I was a young puppy in Newcastle when I first saw him. He was on the local rugby pitch practising. It was dark. He was on his own. He seemed obsessed.
I was fascinated. He was there again the next night. On his own. Practising. Obsessed. Very soon I became obsessed. With him. I ended up watching him practise at every opportunity. I would watch him with awe.
Later, the thought of what he had to do would put me in a deep panic and I would be overcome with a sense of doom about what would happen if it didn’t go well for him.
The World Cup in 2003 was my moment of perfection, the moment when my hero realised all his goals.
I searched for other heroes. Dan and Nick, Toby and Johnny, Rhys and most recently Owen. I watch them but none of them match up to my hero. I watch their kicking with tears welling in my eyes. I smile politely and respond to the family at home, but inside I am churning up just like I did as a young puppy. It’s overwhelming.
I read his autobiography obsessively. I discovered he’d been a tortured soul. Just like me. I read that he took up Buddhism to help him find inner peace. They say the Four Noble Truths explain the nature of suffering, anxiety and dissatisfaction, its causes and how they can be overcome. So I took up Buddhism too.
Sometimes it works.
But most often it doesn’t.
Now I hear my hero might retire. I hear that he’s comfortable with the notion. But the thought of him never playing competitively again is simply unacceptable to me. And what if the press were to write bad things about him? What if his legacy is damaged?
I can’t go on like this. I need help. It’s why I came here today.
My name is Jonny, and I am a rugbyholic.
As told to Coddfish in her counselling rooms