As a customs officer, I was always strategically positioned to get the first copy of the Sunday Times, and as I sat bleary eyed and exhausted with my Costa latte, I would reach for the sports section and head straight for Stephen Jones.
Years later I find myself in the same line of work as my literary hero, albeit further down the food chain, and this transformation has resulted in that long time hero of mine becoming my friend, and that, for me was worth the career change alone.
As the Lions tour to New Zealand looms ever closer, the man himself prepares to meet the challenge of pressurised deadlines, and to negotiate the inevitable logistical problems, that reporting on a major rugby tour will bring, but when you mention the Lions, his eyes light up.
In ten days time the 2017 British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand will be announced, but the Sunday Times top rugby writers selection was a certainty and has never been in doubt.
Steve is about to embark on his ninth Lions tour as a journalist, and as we sat in a Bracknell coffee shop depleting the stores pastries in our customary manner, he revealed some of the joys and pain he has encountered since his first tour, to New Zealand in 1983
When asked about his favourite Lions tour he told me that there were many favourites for a variety of different reasons, but the first one in 1983,for the wide eyed wonderment of it all would probably edge it.
At this stage of the interview we struck a major problem, the cafes supply of croissants had been depleted, but Steve ever the professional switched to a couple of coconut topped flapjacks with consummate ease.
The interview then turned into a re run of the famous Barry John and Gareth Edwards meeting prior to their first Welsh international match together, where the plan was to discuss tactics and ideas, and ended up with Barry John saying “You just throw it Gar, and I’ll catch it”
Well Steve threw it, and I caught some of it, from the Springboks being out muscled by the Lions in 1997, and despite the defeats, the respect of the South Africa supporters shown to the Lions, unlike the booing by All Blacks fans as the men in red entered the field of play in latter years.
In the May edition of Rugby World magazine Steve writes about his favourite Lions memories, including his persuit of an armed bank robber in Wellington, where the welshmans lack of pace was cruelly exposed.
I hope to catch up with Steve after this years tour, so stay tuned later this summer,for more from the Lions king.