The moving story of an England rugby World Cup hero and his battle with early onset dementia has triumphed at a major book award ceremony.
‘Unforgettable: Rugby, dementia and the fight for my life’ by Steve Thompson, the former Northampton Saints and England hooker, was named Rugby Book of the Year, and took the overall Sports Book of Year title, at the Sports Book Awards at the Kia Oval in May.
The book tells the story of Steve’s playing career, which began on the sports fields at Northampton School for Boys. He played 10 seasons for Northampton Saints and was selected for the England squad in 2001, scoring his maiden test try against Italy in the 2003 Six Nations. Later that year he was a member of the legendary 2003 Rugby World Cup winning team. He was forced to retire from rugby in December 2011 after suffering a recurrence of serious neck injury that left him needing surgery – an early sign of the damage that had been done.
It was a few years after his playing days finished that Steve’s family and friends began to notice his steady decline, followed by a diagnosis of dementia, believed to be due to the punishment he took from endless hard-hitting tackles during his career in domestic and international rugby.
The book covers how Steve, alongside more than 400 other former professional rugby players, is involved in legal action against the sport’s governing bodies for allegedly failing to protect them from the risks caused by concussions. He also speaks openly about how his illness left him feeling suicidal and about the work he’s doing now as a mental health ambassador with Northampton occupational health and wellbeing provider Medigold Health.
After accepting his trophy at the Sports Book Awards, Steve said:
“I’m incredibly proud that the judges were impressed by my book, and we’ve had a great evening with some incredible sporting heroes and fantastic writers.
“When I first got my diagnosis I broke down, partly because I was relieved that I knew what it was but also because I was worried about what the future held for me. Since then, I’ve become aware of how widespread this problem is, and I wanted to write my story and be honest with people about what I’m going through and hopefully show people how I deal with my illness. Inspiring and encouraging others to find a way to deal with their own issues – that’s something that means so much to me.”