If Paul Sculthorpe were a footballer, hed be a household name around the world, ranking alongside Beckham and Ronaldo. Unfortunately for him, hes a Rugby League player a sport which struggles to get its fair share of column inches in our football/Rugby Union obsessed media. So, heres a bit by way of introduction.
Paul Sculthorpe began his playing career at Warrington before moving to local rivals St Helens for a (then) world record transfer fee of £370,000. He has gone on to be one of the most successful players in the sport, lifting numerous trophies and captained both St Helens and Great Britain. He is the only player ever to have been voted Man of Steel (the player of the season, as judged by a panel of independent experts) in two successive seasons. Although in recent seasons he has been plagued by injuries, he is still rated as one of the worlds best players.
Oh, and hes also a thoroughly nice bloke.
Its probably a good job that Scully, as he is affectionately known, is good at Rugby League, because he clearly has no future as an author. Although the book is co-written with a journalist, it suffers from a very turgid writing style. True, the journalist in question is a Sun journalist so, without wishing to sound snobby, you dont expect perfectly crafted sentences. Even so, I would have expected something better. The book aims to adopt a conversational tone, keeping things informal and chatty and to some extent, it achieves this. However, it also makes the book difficult to read, as it lacks any kind of coherent structure. Although structured chronologically around his career path, theres often no real sense of the order in which events happened. Its as if Sculthorpe and his co-author went for a chat, with Scully simply recalling events as they sprang to mind. Those recollections were then written down more or less word for word to form the chapters. If this were a taped interview, or even a newspaper feature, this would be perfectly natural. In a book, its less satisfactory.
Certainly, anyone who isnt aware of the general pattern of Scullys career would be a little confused. Hardly any dates are given throughout the book, so its difficult to get a real sense of what happened when. True, some autobiographies go over the top with dates for everything, but Scullys goes too far the other way, with virtually no reference to a specific time frame. It will be confusing even to ardent Rugby League fans; newcomers or casual readers hardly stand a chance.
The overall structure is also a little confusing in that it is split into two parts. The first considers his career from a professional point of view and is more fact based; the second part is a more personal perspective, recalling events or people that have made a particular mark in him. However, this isnt made clear. So, you reach the end of the 2006 season and suddenly, youre thrown back 10 years without warning to 1996 and the more personal recollections. This is a little disconcerting until you work it out!
The book is also written in a very staid, po-faced style, which makes for heavy reading. Theres very little sense of humour or fun to be gleaned from the pages. Where the authors attempt to inject some, it falls flat. This is mainly because most of the humour comes in the form of anecdotes about the practical jokes played by the players on each other. Sadly, these just arent funny. Im quite sure that many of them were hilarious at the time but, like any practical joke, theres a definite sense of you had to be there and they lose much of their humour for outsiders. Similarly, when written down, they simply come across as puerile (and, at times, irresponsible) acts, rather than the hilarious ones the authors seem to think they are.
Sculthorpe also appears obsessed by the word bloody (although I suspect he is being polite and another, less printable word was actually springing to mind!). It becomes very annoying after a while, when everything is bloody this and bloody that. In fact, you could say, it becomes bloody annoying!
The worst aspect, however, is the fact that the turgid writing style perfectly complements the contents, which are dull, dull, dull. I was really looking forward to this book, as autobiographies often lift the lid on behind the scenes events and tell you what really went on. Scully prides himself on being a straight-talking, honest guy and, during his years at St Helens, he has witnessed some pretty controversial events. I was anticipating some pretty explosive revelations about what really happened.
I finished the book disappointed. Sculthorpe rarely gives anything away. Theres no more information on such events in this book than could be gleaned from the newspaper articles at the time. At times, he barely comments on them, mentioning them only in passing. Certainly, anyone who was unaware of the events would be totally oblivious to the fact that at the time they caused a lot of heated debate.
There are no major revelations, controversies or criticisms at all. The only time Sculthorpe seems to venture an opinion on anything is when that pretty much coincides with general opinion anyway (for example, that the Aussies always get their own way). Everyone that Sculthorpe has ever worked with is utterly brilliant and hes always got on with them. Even when these figures are hated by most other people in the sport, Scully hasnt got a bad word to say for them! The one time he comes close to an interesting revelation, he backs away at the last moment, refusing to name the player hes talking about on the grounds that he is still active in the sport.
And here, I think, lies the real problem. As mentioned at the beginning, Sculthorpe is a thoroughly nice bloke and that comes across in his book. The trouble is, nice isnt necessarily the same as interesting, and his refusal to criticise anyone makes for a bland read. Many sportsmen wait to write their autobiographies until they have retired, and I cant help feeling that Scully might have been better doing the same. You cant blame him for wanting to cash in on his reputation at the height of his fame post-Rugby League life is often tough, even for the biggest names. At the same time, though, you do feel that the reason for his reluctance to criticise is often because he still has to work with these people on a daily basis. Perhaps if he had waited a few years to write the book, it might have contained more juicy details.
The sad truth is theres little here to keep even an ardent Rugby League fan such as myself entertained, so theres no way a non-fan would enjoy it. Its a shame, because Scully is an articulate, well-respected player and it would have been interesting to get his genuine views on the state of the game. Sadly, his autobiography is so sanitised that it is almost completely devoid of interest as anything other than a simple chronological record of his career to date.
Sculthorpe: Man of Steel
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© Copyright SWSt 2007
Paul Sculthorpe is the man who was born to be a superstar. Touted as a future Great Britain skipper before he even played his first game as a professional, he has more than lived up to the billing over the ensuing years. The only player to ever be named Man of Steel in successive years, the St Helens captain is arguably the most talented man to grace a rugby league field in modern times. Yet Sculthorpe did not always have his sights set on Challenge Cup and Grand Final glory. As a youngster he spent his time booting a football around with brother Lee - and actually had to be forced into playing his first game of rugby. From that moment a star was born, as he went on to captain every side he represented, even though he was often playing a year above his age group. Warrington were the first to spot that potential, snapping him up on schoolboy terms, and helping shape the greatest player in Super League history. When he went hunting a bigger stage, St Helens had no hesitation paying a world record 370,000 - a transfer fee that quickly looked a bargain. Since then various rugby union clubs have sounded out the chances of tempting him into a code switch, while the biggest names in Australia would love to take the prize Pom Down Under. Throughout it all Scully has stayed true to his roots, even though that loyalty was sorely tested when knee injuries led to a whispering campaign that he was finished. Now Sculthorpe lifts the lid on a remarkable career. The highs and the lows; the friendships and the fall-outs; and where he feels his future really lies. It's a no-holds barred account of one man's incredible rise to the top - and the steely determination which keeps him there.