Paul Kimmage: 'What is it about rugby that brings out the worst in publishers and makes mugs of us all?'

‘The point here is two-fold. Penguin are a respected publisher in the world of books, and literature, and there’s no index in this book. There’s no account of the World Cup except for how long it took for the bus to get to the venue. This is a raw deal Joe Schmidt is responsible for. I was delighted to see him getting a standing ovation on the Late Late, but your obligations ultimately are to people who are putting their hand in their pocket and paying €25 for a book that contains nothing except banal observations.’ – Eamon Dunphy ‘The Stand’

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There are 83 rugby books in my study at home; some are good, others are worthy, most are bog standard and a pile are absolute shite. It’s into this category, the bottom shelf, that we placed our copy of Ordinary Joe – the no-style-little-substance-pocket-pick from Penguin – last week.

It got me thinking . . . a huge advance . . . no ghostwriter . . . lousy content . . . no structure . . . a prologue that could have been written on the back of a boarding pass . . . How did Schmidt get away with it?

“Yes Joe.”

“No Joe.”

“Whatever you say, Joe.”

And why does it keep happening? What is it about rugby – a truly heroic game – that brings out the worst in publishers and makes mugs of us all?

And then it was explained.

It started with a screen-shot from a friend on Tuesday for ‘Rugby Union Weekly’, the BBC Radio 5 Live podcast. I’m not a regular listener and hadn’t planned on tuning-in but the promo – ‘A Finntastic Try and the greatest rugby book of all time’ – was tempting. And his text (‘You get a mention’) had me intrigued.

Ugo Monye and Danny Care are the regular presenters and on Monday they were joined by Chris Ashton, the swan-diving England and Sale Sharks winger. Some edited highlights:

Danny Care: Ashy, you read any decent books lately?

Chris Ashton: I’ve not mate, no . . .

DC: Can you read?

CA: I can read . . . it’s a miracle but yeah, I can.

DC: Okay, so after Dylan (Hartley) brought up your book last week we’ve done a bit of digging and found a story from the wonderfully titled Splashdown.

CA: Oh fantastic.

DC: You ready for this?

CA: Not really.

DC: Okay here we go. Care reads an extract from the book’s opening chapter. The month is March, 2010 and England are about to replace the injured Ugo Monye with Chris Ashton for the Six Nations game in France. “I get on very well with Ugo and, typical of him, even though he wasn’t meant to, the first thing he did was come to shake my hand and wish me good luck. ‘What do you mean?’ I said. I had no idea I was playing. Mike Ford, our defence coach, spotted this and came over. ‘Ugo, what are you doing?’ he said. He had a bit of a go at him but it wasn’t Ugo’s fault. And it didn’t spoil the moment for me, so Ugo needn’t have worried.” Ooogs, do you remember that?

Ugo Monye: I do remember it.

DC: Give us a bit of context.

UM: So, I played against Scotland the week before up at Murrayfield.

DC: Is that when you got banged out?

UM: I got banged out and couldn’t train by the Tuesday. So I knew I wasn’t going to play and in fairness to Ashy, he probably deserved an opportunity earlier on, because his form in the Premiership was better than me. So I walked onto the pitch and said ‘Ashy, I think you’re playing this weekend. Good luck. All the best.’ And it was Brian Smith who came over and had a go at me: ‘We haven’t named the team yet . . . Leave it for us to tell Ashy, that should have been his moment.’ So that’s kind of what happened. Is that fair? Is that what happened Ashy?

CA: Yeah, yeah, bang on. But your reading of the book, Danny, just makes me curl up into a ball.

DC: Sorry mate, sorry . . . But you did write it, did you? What did you do just . . . a couple of phone calls?

CA: Can we just get off this?

DC: We’ll get off it in a second but there’s a couple of interesting and contrasting reviews online that we’ve found.

CA: Oh no!

DC: I’m going to go with the positive one to start . . .

CA: Before you start there’s a reason it’s in a pound shop now.

DC: Why’s that mate?

CA: It’s obviously used for door stops and stuff.

DC: (Laughs)

UM: Whose idea was it by the way?

