Keith Mason grew up on the Pilgrim Estate, a tough, uncompromising part of Dewsbury Moor where heroin and petty crime were rife.
By his own admission, he went off the rails and became a member of a gang who committed many misdemeanours including burglary.
Mason ended up in court on 45 occasions, but rugby league eventually became his salvation.
Now, remarkably, the Yorkshireman is enjoying a successful acting career, mixing with Hollywood actors such as Mickey Rourke, and is also an entrepreneur.
Mason, 42, has written his autobiography, ‘Against All Odds’, which is due out next month. The book reflects the theme of his fascinating life story from a troubled teen to professional rugby league player to movie star.
Ex-prop Keith Mason reveals all in new book ‘Against All Odds’
Mason told Love Rugby League: “I didn’t finish my education as I was expelled from four schools and was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as a kid.
“I guess I had a short attention span for sitting in classrooms, but when it came to anything to do with sports at school, I excelled… my school teachers called me a loveable rouge.
“Even though I wasn’t the perfect student, the schools still ask me to this day to come back to speak the pupils, so I did eventually make my teachers proud of my achievements, but I was certainly a handful as a child.
“I was in a gang who got up to no good as a kid, so I ended up getting arrested and going to court countless times.
“Pilgrim Estate in the heart of Dewsbury Moor was very well-known for being afflicted by a heroin epidemic back in the 1990s and for being one of the poorest places in the UK.
“I went through that period in my life when I was looking for attention because I had no father figure or discipline. I generally looked up at my sisters’ boyfriends… a lot of them were into drugs and bad boys, but they always showed me love.
“My sister struggled with drugs for a long time, which affected me as I love her deeply, and I’ve seen a lot of my mates pass away after going down that road of addiction.
“That was part of my upbringing, even though my mum was always there for me. She was the right person stuck in the wrong place – she was my driving force.
“My mum sacrificed herself to have five kids and never really went on to live her dreams, so I wanted to do it for her and not be another child who broke her heart.
“I look back at the times she came to court and stuck up for me when the system was against me. When I came out of court for the last time at Bradford Crown, my friend who I knocked about with got a two-year jail sentence for burglary.
“I thought, ‘I can’t keep doing this’, so I cut all my friends off and just went for it.”
From 45 court appearances to the NRL via Wakefield Trinity
Mason, a product of the Dewsbury Moor amateur club, was rejected by Bradford Bulls, Leeds Rhinos and Castleford as a youngster, before Wakefield offered him a lifeline and coach John Harbin changed the course of his life forever.
The ex-prop remembered: “I was desperate, but that feeling showed what I was all about – I had the fire in my belly to do something in my life.
“Wakey came in and their academy was struggling, having lost 10 games on the bounce, but I played in a trial game and was man of the match.
“We went on to win 11 straight games to finish the season, and that same Wakefield team reached the Academy Grand Final against Leeds at Headingley.
“Leeds had Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire and many more, and we lost the game, but I went on to win the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year (awards) and made my first-team debut against Huddersfield.
“From there, John Harbin offered me a two-year deal. My mum was there when I signed the contract, I think it was about £3,500 a year, but I had finally got there.
“I was playing with Danny Brough, Gareth Ellis and Ben Westwood, we all signed around the same time, and used to sweep up the stadium and do all the boring jobs before going out to train with the first-team.
“We were cannon fodder for the first team! But I have some brilliant memories of my time at Wakefield. A lot big clubs came in for me, including Leeds who had rejected me.
“They offered me a four-year deal on good money, but Melbourne had been looking for a good, young English prop.”
Keith Mason talks ‘phenomenal’ time Down Under with Melbourne Storm
“I’d played for Wales against England at Wrexham in 2001 and had a very strong game, so Melbourne’s CEO Chris Johns flew over to meet me and sign me after getting back from a tour of South Africa with Great Britain’s under-21’s.”, continued Mason.
“Melbourne ended up paying a 100k transfer fee to Wakefield to get me over to the NRL, so Trinity definitely made a profit on me, which I didn’t see any of!
“There were about 24 internationals at the time, and I lived in Richmond with Cameron Smith for the first six months. Me, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman were all coming through at the same time.
