Passed/Failed: An education in the life of the former England rugby player Austin Healey

'I had a fight pretty much every day'

Thursday 15 August 2013 22:32

Austin Healey, 35, played for Leicester Tigers, won 51 England caps and toured with the British Lions. He recently showed his footwork on the celebrity talent show Strictly Come Dancing. On ITV4's The Big Tackle series, he has been trying to turn round the fortunes of five rugby union teams. (Details of the O2 'Grassroots to Glory' scheme are on Me & My Mouth: Austin Healey, The Autobiography was published out in 2006.

I was, as my under-nines rugby coach was the first to point out, a bighead: I was known as Melon Head, because I had a big head. I was reasonably bright but I didn't try at school – I was always going to be sportsman.

I was small and an obvious target for the bullies at Bidston Primary school in the Wirral. I spent a lot of time on my toes, running away from confrontations – until my very last day when a lad called Marvin had a go at me and the worm turned. I whacked him in the face.

I went on to St Anselm's College in Birkenhead, which was then a Jesuit private school, and had a fight pretty much every day. It was a great school and it launched my rugby career: Joe Green, the sports teacher there, taught me a lot.

The teachers in the early years were priests, which didn't seem strange when I first went there, as I had never been to secondary school before. I was one of the few non-Catholics, so when the others at Mass went to up take Communion, I would just sit there by myself. I did consider switching, but only because my convent girlfriend had to go to Heswall RC Church every Sunday; we'd stand at the back by the spare hymn books, snogging through the service. Religion was one of my favourite subjects and I came first in most of the exams in the subject.

It was a very strict school and for the first three years corporal punishment was allowed, until it got outlawed across the land. I was the last boy to get the strap there, from Mr Johnston (by coincidence, the father of the Saracens and England centre Ben, with whom I toured South Africa in 2000). I got three swipes from the leather strap, which hurt like hell, but I smiled through the pain to wind Mr Johnston up.

I was not that keen on Latin; Brother O'Sullivan sent me out of the class before the lesson. He said this saved time, as I would do something wrong. I had two years of basically no Latin and dropped it as a subject.

I would respect the teachers if they respected you. It was something of a miracle that I emerged with good results: 10 GCSEs. I did everything: all three sciences, sports science, maths, RE.

I got A-levels in statistics, theology and general studies. The one A-level I failed was economics; shamefully, I used to make fun of the teacher's stutter and he used to send me out for finishing his sentences.

Leeds Polytechnic [now Leeds Metropolitan University] was where my friends were going and I got a BA Hons in physical education. I did a year of systems engineering and then switched to human movement studies, which involved biomechanics, physiology, psychology and philosophy. I think I've got a biomechanical eye: I can spot skills and replicate them in any sports.

I always wanted to play for England – that was the driving force. Before rugby union went professional, when I was 20, I hoped to play for England as an amateur. I'm a forgotten rugby player now!

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