I was lucky enough to be invited (via In The Loose) to a dinner to launch Ladbroke’s contribution to the Rugby World Cup ‘funnies’ – a video starring Austin Healey and Jimmy Bullard and a supporting cast. The video set a number of challenges between rugby players and footballers. You can see the video by following the link – it’s worth a look!
Watch Austin Healey and Jimmy Bullard challenge the values of football and rugby in ‘Who’s Got The Balls?’ at LadbrokesRugby.com #RealBalls
I grabbed the chair next to Austin for dinner, we had a good chat and as can be my way I grabbed a photo with him before he left to make his way home. To a degree he was still in a public forum, he took part in a question and answer type session with Jimmy – led by Scott Quinnell. I’ll confess at this point to being one of the people who has shouted at the TV when Austin’s been on (sorry Austin), especially when my team Saracens have been playing. But, the evening was fun and Austin was good company.
I’m a great believer in taking opportunities – they often lead to more opportunities and so it proved with the dinner. I was contacted by Ladbroke’s PR agency, Clifford French to see if I wanted to interview Austin – another think for 30 seconds moment before I said yes please! The actual interview took time to organise but we managed to collide on a Friday afternoon in November.
It seemed apt to be interviewing one of the pantomime villains of the rugby world with christmas approaching, I should warn at this point that we didn’t talk about the World Cup, England or Sam Burgess! Oh, and also about the fact that I’m going to have nothing but good to say about Austin. Actually, Austin made one very accurate comment on the whole England thing before we moved on to talking about him – ‘England are one 6 nations win away from being a fantastic team’ – all will be forgiven if that happens in 2016!
With the ‘bog standard’ subjects off the table and a telephone interview I had some questions prepared – you won’t be shocked to know we didn’t quite stick to them – but here goes –
What was your earliest rugby memory?
Austin was brought up in football territory, it was by far and away the main sport – the neighbourhood supported one of 3 teams, Everton, Liverpool or Tranmere – he played football a lot, this was a moment when Austin had me laughing in his words he ‘didn’t have the skill levels……. to compete with Messi and Ronaldo! Laughter was a feature of this interview, my gloomy November afternoon was really brightened up!
Austin played his football with friends, Mark and Paul Stewart, he went out to find them one morning to find they’d gone off to play a new game called rugby, rather than waiting for him to play football in the entry! Austin joined them and found that with his speed he could run around and not get smashed in – he’d found his game.
Can you name the one person who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
I’ve asked this question a few times and people have gone to family as a rule, Austin thought about his answer before he said it would be unfair to name one. That influences are more the moments in your life rather than people, he recounted a boring as a 10 year old when it was snowing, he was due to be playing Rhyll, his Mum got in the car in the dressing gown only to find that the car car wouldn’t start, she got out of the car, turned the wheel, pushed it down the road, jumped in and clutch started the car. Austin got there in time and scored 3 tries.
A couple of years earlier Austin at 8 was a bad asthmatic (not that it goes away) his Dad started exercising its him to make his lungs stronger, at first they walked, then jogged, then ran, 3 years later Austin was sprinting for 3 miles. That experience gave Austin a sense of commitment and a fight, it was instilled from the start.
As seemed to be the way with schooling at times, those immortal words were uttered in his direction – Healey you’ll never make anything of yourself. When someone tells you you can’t do something you’re more determined, it gives you an ability to want to prove people wrong. I hope that teacher is hanging his head in shame now!
What is your best club rugby memory?
We spoke in more general terms again here – Austin started playing at a more senior level at Waterloo, he was 17, he stayed there for 2 year then moved to Orrell for 18 months, he had good fun with the game without winning anything much. Austin was a unique player as he swapped positions, he was a versatile player to have on your team. He just thought of it as playing rugby whether he was at Scrum Half, Fly Half or Winger. When Austin was moved around during a game the swap from 9 to Fly Half it took him a moment to make the transition as the lines are quite different, but he did it and very successfully too. For Austin all good 9’s run in front of the ball, whereas good Fly Halves run behind the ball. Aaron Smith of the All Blacks is a good player to confirm that point – it means he’s always there to receive the ball, it also means he trusts his pack to come up with the ball. It was good to hear Austin sing Ben Spencer of Saracens praises during this discussion.
When did you have an idea of future plans? And how had you prepared as a player?
As a player Austin didn’t know or care about the future, as a high level professional and international player he was deeply embedded in what he was doing, he literally did no paperwork for 10 years! Austin is father to 4 daughters, 2 were born while he was a player, that tends to change perspectives. Looking at the future was therefore driven out of necessity, in his final year he knew he was on the wound down, opportunities presented themselves, he never felt sorry for himself as a player coming to the end of his career, he grabbed those opportunities.
Austin didn’t have the thoughts that many sportsmen seem to have had over the – what am I going to do? I lack confidence to something new. Austin was totally right in his judgement that in every industry people have to reinvent themselves. You can make whatever you want to do happen, you did it to get to the top of the game, he doesn’t have much sympathy with those who complain that they no longer have the regime needed in the game.
Austin is often judges to be egotistical, by people who have never met him, another thing that is common in sport, judgements made with no real knowledge. He has a job to do as a TV ‘star’ he needed to create a different persona, Austin has 2 very different lives, the image he has in the rugby world, and a private life with family and friends. No matter who we are we only have room for so many people, Austin’s mantra is – be completely truthful – and move away. At times he’s a comedy character, but in his words – ‘I don’t care what people think about me’ – the people in his real life, know the real Austin..
What does the future hold?
Again of this Austin isn’t so sure, he’ll take life as it comes while building his business interests in renewable energy for one thing, he plans to stop working formally in a couple of years to spend more time with his wife and family, the BT Sports schedule can be a punishing one.
Austin caught me out with this next one – he’ll be part of team in June 2016 cycling 2000 miles over 17 days (he told me 2!) to raise money for a great cause – The Dallaglio Foundation – head to the Foundation page to donate
I found Austin Healey to be incredibly likeable and pleasant, he was candid and happy to answer the questions I put to him. Sorry to dispel the myth – he’s a nice bloke!