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Former rugby star Steve Ojomoh enjoys his son’s rise

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“You wouldn’t have gotten away with that diamond earring while I was playing!” says Steve Ojomoh, joking with his son Max during a photo shoot in the Bath sun.

Thirty years have passed since Steve rioted in the Rec as a hulking Number 8, but now it’s Max who’s making headlines as a center in the West Country.

Steve suffered a stroke in 2018, but he is back in good health and enjoying watching his son climb up. Rugby correspondent NIK SIMON listened in as the pair talked about the trip.

Max Ojomoh (left) follows in the footsteps of his father Steve (right) and he has some big shoes to fill

STEVE OJOMOH: Seeing Luke Charteris here in a tracksuit makes me feel old! He just came through as a youngster in Newport when I was there. Max, do you remember running out onto the field after those games? They played’Who walks the dogs?‘ and you would drop kick as a three-year-old!

MAX OJOMOH: I watched the matches 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, I asked if anyone had ever dealt with Jonah Lomu. You said, “Yeah, I tackled him!”

STEVE: I still have the highlight reel on DVD! I will never forget a testimonial I played in 2010, long after I retired. I ducked myself, gasping for air and you said, “Dad, I thought you were supposed to be good!”

Could you tell from an early age that Max was destined to turn pro?

STEVE: Max was born with a rugby ball in his hand. Every parent hopes their child makes it and Max has always been a coachable child. As players, apart from the last name, we have nothing in common. I always hoped that he would be an attacker like me, but in the end I accepted that this wouldn’t be the case!

Max Ojomoh is now 21 and the young starlet currently plays for Bath in the Premiership

Max Ojomoh is now 21 and the young starlet currently plays for Bath in the Premiership

MAX: It helps that we are different players in different positions. Hopefully people will start to see me as my own player now. When I was younger it was hard to have the last name. I would always look for daddy in the crowd to see what he said because he was honest. It was a good cop, bad cop routine with mom and dad.

STEVE: I needed anger to get on the field. Max is different. If he makes a mistake, he moves on. People are now talking that I’m Max’s father, instead of being Steve’s son.

Do you ever compare what the game was like then and now?

STEVE: I’m not one of those guys who say, ‘Oh in my time’. I like the game today. You don’t have 30 men with beer bellies… you have 30 athletes. The product is much better. I love the game now.

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

MAX: As a club we no longer look back. We respect what the club has achieved, but we think ahead. We’ve revolutionized the way we play and we’re just waiting to hit that rhythm.

Something is going to click, like last year at Quins. It must be fun to watch. Free-flowing, based on initiative. We don’t want to beat the Saracens at their own game… we want to win it our way. If we compare then and now, rugby is probably more of a system game.

STEVE: The game is now a science. I could have gone two or three years without throwing a 10-meter pass. On Saturday night after a game at the Rec, the older guys like Gareth Chilcott would try to force Guinness and port on your neck! The away games were even bigger, every time you passed a freeway exit a drink from the rum cooler.

Imagine the drive back from Orrell to Bath! We could think of anything, but these days there would be someone with a camera. I’m not jealous of the social media world they live in.

Steve Ojomoh made 12 appearances for England, four of the 1995 World Cup appearances

Steve Ojomoh made 12 appearances for England, four of the 1995 World Cup appearances

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

STEVE: Bath was probably the market leader back then. We had six or seven guys in the wider squad. I do remember a funny moment when we lost a game in Wales and they blamed ‘the brothers’!

When I moved from Africa to central Devon, I was used to being the only black kid in the year. In the 1980s, it was common for someone to scrub the back of your hair and say it felt like a Brillo pad. Now you have guys like Anthony Watson and Beno Obano speaking out. I respect that. They are 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. How many green spaces are there in London for rugby pitches? It’s a lot easier to throw down some jerseys and play football.

Maybe they should strip it down more and push more accessible games like rugby or sevens.

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

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

STEVE: Look at the diversity of the 2019 World Cup squad, that says it all. Although, if you dig into it, quite a few went to private school. Max went to a private school. Much more needs to be done.

Speaking of World Cup squads, Max, are you hoping to continue with England after your phone call from Eddie Jones over the summer?

MAX: It was crazy being there with Miles Reid and Tom de Glanville while our dads all played together. I didn’t hear of that call until Stuart Hooper came on Friday and said “Congratulations.” The selection email had been in my junk folder!

I have time on my side, but the next World Cup would be class if I reached that point. At home there is a picture of me playing for Bath, next to a picture of my father playing for Bath. It would be nice to have an English cap next to Dad’s cap, wouldn’t it?

If Ojomoh Jr continues to thrive for Bath, it’s only a matter of time before he has an English cap to hang at home.

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