INTERVIEW: John Holmes’ nephew, Phil Jr, remembers a rugby league great

This is the second installment of a two-part interview with Phil Holmes Jr, co-author of Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story. Here he talks about John’s remarkable talents.

John Holmes was always known as a special talent on the field, and a quiet guy off it.

A Leeds hero of the 70s and 80s, most South Standers regard Holmes as a magician – a master craftsman with the ball in his hands.

Holmes’ nephew, Phil Jr, told Rugby League Books: “His first wife, Jenny, and his second wife, Karen, were telling him he was special and that he needed to celebrate that.

“Towards the end he did, but John just found the game of rugby league very easy.”

He continued: “John grew up playing against his two brothers. One was four years older than him, and the other was eight years older than him.

“When he turned professional there were guys coming to take his head off, but he was used to it because ‘our kid’ had been doing it all his life. I don’t think he really knew how difficult other people found the game.

“John just found the game easy. He was blessed with talent.”


But Phil Jr, who together with his father Phil – John’s brother – wrote Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story in celebration of John’s life, also saw another side to his uncle.

“He was very talented, but on the other hand, when he was coaching, he and David Ward could tolerate guys who weren’t as good as they had been. John could do that, and he had patience.

“I found that quite strange and very humbling, particularly when you look at some guys in other sports who’ve reached the top and can’t handle coaching people who aren’t as good as they were.”


Holmes’ coaching ability is something Phil Jr briefly had first-hand experience of.

“I was one of four trialists playing with the likes of Eddie Rombo in the Leeds A team,” he says.

“David Ward got the four of us together and told us that he thought he was losing his job, that he thought Doug Laughton was coming in and that we should go back to amateur rugby league and he’d catch us elsewhere.

“That month at Leeds was the best month of my rugby league life. It was wonderful because it showed how welcoming and humble rugby league players are. There were no egos, even among the stars of the first team.

“Wardy later signed me for Batley, so he kept his promise I suppose, but I think I reached my peak at 17 with that month at Leeds!”


What makes Holmes’ story all the more remarkable is exactly how unremarkable his life was away from rugby league.

Here was a man who reached the pinnacle of professional sport, but who in later life thought nothing of getting on a bus to watch the rugby with his mates at the local pub.

Phil Jr explains: “John was just a regular bloke who was supremely talented. Part of the story was to try to make it readable for a wider public, and not just a rugby league book.

“Hopefully the book shows what Leeds was like at the time. I didn’t just want to make it something based on rugby league scrapbooks, and it’s been lovely having people aged between 50 and 70 coming up and sharing tales of that era after reading the book.”

Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story’, by Phil Holmes Jr and Snr, is out now. ISBN 978-0956252647, published by Scratching Shed Publishing. It is available to buy here.

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