Jamie Bloem is standing in a corridor in the bowels of the Halliwell Jones Stadium, coffee in hand, preparing to commentate on one of the coldest matches Super League has ever witnessed.
Twenty years ago, he had not heard of rugby league. Now, after a rollercoaster career, he is a former international player, a current BBC pundit and a Championship One referee – and that’s without touching on any of the controversies.
As a player, Bloem was a polarising figure. But with the release of Andrew Hardcastle’s biography In Full Bloem, the public is being given a chance to see Bloem in a different light.
“London League Publications got hold of me, said they wanted to do a book on me and asked if I’d be interested,” he explains. “We’d already done a book in the past with Steve Deane, but that wasn’t really what I wanted it to be. Peter put me in touch with Andrew Hardcastle, and we met every Monday for 14 or 15 months.
“I wanted to be part of it. I wanted it to be about me, not about what people think about me. The way I was on the field is not the way I am off the field. I’m a family man and I wanted that to be put across – and I’m really pleased with the end result. It’s everything I wanted it to be.”
In Full Bloem is not a long book, but his story is utterly remarkable. Say his name on the terraces at most rugby league grounds across the country and even now, 19 years on, there are two words that are likely to come back: drugs cheat.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve done in my life. Every part of your life, no matter how good or bad it is, makes you the person you are today. My daughter’s nine and my son’s 15, and I’ve made them read the book. They needed to read every single part of it. They never knew about the steroid stuff – it was way before they were born – so I’ve made them read the book and ask me questions.
“When I got banned in 1994 my wife and I had only just met. I said to her then if she wanted to go, she could go – but she stuck by me. For two years the only salary we had was hers, which was £580 a month. That’s all we had. We had to pay rent and live off that. When you do that, you learn the value of money and the value of your relationship.
“We became so close over those two years that our bond became stronger than anything else. Do I regret taking steroids? No I don’t, because if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have been with my wife right now. I’d have probably been one of the idiots running about like other rugby players do, doing stupid things.
“Instead I became very grounded and when I got signed on at Widnes 18 months into my ban, I really appreciated what I’d got. People often say, ‘do you regret it?’ I don’t regret it one bit.”
Bloem is clearly at peace with his past. One of the book’s more remarkable tales is his flirtation with American Football while banned from rugby league, with only his determination to succeed in the 13-man game preventing a professional career.
“London Monarchs offered me a contract after about three or four weeks of playing with London Olympians. It was £500 a week, and £5,000 a game, which was a lot of money for me. I was quite keen, but they wanted me to move to London so I could train most days.
“It’s a totally different game; it looks like it’s slow, but the collisions are a lot more strenuous, especially on your knees. They use their helmets to dive at your knees, instead of tackling you, and I could just imagine my career not lasting very long. One hit on the side of your knee, and it’s gone.
“My wife and I sat down and sat ourselves some goals. I wanted to come back to rugby and prove to people I wasn’t the player I was because of steroids. I wanted to play international rugby again. I wanted to play Super League. In doing all of that, I couldn’t afford to get injured playing American Football – even though the money would have been great.”
He now runs a landscaping business alongside his refereeing and commentating commitments. “I’m doing Championship One games this year and I’m hoping to progress through that. I’m really happy. I’m not refereeing for money, I’m refereeing because I enjoy it.
“I could have done media work and earned the same money as I do from refereeing, but I chose to referee and I do it because I enjoy it. I don’t mind going to Hemel, Gloucester, Oxford or Gateshead – I just love being part of it and giving a little bit back.”
This review first appeared in the April 2013 issue of Forty-20 magazine.