New Pitch Publishing title No Helmets Required was launched on Thursday – American Independence Day – with author Gavin Willacy also getting the chance to lay his hands on the Rugby League World Cup.
The launch took place at a promotional event for the USA v Scotland World Cup match which will take place at Salford City Stadium in October. The appearance of the US team will be their first ever at the Rugby League World Cup.
Willacy’s new book tells the true story of the 1953 American All Stars: a group of college gridiron players from California who travelled to Australia, New Zealand and France to play against many of the best rugby league players in the world.
This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the tour, led by wannabe sports promoter Mike Dimitro, who convinced 20 young American football players to join him on the trip of a lifetime.
Dimitro christened them the ‘American All Stars’ and flew them around the world to play rugby league – a game none of them had even seen or heard of a few months before, never mind played!
Miraculously, they competed with the very best Australia, New Zealand and France had to offer, and shocked the locals with some stunning victories.
They took on world-class rugby players on the pitch, mixed with celebrities off it and wooed the women of every town they descended on. Yet beyond the media circus, the All Stars had fights and flings, suffered tragic illness and farcical court cases.
Ultimately, Dimitro’s initial mission to establish rugby league in the United States failed in spectacular fashion. He fought with the rugby league authorities, the NFL and the law. He changed his name, his age, his home and his wife time after time – yet his extraordinary life story is matched blow for blow by the All Stars.
One went on to win the NFL, another was struck down with polio while on tour. There was a top Hollywood stuntman, a stuttering Olympic champion while one player discovered God and founded his own church.
However, despite Dimitrio's failure with the All Stars experiment, the re-emergence of their story coincides with the USA’s first ever qualification for the Rugby League World Cup, in 2013.
Exactly 60 years on as the US make rugby league history with the first-ever RLWC appearance, No Helmets Required presents this remarkable, forgotten story of international sport, as told by the men who lived it.
Click here for more information on No Helmets Required - including pictures, artifacts and a free sample chapter of the book.