“It was phenomenal, and Melbourne were absolutely light years ahead of anything I’d seen in Super League; the good weather, the lifestyle, the beaches… the list goes on.
“After spending two seasons in the NRL, a lot of English clubs came in for me, so I ended up signing for St Helens on really good money.
“Saints were the only club I wanted to play for in the English game because they were champions at the time.”
Challenge Cup glory with St Helens in Cardiff
2024 marks 20 years since Mason helped Saints to Challenge Cup final glory against bitter rivals Wigan Warriors at the Millennium Stadium, recalling: “I was 22.
“To me, the Challenge Cup is the pinnacle of rugby league, especially when that year we beat Bradford, Leeds, Hull FC and Huddersfield en-route to the final, where we defeated Wigan.
“That’s why it meant so much. I was at Saints from 2003 to 2006, and then Daniel Anderson came in and I went to Cas on loan.
“Wigan actually came in and offered me a two-year deal, but Saints blocked it because I was still their player and the rivalry between both clubs was fierce.
“Saints didn’t want one of their players moving to the dark side, so I ended up signing for Huddersfield.”
‘F*cking hell, if I work hard at this, then I can get something like that’: How a Challenge Cup final appearance led to Hollywood opportunities
Now 41, Mason became a key figure at the Giants, playing 150 first team games, reaching two Challenge Cup finals and winning the 2009 Coach’s Player of Year award under Nathan Brown.
A few seasons later, Mason was sacked after a photo of a team-mate’s bottom appeared on his Twitter account.
He successfully sued Huddersfield for unlawful dismissal and, after one final season with Castleford in 2013, decided to call time on his playing career.
But a chance meeting with Hollywood star Rourke in London following the 2009 Challenge Cup final led to an unexpected post-rugby career break.
Mason said: “I enjoyed my time at Huddersfield until they sacked me. Thankfully I won the case against them, because if I hadn’t, my life would have been a lot different.
“After retiring, I went through the struggle that a lot of professional sportsmen do after playing – depression, alcohol and everything else.
“But I regathered myself and I learnt a lot about people, who was there for me and who wasn’t… hard times reveal true friends!
“I did the film (‘A Hitman in London’) with Mickey Rourke, and it was something completely different. I remember Mickey collecting £250,000 in a bag for a day’s work.
“I was thinking, ‘f***ing hell, if I work hard at this, then I can get something like that’. I remember Joe Calzaghe coming round to a hotel and we had a good night out. It was a mad experience, going over to Hollywood and New York.
“But I’ve never forgotten my roots and a lot of the values I learned in rugby league – teamwork, leadership and never giving in – I’ve taken into being an actor and entrepreneur.”
‘I wanted to show that life is about learning, failing, getting up again and never giving up… It’s been a crazy ride’
The former Super League & NRL ace has a son – Lukas – in Wigan’s academy, and – discussing his new book ‘Against All Odds’ – adds: “I’ve now got my own watch company, ‘Mason Watches’, and a non-profit sportswear brand called ‘MasonMerch’, from which I give all the proceeds to the charity. I champion for the ‘Tafida Raqeeb Foundation’, plus I do a lot of stuff for charity.
“I fly to Bangladesh in four weeks with over 40 medical professionals to support children in need in a medical camp, which is going to be an amazing and humbling experience.
“I brought out the first-ever rugby league comic, ‘Rugby Blood‘, and I’ve just landed another lead role to play in ‘The Chosen’, a supernatural thriller were I play Irish detective Kevin O’Brien.
“Written by Sean O’Neill, we start filming in Canada, Belfast and Dublin later this year. My film, ‘Imperative’, is doing really well in America and is out in the UK soon.
“I produced that film and play the lead detective, Jack Sullivan. Your struggles in life develop your strengths and the storms you go through only make you stronger.
“I hope people buy the book. It’s not just about sport, but my childhood and the challenges I faced and overcame because I represent people from the bottom.
“I wanted to show that life is about learning, failing, getting up again and never giving up. That’s what the book is all about – against all odds, I made it. It’s been a crazy ride.”
‘Against All Odds’ by Keith Mason will be released on February 24, and is available for pre-order now.