Last week’s Nostalgia told of rugby player Jamie Bloem’s early years in the game in England, as recounted by Halifax rugby league writer Andrew Hardcastle in his new book In Full Bloem.
Jamie arrived in England in England from his native South Africa in 1992 and after spells with Castleford, Oldham, Doncaster and Widnes in 1998 Jamie had the chance to move up to Super League with Halifax.
Fax were a decent side, built round a powerful pack that typically contained Karl Harrison, Paul Rowley, Kelvin Skerrett, Gary Mercer, Des Clark and Martin Moana, with halfbacks Gavin Clinch and Chris Chester and backs Fereti Tuilangi, Daio Powell, Martin Pearson, Damian Gibson and David Bouveng.
Jamie quickly settled into the side, where there was real camaraderie. This 1998 Halifax team was the best Jamie ever played in and was unlucky not to finish with some silverwear, finishing third in Super League but crashing out to St Helens in the play-offs.
Jamie had met future wife Louise while at Doncaster and later had bought a home in Widnes, where they also married and where son Jordan was born. Now they moved home to Halifax, living in one of a number of houses used by Fax players in Chapel Lane, Salterhebble, owned by club director Stephen Pearson.
The following season went less well for Halifax, with missed results combining with increasing financial problems. All this led to talk of a merger with Bradford Bulls or Huddersfield Giants – and this only four years after plans for a merger with Bradford had outraged the Fax faithful.
Ultimately coaches John Pendlebury and David Hobbs resigned, key players left – and Jamie Bloem found himself on the way to, of all places, Paris!
The offer was to play rugby union with the Racing Metro club, where the pay was good and the money came with a car and an apartment 200 yards from the Arc deTriomphe. It sounded ideal and Jamie had a great time, but the language barrier was a problem and Louise didn’t settle. The club agreed to release Jamie and by the end of the year the family was back in Halifax and Jamie at the Shay.
Jamie, who had now moved from the backs into the pack, generally played well, though he suffered his share of injuries.
But it wasn’t a happy time for the club, with continuing financial troubles. After a narrow escape from relegation in 2002 several senior Halifax players, Jamie included, were asked to take a 60 per cent pay cut. As a full-time play the money was their only income.
“I understood why they were doing it, said Jamie, “but you can’t take a cut like that... I decided to find another club.”
As a stop-gap Jamie returned to rugby union with the Halifax Club at Ovenden Park, at the invitation of David Brook, the man who took the Thrum Hallers to championship and Wembley glory in the 1980s. Jamie played 10 games for the Ovenden Park club before receiving an invitation to return to Super League with Huddersfield Giants in 2003. But the journey over the Ainleys lasted only the season before a return to David Brook’s ambitious Ovenden Park club, which had been soaring upwards through the rugby union pyramid.
He might have played out his career in rugby union – but then Halifax RLFC came calling once more. There was interest from other rugby league clubs too, but Halifax was where Jamie lived and it suited Louise, who had given birth to daughter Isabelle in 2003.
Halifax had been relegated from the Super League in 2003 so was no longer operating with full-time players. Jamie was developing a business in landscape gardening and part-time contract with Fax fitted in well. He stayed until 2005 when he realised that the game was taking its toll. “It was time to pack it in,” he said, “My body was taking too much.”
A few seasons in rugby union followed, with various sides, including local teams Old Brodleians and Old Rishworthians, then with Stainland Amateur Rugby League Club.
When he retired as a professional player his friends organised a surprise event for him. It followed his last league game at the Shay, a 46-20 victory over Oldham.
At the end of the game he left his boots on the centre sport in the tradition of retiring overseas players. His pals lured him to a restaurant which he found packed with players from his past. The boots came from the Shay to be part of an auction which raised £7,000, which Jamie gave to the NSPCC.
Jamie was tempted by coaching and almost got a job with Oldham before having coaching stints with local rugby union teams and finally with the Stainland amateur rugby league club.
These days Jamie, the player who regularly found himself on the wrong side of the referee, is a referee himself, currently in the second tier of rugby league, in the Championship.
Conceivably, though Jamie Bloem never made it to a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, he could find himself there as a whistle blower. What a fine irony that would be!
n In Full Bloem, by Andrew Hardcastle, £14.95, is available at Fred Wade’s and W H Smith, Halifax, or at the Halifax RLFC club shop at the Shay.