Shaun Wane was just 15 when he knew he had to turn his life around. It was the day he phoned in a bomb threat to his school.
He was arrested by police and to escape the wrath of his father had to flee his home and never go back.
Nearly four decades on, the three-time Grand Final-winning coach is wowing high-flying business leaders and industrialists with the team-building lessons he has learned from rugby league.
But he winces at the memories of a troubled start to life, when it could have gone so badly wrong.
“Bad start,” he says of his childhood on this week’s 5 Live Rugby League podcast. “Bad start, no question. But great finish.”
Wane left Wigan last October after leading the club to the third Grand Final win of his eight-year reign. During his time in charge, the Warriors were also crowned world champions and lifted the Challenge Cup.
He is currently working part-time with the Scottish Rugby Union developing young players. He is also earning a growing reputation as a keynote speaker at business conferences, at which he talks about building team cultures and creating respect within organisations.
It is a million miles from his life as a young teenager.
“I was brought up in a council estate in Wigan called Worsley Hall. It’s quite different, it’s quite tough,” Wane says in the podcast.
“It’s a fantastic estate, but you need to be tough, you need to be switched on, you can’t let people take advantage of you.”
Wane often found himself in trouble. Home life was harsh and his schoolteachers rarely got to see him. But one day, he admits, he took it too far.
“When I was 15 I did something really bad. I rang in a bomb scare. It was stupid and I got caught and arrested. I went home and my dad nearly killed me. I thought ‘I’m going to die here, so I need to get out’.
“I went out, I left my house, I had a ripped t-shirt and no shoes on and I never went back. I had nowhere to go.”
Refuge and respite
Luckily for him, a year earlier on one of his rare days in school, he had met and fallen for a girl called Lorraine. Her parents took the troubled teenager under their wing, and it was the start of him turning things around.
“I ended up going to Lorraine’s house – her mum and dad put me up. And now we’re married with two kids and a grandkid,” says Wane.
“I signed for Wigan when I was 16, made my debut when I was 17 and we bought our own house when I was 19.
“Bad start,” he says again. “And I’m only telling you 10% of what it was like. But the things that happened to me when I was a kid made me a good dad. I have a great relationship with my two daughters and I see my grandson every day. So everything’s good. It was meant to be.”
Wane has been linked with a return to Super League as a head coach. He is among the bookies’ favourites to take over at Leeds Rhinos after they sacked Australian David Furner last week. He has also not ruled out a return to Wigan in some capacity. If they were to call him, he would listen to what they had to say.
But for the moment, he is loving life outside the furnace of the coach’s office. Among other things, he is enjoying his role speaking in the high-powered world of business and industry. One recent engagement saw him giving an address to a conference in the heart of the City of London at Canary Wharf.
“I love travelling and I love meeting people. There were people in that room that were running multi-million pound companies and I’m speaking about where I’m from and about our values at Wigan,” he says.
“I’m not telling them how to do their job, I’m just telling them what we did and what meant a lot to me. And to see all those people from those multinational companies, writing stuff down, writing non-stop about what I’m saying and asking questions…” Wane shakes his head. “It should have been an hour, it ended up being three hours.
“It was very satisfying. When we’d finished I was having a cup of tea and asking them questions about their business and I find it fascinating. I like listening, I like learning and every day I want to improve.”