I think a good way of starting a book review is to ask what prompted the reviewer to read the book. For me, it was probably two fold.
I am an Andrew Johns fan. I am not necessarily a rugby league fan, anymore, as I have found it to become increasingly monotonous in its game play. Which is why I was probably a Johns fan. The guy was a freak. What he could do with a ball just had to be seen to be believed. He is up there with Wally Lewis for mine as the best players I have seen play the game.
The second point is a little more personal, but probably more relevant. Johns had come out at the launch of the book and made public his battle with depression. As someone who has also had to battle with depression, I was interested to read Johns’s story, to compare war wounds, so to speak.
The book is called “The Two of Me”. The obvious connotation is that it relates to Andrew’s bipolar disorder. A condition which causes extreme mood swings, from frantic highs to the most depressing of lows. That is a part for sure, but its more about the two faces of Johns. Joey Johns – the boisterous, fun loving, super talented footballer, and then Andrew Johns – the more reserved, insular and indeed self-doubting man away from the game.
I don’t want to get into a situation of trying to psycho-analyse Andrew/Joey and determine why he struggled as he did. However it is interesting to note a couple of aspects of his life and how he copes with them. For starters, growing up in Newcastle as a superstar footballer gave Andrew, and his fellow Knights, seeming carte blanche of the town. Many times Johns would describe how he would wake up the morning after a big night and fear that that was the day his actions the previous night would catch up with him. But it never seemed to. I got the impression that he in particular was given a lot of rope by the Newcastle public because of who he was.
There was no accountability. And when there is no accountability, particularly as a head strong young male with a lot of money and spare time, you don’t learn about limits. This is, in my eyes, a significant factor in professional sport today. In all of the big stories we have seen come out in recent years, it is about players not being accountable. To themselves and to others. Be it with alcohol, drugs, women, gambling or whatever.
But back to Johns and why are you reading this on a rugby blog site? Well I think Johns somewhat transcends codes. But there are numerous links to rugby. Obviously he looked at switching to the Waratahs, and he provides an interesting insight to that process. Interestingly however, it was Matt who was first very close to switching codes. And it was Matt, with Andrew in a corporate box at the 2003 RWC final, who suggested Andrew should make the switch. Andrew comes across as having a genuine interest in the game, and I am sure he would have been sensational at it. But in the end, at that time of his career, with the injuries he had and subsequently had, I think it was the right decision by the ARU.
Some other quick highlights of the book are chapters on his favourite room mates (amusing); his top ten favourite games; a week in the life of a footballer and his perspective on the whole “Footballers as role models” debate.
I best cut this now, at risk of the review being longer than the book. Suffice to say the book is a worth while read, more for the insight into life of a real superstar of sport. In the end I don’t feel like Andrew has fully taken ownership of a lot of his actions. The book is scattered with examples of how he surrounds himself with people (his brother Matt, his Manager John Fordham, Coach Phil Gould) who tend to answer to his beck and call and see their job as being his minder. I do however really like the last line of the book. It reads [SPOILER WARNING]: “RIP ‘Joey'; Andrew is now ready to be his own man. That feels good. Finally.” To me it shows he is now prepared to take responsibility of his life moving forward. And that’s a great message for anyone to take away from this book.
Andrew Johns: The Two of Me” was written by Andrew Johns with Neil Cadigan and is publshed by Harper Collins Australia.
Footnote: Andrew did express a couple of interesting desires. (1) to do continue to do some coaching and (2) to move away from the media spotlight, perhaps to Perth. Western Force administrators? Are you reading this????