Steve Hampson, the former Wigan, Illawarra, Salford and Great Britain fullback contributed this to Rugby League World’s ‘Blast From The Past’ series in 2009.
What are you up to now?
I work in Health and Safety for a big construction company called Costain in Widnes. Since I finished playing I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for guys like Freddie Flintoff and the golfers Darren Clark and Lee Westwood and I also worked with the Great Britain team in 2007.
What do you make of the current Wigan team?
I’m very disappointed with things at the JJB right now. I went to the first two home games this season and the local lads are putting their heart and soul into things but not everyone else is. Shaun Ainscough was very good against Cas, Joel Tomkins is a very good player – quick, strong and very clever. Eamon O’Carroll works tirelessly and so does Mike McIlorum. But the team doesn’t look fit enough to me and why on earth did they get rid of Mickey Higham?
Tell us how you came to sign for Wigan all those years ago.
I was playing for Vulcan rugby union club and decided to have a couple of trial games in League, firstly with Swinton and then with Wigan, who decided to take me on in November 1983. I didn’t know much about Rugby League and at 21 years old and only 10 and a half stone, it was pretty daunting. But I made my debut against York in the same game as Shaun Edwards and stayed in the first team.
Do you have a favourite game?
I played in 25 finals here and I don’t own a loser’s medal which is something I’m very proud of. There are so many highlights but if I had to pick one it would be the World Club Challenge win over Manly in 1987. The atmosphere in Central Park was electrifying that night. The crowd was massive but there weren’t just Wigan fans there – there were people wearing Leeds shirts and others. It was a great game too.
You won five straight Challenge Cups between 1989 and 1993.
I also missed out on three through injury in 1984, 1985 and 1988. To be honest I wasn’t too upset about missing out in 1984 because I was young and I didn’t know too much about Wembley but to miss out on two more was pretty hard to take although I got the chance to make up for it. My first final in 1989 is the one I remember most fondly. Joe Lydon could have scored himself but he gave me the ball. He’d already been there and done it I suppose!
Tell us about the weekend in 1989 when you got sent off twice.
The first one was for Great Britain – in the first minute too! I still blame [coach] Malcolm Reilly for it because he was winding us up all week about [Kiwi halfback] Gary Freeman and how we should go for him if we could. So in the first minute he grabbed hold of me. I wouldn’t have kicked him so I turned and headbutted him. I’d never even been spoken to by a referee in my career and I got sent off, although I still think I should only have been sin binned. Anyway, I played for Wigan against Castleford the next day and I tripped Steve Larder and got sent off again. Two red cards in one weekend!
What do you remember of your time at Illawarra Steelers shortly after?
It rained for all three months that I was there and we barely won a game but I’ll always remember the Panasonic Cup final against Brisbane Broncos. Andy Gregory had a stormer for us and we pushed them all the way. The Broncos had Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Peter Jackson – guys like that – and they were world class. But the crowd got behind us and we almost pulled it off.
Why did you leave Wigan?
Because of Jack Robinson. I left under a cloud and I was denied a testimonial that could have set me up for life. I’d done nine years and eight months and I was still playing well but the board felt that they wanted to give Paul Atcheson a shot at fullback so Jack got rid of me. They did it in a poor way too. My wife went into hospital on the Saturday to give birth and I was on an end-of-season trip with the boys. My wife came out of hospital on the Thursday and got a phone call from the club to say they were letting me go. I then got a message saying that a woman had been on the phone trying to get hold of me in tears so I panicked thinking there must have been a problem with my daughter’s birth. But with Salford in 1996, we beat Wigan in the Cup and I stuck my fingers up to Jack after the game. Maurice [Lindsay] saw me do it and just laughed!
What happened at the end of your time at Salford?
I fell out with Andy Gregory and that was the end for me at Salford. It was a real shame because he’d been my best mate for years. What happened was Salford lost a match at Hull by a couple of points and I stayed on the field after the game to tell the referee and the linesmen they didn’t have a set of balls between them because they’d given Hull absolutely everything. Anyway, I got back to the dressing room and Andy was laying into the lads. I told him he was out of order and that we’d lost because of the officials, which I still believe. But he wasn’t happy and when we met up a couple of days later he told me I was out of the club so I missed out on the chance to play Super League for them.