Former England rugby star Steve Ojomoh is revelling on the rise of his son


 You wouldn’t have got away with that diamond earring when I was playing!’ says Steve Ojomoh, cracking a joke with his son Max during a photoshoot in the Bath sunshine.

Thirty years have passed since Steve ran riot at the Rec as a hulking No8, but now it is Max making the headlines as a centre in the West Country.

Steve suffered a stroke in 2018 but he is back in good health and enjoying watching his son’s rise up the ranks. Rugby Correspondent Nik Simon listened in as the pair talked about the journey.

Max has followed in his dad’s footsteps and he will have big shoes to fill 

STEVE OJOMOH: Seeing Luke Charteris here in a coaching tracksuit makes me feel old! He was just coming through as a youngster at Newport when I was there. Max, do you remember running on to the pitch after those games? They played ‘Who let the dogs out?’ and you would be there drop-kicking as a three-year-old!

MAX OJOMOH: I’ve watched the games on VCR! Sometimes I go on YouTube and search for ‘Steve Ojomoh’. There are clips of you as a schoolboy. I remember when I was nine, asking if anybody had ever tackled Jonah Lomu. You were like, ‘Yeah, I tackled him!’

STEVE: I’ve still got the highlight reel on DVD! I’ll never forget a testimonial I played in 2010, long after I’d retired. I subbed myself, gasping for air and you said, ‘Dad, I thought you were meant to be good!’

Could you see from an early age that Max was destined to become a professional?

STEVE: Max was born with a rugby ball in his hand. Every parent hopes their child will make it and Max was always a coachable kid. As players, apart from the surname, we have nothing in common. I always hoped he’d be a forward, like me, but eventually I accepted that wasn’t going to be the case!

21-year-old Max Ojomoh currently plays for Bath in the Premiership

21-year-old Max Ojomoh currently plays for Bath in the Premiership 

MAX: It helps we’re different players in different positions. Hopefully now people are starting to see me as my own player. When I was younger, it was tough having the surname. I would always be looking for dad in the crowd to see what he was saying because he was honest. It was a good cop, bad cop routine with mum and dad.

STEVE: I needed rage to go on the pitch. Max is different. If he makes a mistake, he moves on. People now talk about me being Max’s dad, rather than him being Steve’s son.

Do you ever compare how the game was then and now?

STEVE: I’m not one of those guys who say, ‘Oh in my day’. I love the game today. You don’t have 30 guys with beer bellies… you’ve got 30 athletes. The product is far superior. I love the game now.

 If I were to give Max one piece of advice, that would be it: love the game. He does love it. He plays with a smile on his face.

MAX: As a club, we don’t look back any more. We respect what the club have achieved but we are forward thinking. We’ve revolutionised the way we play and we’re just waiting to hit that rhythm. 

Something will click, like it did at Quins last year. It should be fun to watch. Free flowing, based on initiative. We don’t want to beat Saracens at their own game… we want to win it our way. Comparing then and now, rugby’s probably more of a systems game.

STEVE: The game is a science now. I could have gone two or three years without chucking a 10-metre pass. On Saturday nights after a match at the Rec, we would have the older guys like Gareth Chilcott trying to force Guinness and port down your neck! The away games were even bigger, having a drink from the rum cooler every time you passed a motorway exit. 

Imagine the drive back from Orrell to Bath! We got up to all sorts but nowadays there would be someone with a camera. I don’t envy the world of social media they live in.

Steve Ojomoh played 12 times for England, four of them in the 1995 World Cup

Steve Ojomoh played 12 times for England, four of them in the 1995 World Cup 

Social media is often used as a platform for players to express their views. Do you see rugby as a more diverse sport now?

STEVE: Bath were probably the market leaders back then. We had six or seven guys in the wider squad. I do remember one funny moment when we lost a game in Wales and they blamed it on ‘the brothers’! Moving from Africa to the middle of Devon, I was used to being the only black kid in the year. Back in the Eighties it was normal for someone to scrub the back of your hair and say it felt like a Brillo pad. Now you’ve got guys like Anthony Watson and Beno Obano who speak out. I respect that. They’re braver than we ever were.

MAX: It’s great to see guys like Miles Reid speaking out. Maybe the way to make it more diverse is to strip it right back. In London, how many green spaces are there for rugby fields? It’s a lot easier to throw some jumpers down and play football. 

Maybe they need to strip it back more and push more accessible games like touch rugby or sevens.

Max has played for England under-20s four times and received a senior call-up in the summer

Max has played for England under-20s four times and received a senior call-up in the summer

STEVE: Look at the diversity of the 2019 World Cup squad, that tells you everything. Although when you delve into it, quite a few went to private school. Max went to private school. There’s still a lot more to be done.

Speaking of World Cup squads, Max, are you hoping to kick on with England after your call up from Eddie Jones in the summer?

MAX: It was crazy being in there with Miles Reid and Tom de Glanville as our dads all played together. I only found out about that call-up when Stuart Hooper came up and said ‘congratulations’ on the Friday. The selection email had been in my junk folder! I’ve got time on my side but the next World Cup would be class if I get to that point. At home, there’s a picture of me playing for Bath, alongside a picture of dad playing for Bath. It would be nice to have an England cap to put next to dad’s cap, wouldn’t it?

If Ojomoh Jr continues to flourish for Bath, then it will only be a matter of time before he has an England cap to hang up back at the family home.

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