Who is rugby league’s biggest bad boy? Gareth Hock? Willie Mason? Ten years ago Barrie McDermott would have been up there, too. But none of them compare to Jim Mills, whose authorised biography Big Jim has just hit the shelves.
The former Widnes, Halifax, Salford, Bradford, Workington and North Sydney forward was sent off a staggering 20 times during his career in the sixties and seventies, a fact former Warrington forward Mike Nicholas remembers all too clearly.
“Jim and I used to keep the disciplinary committee busy in the 1970s. We used to go in with the other players on charge and they would save our hearings till last. They used a trolley to wheel our files in and the committee used to boo us as we came in.
“I was sent off 15 times and Jim 20. Jim didn’t do anything by halves; he ended up banned from the whole southern hemisphere at one point. He got sent off everywhere except New Zealand, and that’s because they wouldn’t allow him in the country to play.”
Nicholas recently attended the launch of ‘Big Jim’, where 250 guests gathered to pay tribute to a man who won 17 caps for Wales and six for Great Britain during a career that took in three Wembley Challenge Cup finals for Widnes and 11 other finals for a team known as the ‘Cup Kings’.
“There were two firsts,” says Nicholas of the launch event. “One was the first round of applause I’ve ever had from a Widnes crowd, and the second was to get a handshake from Jim instead of a headbutt.”
Doug Laughton, who Mills played alongside at Widnes before the pair teamed up in the club’s coaching set-up, shares his own memories of Mills in the book’s foreword.
“As a rugby player Jim was a huge, very fit, fast, intelligent, tough forward who I never saw take a backward step. You would want Jim in your team anywhere, anytime,” says Laughton.
But it is an amusing tale that Laughton remembers that perhaps most sums up the reputation Mills carried during his illustrious and often notorious career.
“When tackle counts came into our game I was assistant coach to Frank Myler,” says Laughton. “One day Frank said to me: ‘Doug, big Jim has only done one tackle all game.’ I said to Frank: ‘Have a word with him,’ and Frank did.
“’Jim, you only made one tackle in all the game, what have you got to say?’ Looking Frank straight in the eye, Jim said: ‘Frank, would you run at me during a game?’ The team meeting ended in laughter as nobody in their right mind would run anywhere near big Jim.”
Big Jim is an entertaining read for fans who remember a bygone era in rugby league, spreading light on one of the sport’s biggest personalities of the time.
Now approaching 70, he still enjoys watching rugby league. And as authors Peter Lush and Maurice Bamford put it, “at least now if he is heading along the M62 towards Leeds, it is usually for a social occasion or to watch a match, and not to try to explain to the disciplinary committee why he got his retaliation in first.”
Big Jim: Jim Mills – A Rugby Giant, by Peter Lush and Maurice Bamford, is available now. ISBN 978-1903659700, published by London League Publications. Buy now and save on the cover price. This title is also available in Kindle edition.