Jamie Bloem is one of the characters of rugby league and one of the best-known sportsmen in Calderdale.
He has been a controversial figure, one of the hard men of the game, a battling player with the ball and a tough tackler, capable of dishing it out to opponents. He’s also had probably more than his fair share of sin-binnings and sendings-off, not to say run-ins with referees and the rugby league authorities.
But off the field he comes over as a man with many friends in and out of the game and a loving husband and father, as is revealed in a new biography, In Full Bloem, by Halifax rugby league writer Andrew Hardcastle.
Andrew’s hugely readable book tells the roller-coaster story of a man who, born in South Africa during the era of apartheid, was a talented all-round sportsman who excelled at athletics, tennis and karate, as well as rugby – oh, and dabbled with ballet as a child – before launching a career in rugby that embraced both union and league.
And at the core of a 13-year career in rugby league that took him to Castleford, Oldham, Doncaster, Widnes and Huddersfield were six years in Halifax. The town became his second home , where he still lives with his wife, Louise, son Jordan and daughter Isabelle.
Jamie’s roller-coaster story reached the bottom as recently as last year, 2012, when, out of the blue, he was accused of having sex with a minor, a charge that turned out to be completely without foundation.
The story has been well documented in both national and local press but Andrew Hardcastle’s book gives Jamie the chance to tell the full story for the first time.
It all started on July 4, with an early-morning knock on the door. “I... found two detectives standing there with two further uniformed officers at the gate, a police car behind them and another car with a blue light on the other side of the road... I was told I was being arrested for having sex with a minor.”
The police were responding to notification from Facebook which stemmed from a social event at Stainland Amateur Rugby League Club, where Jamie was player-coach.
The club had been promoted from division 4 of the Pennine League and the celebration party was attended by about 15 men and five girls – but not Jamie; he was at a Halifax restaurant with his wife, Louise.
But revealing photographs taken at the party were posted on Facebook. “Jamie was then tagged in to the photographs, which made him appear a part of what had happened. The fact that he was older than the others and that a couple of the girls turned out to be only 15 years old, became an issue and was reported by Facebook.”
Police took computers and phones from the Bloem home; Jamie was locked up for a time, interviewed and then released, without charge, on bail, while investigations continued. Jamie cooperated with the police and soon the allegations of sex with a minor were dropped and the lesser charge of contact with a minor substituted.
But then the tabloid press got hold of the story and the real nightmare began. Suddenly the story was all over the internet and being reported in the press worldwide. Soon Jamie was receiving hate mail, including death threats. Reporters were knocking on neighbours’ doors asking how they felt about living next to Jamie.
His family left on a pre-arranged visit to Jamie’s mother in Middlesbrough and ended up staying for several weeks until it seemed safe enough to return home. But many people, including the children’s schools, were supportive. Crucially Louise stood by him. Eventually, in October, he was cleared, to Jamie’s and his family’s utter relief.
It had been the worst time in Jamie’s life since coming to Britain in 1992 to play rugby league for Castleford. As a boy he had excelled at sport, representing South Africa at karate and tennis, and becoming an under-16 record triple jumper.
In rugby union he played mostly on the wing or fullback and his school team won a national schools competition.
During national service he played for the army and then for Cape Town club Milnerton and starred for Western Province for two seasons. He might have hoped for the ultimate honour of playing for the Springboks except for the intense competition for places.
Instead Jamie switched to rugby league after being told it would suit his aggressive style. Although the game was little played in South Africa Jamie took part in several tournaments and and even played in two unsuccessful tests against a visiting Russian side.
He knew it was the game for him. “Once I started playing league I realised how much more it has to offer,” he said.
To play professionally meant moving either to England or Australia. England beckoned and Jamie got a trial at Castleford, playing in only one game for the Super League side before moving to second-division Oldham, where he had a much better chance of playing in the first team. He stayed for 11 games before moving on to newly promoted Doncaster – and disaster.
Donny were the perennial also-rans of professional rugby league but had recently signed a group of talented players and Doncaster shocked the rugby world with an astounding season that led both to promotion and a Challenge Cup run that took the team to the quarter finals for only the third time in its history.
But there was a reason for such unexpected success the book claims – drugs.
Although most players took the steroids to improve performance, in Jamie’s case it was to cure a hernia.
The suggestion came from a gym where the players trained.
According to the book it was suggested that “a couple of injections every other week for five weeks or so would cure the problem and at the same time make him stronger.
“There was no mention of what the injections c
ontained. It seemed a good idea.” There were also tablets, Dianabol, a testosterone-based anabolic steroid.
Jamie put on muscle quickly, adding two stones, and found “I was playing out of my skin.”
In the first match of the new season newly promoted Doncaster hammered top side St Helens.
Jamie scored two tries in what was described as “possibly [Doncaster’s] finest display in their 43-year history”.
But there was a price to pay. Jamie became ultra-aggressive on the pitch, barging one player off the pitch and into a stone post, being sin-binned in another game for using his elbow in a tackle, and being sent off for a dangerously high tackle that injured a player’s jaw in another. He was also moody off the pitch, easily losing his temper. “I’d get angry at the smallest thing.”
Inevitably he was caught; he failed a drugs test and was called to Rugby League headquarters.
But Jamie had been noticed by one of the game’s top clubs, Leeds, and on the day of the drugs interview he signed for the Headingley club on a £2,000-a-week contract, with Doncaster receiving a £150,000 transfer fee – big money in rugby league – and a summer spell with Australian club Newcastle Knights worth “a lot of money”.
That same afternoon he was banned for two years – the maximum possible for a first offence. His contract with Leeds was torn up and his existing one with Doncaster too. It was a devastating blow for a player on the way up.
After his enforced break from the game Jamie might have returned to play with Doncaster but instead took up an offer from first-division Widnes, where he played for two seasons before the opportunity to play in Super League came... from Halifax.
nNext week: The Halifax years.
nIn Full Bloem, by Andrew Hardcastle, is available at £14.95 at Fred Wade’s in Rawson Street, Halifax, W H Smith or at the Halifax RLFC club shop at the Shay. Jamie Bloem will be signing copies at Wade’s tomorrow, Saturday, from 10.30am to about 11.30.