CA: Well, we’d actually umm, a lot had gone on in the year of the book. My head got knocked off by Manu (Tuilagi), we won the Six Nations, I was top try-scorer in the Six Nations and we were going to the World Cup, so it made a bit of sense to . . .

DC: Get a book out there.

CA: Maybe do a book.

DC: You got some good coin for it anyway mate.

UM: Was your fee dependent on how well the book went?

CA: (Laughs) No.

DC: He made that very clear in his contract.

CA: When we got knocked out in the World Cup quarter-final I was like, ‘Obviously, I’m not doing it now’. But they were like, ‘No, no, no, you’re doing it’.

UM: How did that go down?

CA: Well, it went down like this . . . I had to go and do what they called a . . .

DC: Book signing?

CA: Yeah, well, a book signing with two people, one of them was the cleaner! So this bloke comes, I forgot his name, I’ll have to find his name because he absolutely ruined me.

UM: He turned up to your book signing to slag you off?

CA: I thought he was just doing an interview about the book, or about the World Cup or whatever . . .

UM: Oh, a journo?

CA: Yeah, Paul Kimmage his name was, he’s an Irish journalist. So he turns up and he sits down (laughs) and he just starts hammering me. He just described the whole day and what’s gone on and . . . we were in a taxi at one point, driving from the station to the book shop. And my agent at the time, Andi Peters, is sat in the back of the car and he’s got some sandwiches because we’re in a rush. And he (the journalist) described this moment of me sat in the front of this flash car with my agent, Andi Peters, passing me hand-cut sandwiches (laughs) . . . it’s like, what!!

DC: (Laughs) I can definitely imagine that happening though Chris.

UM: That rings true, I’ve got to say.

CA: So it was a bad idea from start to finish, but we did it anyway.

DC: Okay, well here’s a couple of contrasting reviews mate. The first is a good one from ‘Thomson’: “A well-written and interesting account of Chris Ashton and his World Cup year, accompanied by lovely photos to give a more personal touch.” That’s nice feedback Chris, no?

CA: Yeah, tickets to Sale anytime Tommo.

DC: Okay, there you go, but David Slater wasn’t a huge fan of the book. He wrote: “Egotistical drivel. It’s the sort of book that if you were reading in public you’d hide in a porn magazine to limit the embarrassment.”

UM: Oh no!

DC: ‘Makes a good door stop.’

CA: Slater you are not invited to Sale.

DC: So David Slater and . . . what’s the journo called?

CA: Paul Kimmage.

DC: Yeah, not your greatest fans.

UM: I’m just reading here, there are 31 used copies available on Amazon.

CA: (Laughs) Used?

UM: Yeah, and the cheapest is a penny.

DC: Oh, wow.

UM: How many copies did you sell?

CA: No, I’m taking that to the grave.

UM: Oh please, come on.

DC: He won’t tell me. I’ve asked him so many times, he won’t say.

CA: No chance.

UM: Higher or lower?

CA: No mate honestly, I’m not playing.

UM: Okay, are we in the hundreds?

CA: (Laughs) I refuse to play.

DC: I hope to God we’re at least in the hundreds.

CA: Do you know what the worst thing is (laughs)? There was meant to be a second book!

DC: (Laughs)

UM: Were you paid for it?

CA: I was paid for it and ran off . . . yeah.

UM: Do you think you will do a second book?

CA: Maybe, I mean . . .

DC: Yours is a book, Ashy, that if you were allowed to do it properly, I would 100 per cent want to read.

CA: Yeah, a lot of stuff in that one (Splashdown) wasn’t allowed to be put in . . . the RFU read (it) and they hold all the rights.

DC: That’s the problem these days. The stories with Ashy we’ve been involved in Ooogs . . .

UM: (Laughs)

DC: That (book) would go down in history. It would be flying off the shelves, but you can’t say it.

CA: Yeah, everything got whipped out. Splashdown was probably not the best name for the book. If you two had a book what would you call it?

UM: ‘MonUmental’.

DC: Nice.

CA: ‘Show me the Monye’.

UM: Yeah.

DC: I don’t know . . . what’s a good thing that goes with Care?

UM: Paddy, our engineer, has just walked in and said: ‘Who Cares?’

DC: Cheers Pat.

And they laugh.

But the joke is on us.

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