Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Engage is about Matt Hampson, an emerging rugby union player in 2005.

Hampson was in the Leicester Tigers first team squad and was playing regularly for England U21s, but in March 2005 he had an accident in training when a scrum collapsed. He broke his neck and was paralysed from the neck down.

The book is a collaboration between Hampson and the much-respected sports writer, Paul Kimmage.

Engage tells you about Hampson's life in rugby, the day of the accident and since the accident, giving you an insight into what it was like physically and mentally for Hampson to go through and come to terms with such a terrible event.

It is a distressing read in a lot of ways. You get to understand how Hampson feels, but also how his mum and dad are coping with it. This is tough to read. When you see the player through the eyes of the people he loves and who love him, the story becomes much more poignant.

But, as well as a harrowing read, it is an uplifting read. Hampson is a strong man. He learns to cope with what is happening to him. He draws inspiration from people he meets along the way. He grows.

This is as much a book about rugby as his accident. You get to see what rugby players are like on the pitch, in the dressing room and out and about. I found that fascinating. You meet some huge names from the game.

For me, Engage is like a novel. There is a form of novel in Germany called the Bildungsroman. It is about how a young person grows from being a young man into becoming an adult and how they meet people along the way that help them to develop into what they are going to become.

Engage does that. Hampson has ongoing relationships with people from England legend Martin Johnson, to other patients in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and his parents. They all grow and change together in this compelling story.

It also reads like a novel in that it is so well written. None of that heavy biography style that so often makes amazing lives seem tedious. This is sharp, lively and - at times - a bit experimental. There are dream scenes, courtroom dialogue and other devices used, for instance.

I may have made Engage sound a bit fancy. It's not. It's blunt and tough and deeply moving.

Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson was published by Simon & Schuster in August 2011.

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