Rugby Renegade, by Gus Risman

Classic tale of a rugby league legend revived with contemporary relevance
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The Independent Culture

Seekers after that relatively rare beast, classic rugby league literature, are going to have good reason to be grateful to Scratching Shed over the next few months. The new Yorkshire-based imprint is making it its business to unearth lost treasures dealing with a code that has always been under-represented, in quantity if not in quality, on bookshelves.

There could hardly be a better starting point than the story of one of the sport's true greats. Gus Risman's stature in the game is underlined by this 1958 autobiography being the first by a rugby league player to be published nationally. It was also ghosted by a big name borrowed from another game with which he is more generally associated – Kenneth Wolstenholme. At times, They-Think-It's-All-Over's lack of any deep grounding in league shows through and, stylistically, this is very much a work of its time.

But what a story Augustus John Risman had to tell. Born into a Latvian family in Cardiff's Tiger Bay, he "went North" to play rugby league before he was out of his teens, largely as a way of side-stepping the Great Depression. He was destined to play at top level well into his forties, making him the most durable superstar the game has seen.

His early career was spent with the prodigiously talented Salford side of the 1930s, whose achievements included popularising the game in France.

During the Second World War, he had an astonishing double career in both wartime rugby league and services rugby union, where he was usually the best on the field at a game he had not played for over a decade.

The 1946 Lions tour to Australia – the one on the aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable – was his third, but perhaps the greatest achievement of his career was leading the RFL's new boys Workington Town to the Championship and the Challenge Cup as player-coach.

In these long-forgotten pages, Risman describes all that, as well as giving his thoughts on what was right and wrong with the game. Fifty years on, it is amazing how contemporary much of that still is.

As a bonus, this ten quid's worth includes his 1938 manual, "How to Play Rugby League Football", an introduction by the game's leading historian, Tony Collins, and a postscript by one of Gus's rugby-playing sons, John Risman.

As a Rugby League Classic rescued for the nation, it is going to be a hard debut to follow.

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