REVIEW: Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story, by Phil Holmes Jr and Phil Holmes Snr

Neil Barraclough

Anybody searching for a rugby league book that combines emotion, nostalgia and dignity can stop looking now.

Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story charts the career of one of England’s finest ever rugby league players.

That it brings to life so well a man who was regarded as quiet and unassuming is testament to the quality and hard work put in by Holmes’ nehpew and brother.

The research done by Phil Holmes Jr and Snr means they have also managed to create a work that effortlessly transports the reader back to the 1950s as we follow John Holmes’ rise from the streets of Kirkstall to the glory of a World Cup triumph.

John, the third of four children and the youngest of three brothers, was constantly being challenged during his early years.

If Vardon, Braid and Taylor made golf’s ‘Great Triumvirate’, then the Holmes’ boys were the Kirkstall equivalent; constantly pushing each other in order to gain individual success and, in the process, subconsciously making each a faster and stronger athlete.

It was a background that, combined with Holmes’ extraordinary natural gifts, would propel him to a total of 625 first team appearances for Leeds between the 1968-69 season and the 1989-90 campaign.

By the time he eventually retired, Holmes had imprinted himself on the memory of every rugby league fan fortunate enough to have witnessed his apparently effortless skills.

Reluctant Hero: The John Holmes Story makes fascinating reading for Leeds rugby league fans. But like Holmes’ talents, which spread far further than the boundaries of Headingley, this book will surely appeal to many in the rugby league family.

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