"I jump into a sand pit for a living"
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Steve Thompson, Blink, 2022. ISBN9781788705905The sub-title of Steve Thompson’s book is: Rugby, dementia and the fight of my life. He is a 2003 World Cup winner but he cannot remember any of it. It is a gripping story but a sad book. It is perhaps best summed up by the chapter on his rugby career, in the words of team mates because he can’t remember it!
As a rugby book it is excellent with explanations of the role of the hooker and the difficulty of line-out throwing. He claims: “However many balls Jonny Wilkinson kicked, I reckon I threw ten times more. You’ve heard of cauliflower ears? I’ve got cauliflower elbows”.
He explains further, his role in the team: “The perfect hooker is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. What might be an attribute in the front row, such as big solid shoulders and stocky legs, isn’t necessarily compatible with what’s needed as a thrower. You have to stick various bits together, give them a tweak and hope that they work”.
There is running theme in the book, whether he would have been better never to have played rugby. If he had not he would have been denied his great achievements and fame – which he cannot remember – but would still have his brain intact. He expresses it: “Life, as they say, is all about sliding doors. If I’d come along a few months later I wouldn’t have been part that World Cup squad, same as if I hadn’t grown up in Northampton, I’d never have found rugby- Is that good luck} would the real luck have been if those doors had stayed shut? Had I continued along the line a couple more stops would have had a totally different life. It wouldn’t have the achievement, the glory. It could actually have quite hard. But I might have been able to remember it... I had no idea then that the sport that had become my saviour would also be my downfall”.
He describes with insight how professionalism - changed rugby, with unforeseen terrible consequences. The sport became more strength-based: “‘Defence wins matches,’ seemed to be all I ever heard as rugby went from a free-flowing game to one based collision. Don’t just take my word for it. Have a look on YouTube at the comparison between the open running game of the decades pre-professionalism, and the smash, crunch grind that followed. Faster, Faster, heavier, stronger – that’s all mattered”.
He sets out his own seven-point manifesto for change:
1 Honesty about concussion and what it really is – a traumatic brain injury.
2. Impact Reduction
3. Player Passports
4. Concussion Management
5. Concussion Holidays
6. Reduce substitutions. Currently teams can throw on eight fresh substitutes and use them to smash a vulnerable and wearied apposition.
7. Pitchside personnel, empowered to intervene.
There is one sport/faith reference. “Jason Robinson was a case in point. Because he’d found religion, I do remember having different sorts of conversations with him than I might some of the other players. I enjoyed that change of scene”.