Most sports autobiographies are generally poor affairs. Rush-released to cash in on a star's popularity before it begins to wane, they are either full of bland, safe "non-revelations" or deliberately controversial to grab headlines and serialisation rights and sell copies. This one is a little different. Written by Mike "Stevo" Stephenson it actually (shock, horror) proves both interesting and informative.
If the name rings a bell with you at all, it's probably thanks to his commentaries on Sky Sports' Rugby League coverage, where he forms a double act with Eddie Hemmings and is loved and loathed by fans in equal measure. However, in his day, he was also a fine Rugby League player in his own right, enjoying successful stints in the UK and Australia. He's also 62. In other words, Stevo is a man with years of experience in both his chosen field and life generally. It's this element which gives his book far more depth than most of the other sports biographies which clutter the shelves.
In his book, Stevo has the same easy charm and affable manner that he displays on screen. He has a readable style (thanks to years spent as a journalist) which contains just the right mix of facts, personal opinion and amusing anecdotes. He doesn't rely too much on facts and figures (boring) nor does he go overboard with "hilarious" tales that are only really amusing if you were there to witness them first hand - both of which are common errors in autobiographies. Instead, he blends these aspects together in a way which makes you want to read on to find out more. This is helped by the fact that each of the chapters has a somewhat intriguing title which piques your curiosity to find out what it means.
As with all autobiographies, there are times when the writing style can grate, betraying the fact that the author is not a professional writer (although Stevo is more qualified than many). Sometimes paragraphs contain non-sequiters, leaping from one recollection to another - often years apart - with no obvious connection between the two. Some of the anecdotes feel a little forced and often rely on the same few jokes (generally relating to his "good" looks), whilst the tone is is sometimes rather laddish (boasts, for example, about drinking prowess). There's also a little too much unnecessary swearing, as though Stevo is trying to prove he is still "one of the lads". Since Stevo generally proves himself to be a pretty eloquent writer, it's all the more frustrating when he resorts to cheap tricks like swearing to make an impact.
Of course, as with all autobiographies, you do have to take some of what is said with a pinch of salt, since we are only seeing one side of the story. In fairness to Stevo, though, he does come across as very honest. He gives plenty of credit to the abilities of people he has worked with over the years, takes responsibility for his own mistakes and admits to times when his behaviour was idiotic and wrong. Stevo being Stevo, of course, there are also plenty of times when he is adamant that he was right! On screen, the man has a reputation for being straight-talking and forthright, and the same is true in this book. There are times when the book reflects badly on him, yet he is honest enough to hold his hands up.
Since Stevo has a wealth of experience as a player, journalist and media pundit, with over 40 years experience of professional Rugby League, Stevo's autobiography actually has depth and validity. Here is a man who has something to say and the skills with which to articulate it. It may not contain stunning revelations or controversial claims, but it is an interesting account of one man's love affair with his chosen career. His passion for the sport shines through and as you read on it becomes apparent just how much work Stevo has put in to further the cause of Rugby League over the years, both on and off the pitch and sometimes unseen and unrecognised.
Of course, this is not going to be a book for everyone. If you looked at this review and thought "Who?" it's unlikely you'll be interested in a book about the life of someone you've never heard of. Similarly, whilst this is easily one of the better examples of a sports biography, if you don't like that particular genre, there is nothing here to convert you. For all its additional depth, it still follows the standard conventions, including a strictly chronological structure and the inevitable "best players I have played with" final chapter.
A few small typos further spoil the overall effect, since they are pretty obvious and should have been picked up during the proof-reading/editing stage. Thankfully, these are neither severe nor frequent enough to render the book unintelligible and are a minor irritant, rather than a serious problem, but still...
Stevo may exasperate fans with some of the (deliberately) inflammatory comments he makes each week as part of his Laurel and Hardy-esque commentaries with Eddie Hemmings, but for fans of the sport, his book is worth reading. I've always quite liked Stevo. He talks a good game, is refreshingly honest and says deliberately outrageous things designed to promote debate and laughter in equal measure. Yet, I also came away from this book with a much greater respect for the man and his undoubted contributions to the sport we share a passion for.
Stevo: Looking Back
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