Thursday 27 October 2011

My Croydon mates

By Gilbert Odd

Gilbert Odd joined the staff of 'Boxing' in 1922 and was later the Editor of its successor, 'Boxing News'. He wrote numerous boxing-related books and was recognised as one of Britain’s leading boxing historians and boxing writers. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in 1995 and died in 1996, aged 93.

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which it was first published in 2001.

Jack Hall (Thornton Heath)
Jack Hall
(Thornton Heath)
Running round the Southern Railway's sports track at Mitcham one evening, training for a coming quarter-mile, a young fellow asked me if he could join me. Company at such times is always welcome, but we did not talk until we were changing afterwards.

He told me he was Jack Hall, lived in Thornton Heath, worked on the railway, and was a professional boxer. He started a friendship that lasted 60 years.

We talked about my recent visits to the Crystal Palace, where I'd seen Frank Goddard knock out Billy Wells, Roland Todd outpoint Ted Moore, and Albert Jeal draw with Wal Jordon. He told me he was periodically called upon to box in a minor bout at The Ring, Blackfriars, and invited me to his gym at Dennett Road, which turned out to be a loft over his father's stable.

He encouraged me to pull on a pair of well-worn gloves and step into the single-roped ring. It was difficult to avoid falling through it as there was a large square hole in the middle, through which a ladder had been placed to get us aloft.

Thursday 20 October 2011

World heavyweight champion behind the bar at your local!

Seen Mike Tyson down your local recently? At first glance this might seem like a ridiculous concept. An ex-world heavyweight champion in an English pub? In 1926 one of Tyson’s predecessors, a man from Canada, didn’t just visit an English pub, he was the landlord!

Tommy Burns held the world heavyweight title for two years. After losing to Jack Johnson in Sydney on Boxing Day 1908 he retired a wealthy man, free to indulge in his interests. He dabbled as a boxing promoter in more than a few countries and was always on the look-out for a budding heavyweight champion. He maybe thought he had found one in Luther McCarty. But poor Luther died, aged 21, in a contest against Arthur Pelkey at Calgary in 1913. Tommy Burns was the unfortunate promoter. In 1920 Tommy was tempted into his final comeback in a contest with Joe Beckett, the British heavyweight champion, at Olympia, London. After losing in seven rounds Tommy hung up his gloves for good.

Sunday 16 October 2011

George Davis: the Notting Hill hardman who KO'd a world champion

George Davis (Notting Hill)Notting Hill is best known today for its annual carnival, the trendy Portobello Road market, and the 1999 Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts romantic comedy that borrows its name. It's an area synonymous with trendiness and wealth; the place to be seen and to be from. But in the inter-war years Notting Hill was utterly different: a poor, crowded working-class district set in the shadows of the aristocratic mansions of Kensington. It was just the sort of socio-economic setting, however, to produce quality boxers.

It produced an abundance of them during 1920s and '30s, with at least 79 pro fighters representing the district within that 20-year period. By contrast, in the three decades after World War 2 (1945-75) only eight pro boxers fought out of Notting Hill. Hardship really does develop hard fighting men.

And there were few harder than George Davis, who was born in Notting Hill's Crescent Street in July 1918. One of 15 brothers and sisters, he was a nephew of the one-time British and world bantamweight champion Digger Stanley. Like most '20s schoolboys of the area, George's idol was the Anglo-Italian Notting Hill fighter Alf Mancini: one of the best men, at any weight, never to win a British title. Davis, along with many other west London lads, lingered outside of fight halls wherever Mancini boxed, eager to get a glimpse of his hero and find out how he had fared that night.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Fight Night – 1973 style

I first got interested in researching the history of Boxing as a 16-year-old in 1973. Having been brought up in the era of Muhammad Ali it was virtually impossible not to take an interest in the sport at that time. I bought my first Boxing News on 27 April 1973 and within a few months had really become hooked on the domestic scene. The sport was littered with characters; on the up were John Conteh, John H Stracey, and Johnny Clark. On the downward slide at that time were great ringmen like Mark Rowe, Harry Scott and Joe Tetteh.

The world heavyweight title had recently changed hands in dramatic fashion, as the invincible Joe Frazier was destroyed by a young George Foreman. The 1970s are widely recognised today as the golden age of world heavyweight boxing. The British scene wasn’t bad either.

Saturday 8 October 2011

The best ringsters I ever saw

By O. F. Snelling

[It is a pleasure to reproduce this piece penned by the late, great boxing writer O. F. Snelling for a new, online, 21st-century audience. We do so with the kind permission of Derek O’Dell, Editor and Producer of ‘The Southern Ex-Boxer’, in which this article first appeared in 1998 Ed.]

Jack Hood
(Jack Hood)
Although this periodical is entitled The Southern Ex-Boxer, and we tend to celebrate the deeds of those battlers of the past who hailed from ‘south of Watford’, as they say – and in particular the sterling scrappers of the South London and Croydon areas – the names and deeds of a few fighters from other areas do occasionally creep in.

It has been known for us to make mention of pugilists like Jack Hood, of Birmingham – one of the very best – and we've also dwelt upon those characters beloved by Geordieland's Ringwise. Oh boy, what a bunch they had, on Tyneside! Seaman Tommy Watson, Mickey Maguire, Benny Sharkey, Jack Casey, Jack London – and the great Billy Charlton, among others.

Most of these men were of world class! I kid you not! But, unfortunately, they dwelt in unsophisticated surroundings, and their managers, although capable enough, did not always carry the influence to negotiate their men into prestigious fights, and they lost out – with one or two notable exceptions.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Boxing, boxing everywhere!

In March 2011 there were 23 professional boxing promotions in the UK and Ireland. This is a higher than average number compared with recent years and, on the face of it, British boxers currently have plenty of scope for activity. In March 1930 there were 484 professional promotions.

To say that domestic boxing has changed out of all recognition in the last 80 years is to state the obvious. The dramatic decline in the number of active boxers and promotions demonstrates this extremely clearly.

What might be hard to fathom these days is the sheer number and range of towns and cities that held regular boxing events in the old days. Colne in Lancashire currently has a population of around 20,000. In 1930 it was a mill town in the depths of an industrial depression and with about the same number of inhabitants as today. During March 1930 this small town managed to sustain nine professional boxing promotions. West Stanley, a pit village in Durham, held 13 such events within the month. Boxing occurred more than once per week in places as far afield as West Hartlepool, Salford, Preston, West Bromwich, Norwich, Morecambe and Leicester, as well as in the major cities of Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and London.

Saturday 1 October 2011

They Died in the War - Allan Porter (Salford)

Standing in a forward trench near Bullecourt just before 6.20am on 20 November 1917 the 7th/8th battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers were ready to go over the top in the latest important battle on the Western Front.

They would probably not have known that their attack was merely a feint for a much greater battle to be fought seven miles to the south at Cambrai.

One of these soldiers knew all about the importance of the feint when attacking an opponent, for he had fought over 50 contests in the boxing ring and had achieved considerable success. At zero hour Allan Porter stepped out into no man's land alongside his comrades and advanced towards Tunnel Trench, the objective of the attack. This was to be his final walk.