The final hooter sounds for Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson


Eddie Hemmings bids farewell to Mike Stephenson (Picture: @SkySportRL)

THERE were times during Sky Sports’ coverage of this year’s Super League Grand Final where it almost seemed as if the game itself was of secondary importance to the main event of the day, that being Mike Stephenson’s retirement party.
Yes, after 26 years as one half of the channel’s first-choice rugby league commentary duo, Stevo has finally hung up his microphone, with the 69-year-old’s last game fittingly being the showpiece finale of the domestic season as Wigan Warriors edged out Warrington Wolves at Old Trafford.
Sky can perhaps be forgiven for lavishing so much attention on one of their longest-serving commentators though because, while it might be cliché to say it, the coverage of the sport on the channel will not be the same without him.
For those who will be sad to see Stevo go, there are plenty who will be glad to see the back of him, such is the love-him-or-hate-him nature of the man who has been alongside commentator Eddie Hemmings since the early days of rugby league being on what was then BSkyB.
His legacy can perhaps be compared to that of the BBC’s former ‘voice of rugby league’ Eddie Waring, who was reviled in the sport’s northern heartlands as much as he was loved in other parts of the country due to him being perceived to be portraying a certain image of the game.
Everyone has an opinion on him though and Stevo has played role as Hemmings’ larger-than-life, outspoken sidekick to shoe-throwing perfection, helping popularise rugby league among new audiences.
Much like Waring, the former Dewsbury and Great Britain hooker has done much to spread the rugby league gospel outside of his television role as well. Indeed, it was Stephenson who helped get the former Rugby League Heritage Centre in Huddersfield off the ground, donating many items from his own personal collection as exhibits.
He has allowed that continue as part of the Rugby League Cares touring exhibits and it would not be a surprise to see Stephenson have some involvement in trying to find a new permanent home for the sport’s historical artefacts.
Of course, the difference between the two is Stevo had already decided when the time would be right to call it a day, revealing in Friday’s hour-long interview special with Hemmings that he had done so five years ago.
“I don’t want to hang on another couple of years, with people saying you should pack it in,” Stephenson told The Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew last week as well. “Eddie Waring went far too long, and it was painful to listen to. I want to think I’m going out at the top.”

That pre-Grand Final interview on Sky went right back through Stevo’s playing career, looking back on the highlights of winning the World Cup with Great Britain in 1972 and then helping Dewsbury win the Rugby League Championship the following year.
There were also plenty of opportunities to recap some of Eddie and Stevo’s finest moments on air from down the years too – including the memorable moment from ‘Boots ‘n’ All’ when the latter was attacked by an ostrich while filming a segment.
It will undoubtedly seem strange without Stevo around when the Super League season kicks off next February, although Sky have plenty of potential high-quality replacements lined up in the form of Phil Clarke, Barrie McDermott and Brian Carney, while Jon Wells has elevated rugby league punditry to another level with his superb insight when picking apart key moments from games.
And yet, there will be no more tough hombres, T-R-Y time or comments which make you want to put your foot thought the TV and send Rupert Murdoch the bill emanating from the commentary box.
Then again, it would be impossible to find another commentator quite like Stevo. He is one of kind – thankfully, some might say – and while it has been said repeatedly over the past few weeks and month, it is worth reiterating that, for better or worse, it really will not be the same without him.


Remembering when the Kangaroo tourists crossed swords with The Jam

IT IS fair to say barely a trip to these shores by the Australian national team passes off without some sort of colourful off-the-field incident, although few have perhaps been more surreal than the clash between the Kangaroos and The Jam in 1978.
The story of Paul Weller and his fellow band members brawling in a bar with the rugby league tourists from Down Under in a Leeds hotel bar could almost be up there with Bob Holness playing the saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ as one of music’s great urban myths.
Except, of course, that it did actually happen.
This rather strange meeting of cultures occurred in the Queens Hotel in the week leading up the third and final Test of the 1978 Ashes series at Headingley, with the series level at 1-1 after an 18-14 victory for Great Britain in the second match at Odsal.
Surrey rockers The Jam, meanwhile, were on tour and had recently seen their fifth single ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ – a song about someone being attacked, ironically – peak at number 15 in the UK Top 40.
The exact details of what happened are lost in the mists of time, although the Sydney Morning Herald at the time reported the brawl between The Jam and the Australians erupted when Kanagaroos team manager Jim Caldwell was moving a table and accidentally bumped into one of the band members.
Angry words were then exchanged and the generally accepted version of events is that Weller then smashed a glass over Caldwell’s head, causing cuts to his face and narrowly missing blinding him in his right eye.
Balmain Tigers winger Larry Corowa then jumped in to defend Caldwell and was attacked himself before going to locate some of his team-mates to provide reinforcements – some of whom had to be roused from their beds.
“There were a couple of players shouting about how our manager, Jimmy Caldwell, had just been glassed in the downstairs bar by these punk rockers; The Jam,” hooker Max Krilich told Australia’s Daily Telegraph in 2013.
“So a couple of the fellas, who shall remain nameless, were gathering troops for revenge.
“I stayed in bed, but certainly someone must’ve gone down because those tough, little musicians, they had the shit belted out of them.”
Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, who ended up in hospital with rib injuries following the ruckus, remembers the incident slightly differently.
“We were standing up to get some drinks and some words were exchanged,” recalled Foxton. “The next minute Paul was in a bit of a ruck and I tried to help him out. He just finished up being like a rugby ball.
“They went berserk. They went mad. It was really frightening. They were after our blood, literally, and we had to leave about three in the morning and check into another hotel. It fucked the rest of the tour because I had badly bruised ribs.”
Unsurprisingly, the police were called to calm things down, with their official report clearing the tourists of any wrongdoing. Weller, meanwhile, had to make an appearance at Leeds Crown Court, only be discharged straight away.
Whether the incident served to fire up the Kangaroos even more ahead of the Ashes decider is up for debate, but the fact remains they went on to trounce the Lions 23-6 and head to the French leg of the tour with a 2-1 series win in the bag.
Nevertheless, this remains a fascinating and bizarre footnote in the history of the Australian team visiting the UK. Let us just hope next year’s Rugby League World Cup Down Under does not produce any stories of England’s players getting into a barroom brawl with DMAs as well…