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A remarkable story indeed,
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This review is from: No Helmets Required: The Remarkable Story of the American All Stars (Hardcover)
I have been looking forward to the arrival of this book for some time. I knew a few anecdotes about the All Stars tour of 1953, but this book is a goldmine of facts and memories.
They could make a film of the 1953 tour on its own. Mike Dimitro, a former sporting prodigy turned charismatic hustler/promoter, sold the Australian and New Zealand Rugby League administrators the concept of a tour by American Football players, without having either the funding or the players at the time. There followed a frantic scramble for dollars and bodies, and Dimitro only just made it. His assurances that he had plenty of players with Rugby League training were, to be frank, hogwash.
Upon arrival in Australia, the small, hastily-assembled squad were given a crash course in the rules of Rugby League. Some had had a little experience of Rugby Union, but none had ever played the 13-man game and few had even watched it. They were then thrown into a brutal non-stop itinerary and an almost vertical learning curve, but their athletic conditioning and willingness to put their bodies on the line saw performances improve as the tour went on. They even won a few matches, and enthralled the Antipodean public on and off the pitch.
In 1954, amazingly, Dimitro managed to put together an almost all-new All Stars squad and took them to play in France. The book covers this tour too, and the years following the two tours when attempts were made to get Rugby League off the ground in the US market. Incompetence, intransigence and plain bad luck knocked the plans back, and in the end, Rugby League did not get going in North America until the 1980s. This, then, is a timely publication, as the USA have qualified for the Rugby League World Cup for the very first time in the year of publication of this strange tale.
The author has got as many survivors as possible to help tell the tale. It is funny, inspiring and often frustrating, but anyone with an interest in the history of this most stubbornly Quixotic of sports. The book has an unusual visually-rich presentation, with photos, posters, period adverts and press clippings on almost every page, with the text of the book wrapped around them.