latest venture, writing a children’s book about rugby. James had taken his son Harrison to a school’s book fair to encourage him to read. Harrison, just like his dad, is rugby mad. As they scoured the tables of books on offer there were plenty of books aimed at children about football but nothing specific about rugby. There were books about Rugby World Cups, and biographies of old players but no ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff about the oval ball.
I’ve known James’ in laws for years and it was through them I first got to meet James. For a lot of sportsmen and women retirement seems to come as a massive shock. Even though they know its coming they can often put their head in the sand and hope its goes away. But it doesn’t. Suddenly, when that day comes they struggle with the nothingness of being a civilian. No mandatory training sessions, or game days.
James saw retirement in the not too distant future and met it like an All Blacks defensive line. He knew that he couldn’t break through it, so he started looking for gaps. He knew he wanted to get into coaching, so he started to help out working with the Ospreys coaching kids and youth teams, even the Swansea University side.
He started to develop himself as a media pundit. Talking on TV and radio is a little bit like being a sportsperson. You can train on your own for years, but you only really improve by playing matches. That was how I got to know James a bit better. We decided to record a rugby podcast for the 6 Nations called Hooked on Rugby. It was then I also realised how well thought of he was amongst his peers. Each week we would invite a guest from his contacts book to join us for the show and each week Internationals like Tommy Bowe, Greg Laidlaw or George North would be only too pleased to join us over Zoom. Each week you could see James’ confidence grow.
I can’t quite remember exactly when he rang me about writing a book. At first I got the wrong end of the stick, well you would, wouldn’t you? International rugby player retires and writes his autobiography, that’s what they all do isn’t it? It was only after a few minutes after James explained he wanted to write a rugby book for children that I understood his vision. He told me about how surprised he was that he couldn’t find a kids rugby book at the school book fair and that he wanted to put that right. Just like in his playing career he had spotted the gap.
I suppose the good thing about me having a ‘portfolio’ career is that I meet lots of different people from lots of different worlds. I have friends in music and business, even politics and as luck would have it I had a friend in the world of Children’s sports books. As soon as James told me his idea I knew just the man for the job.
David Brayley had worked at Swansea council for many, many years but had always harboured a dream of becoming a writer. When his old school mate Tony Cottee retired from Football and Cricket he turned to David to help write his autobiography ‘There’s only 2 Tony Cotteys’.
Having got a taste for seeing his work published David also saw an opportunity when Swansea got promoted to the Premier League in 2011. He had met Swansea Captain Ashley Williams at a council run event during the previous year, but David also saw an opportunity, a gap, for a different type of football book. That led to him co-authoring Ashley Williams ‘My Premier League Diary’, a book that charted Ashley’s first year in the Premier league. It started on the first day of pre-season and ended with his final game of the year in New Jersey playing for Wales against Mexico.
By coincidence, not long before that call from James I had been to the launch of David’s latest book ‘Champion of Champions’. The book told the story of a professional road cyclist who’s career hangs in the balance. He has to remember what inspired him as a boy ‘to be the best that you can be’. This was a sports book aimed at children and I loved it.
The first call I made after putting the phone down to James was to David Brayley. I told him there was someone he needed to meet and was he free for a cup of coffee with Ex Wales Rugby International James Hook. We all met at the Hyst, I bought the coffees and left them to chat.
Last Month ‘Chasing a Rugby Dream’, a book telling the story of Jimmy Joseph, the rugby mad, spectacle wearing, asthmatic schoolboy, written by James Hook and David Brayley won The Telegraph Children’s Sports Book of the Year. Earlier this month ‘Impact, book 2 in the ‘Chasing a Rugby Dream series was published.
I’ve got a feeling that there are more opportunities for James and David just around the corner and with James’ ability to spot the gaps, well, who knows where that Rugby dream might end!