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.

I thought I would select a show at random from this period and then analyse it within this piece. My pin came down on a three-bout event held at the National Sporting Club on 5 March 1973.

The headquarters of the National Sporting Club in 1973 were at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street, Piccadilly. The club, once the most important bastion of British Boxing, had fallen into decline during the 1930s. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, whereas the club had traditionally hosted all British title bouts, the huge growth in the popularity of boxing enabled commercial promoters to move in on the most important contests by offering far larger purses; and these were now held at large public Stadia including the Royal Albert Hall, Earl’s Court and Olympia. Secondly, the club had once been responsible for administering the sport but this had changed once the British Boxing Board of Control was re-established in 1929.

In July 1951 the club was revived and one show was held within a hotel at 35 Dover Street, Mayfair. The next show took place at the Mayfair Hotel and regular boxing took place there until the move to the Cafe Royal in 1955.

In 1973 the club held 23 shows, making it the busiest venue in Britain. The boxing took place in front of a dinner-jacketed audience who ate a fine meal, with good wine, during the boxing. Attendees were all members of the club and their guests. Other than on the annual ladies' night, no women were allowed. On the night in question the top of the bill contest brought together Bob Tuckett of Leeds and Terry Armstrong of Manchester.

Tuckett had recently crashed into the British ratings, holding the number ten spot at light-heavyweight. He had been a pro since 1970, following a decent amateur career with Leeds Market District. He had won the North-Eastern ABA championship at middleweight but had then lost out in the Northern Counties final to a young John Conteh. He was a solid pro, with a 9-4-2 record, but he came into this bout seeking to re-establish himself on the back of a two-round hammering at the hands of big-punching Phil Matthews of Rossendale.

Armstrong had won seven from 12 bouts, but despite this he was the underdog. Armstrong proved to be the most aggressive fighter on the night and he harassed Tuckett continually. The Boxing News reporter stated that Tuckett’s strong finish, coupled with his more precise hitting, was enough to give him the verdict. Referee Sid Nathan thought otherwise, scoring the bout a draw after eight good rounds.

Danny Fontilio of Thamesmead came to the club that night to do battle with Peter Brisland of Southampton. The Londoner had had a chequered career up to this point. He had been a pro for close to five years and yet this was only his eleventh contest. Apart from one contest at Manor Place Baths, all of Fontilio’s bouts had taken place in London’s various sporting clubs. He would not, therefore, have been a well-known fighter to London’s small hall attendees. Brisland was a club favourite at the Cafe Royal, having won three of his four contests there. He was unbeaten coming into this bout but Fontilio proved to be too experienced for him.

Brisland, a big hitter, constantly took the fight to Fontilio and the exchanges had the club members off their seats, clapping their approval. At the end of the bout Nathan gave his verdict to Fontilio by half a point. Sixty years before this, Harry Brisland of Southampton regularly boxed at the Empire Theatre, the Coliseum, the Victoria Rooms and at the Pelican Hall, all in the city of Southampton, although, unlike Peter, he wasn’t a noted banger. I have often wondered how he was related to Peter, a grandfather perhaps?

The third bout on this short bill brought together Barton McAllister of Clapham and Pat Marshall of Weston-super-Mare. These welterweights were well matched. They had had over 50 professional contests between them, although neither man looked like setting the world on fire. They were both good, solid fighters. According to Boxing News, McAllister was a little too cagey for his opponent, and at the end of a tame bout he nicked Nathan’s verdict by a quarter of a point, or one round.

None of these six fighters ever became champions, or even close to being one, although Armstrong did go ten rounds with Liverpool’s Pat Thompson for the Central Area light-heavyweight title in 1976.

In his next three contests Tuckett stopped Brisland in two and Armstrong in one before being outpointed over eight by Fontilio. Brisland then kayoed Fontolio in eight at the World Sporting Club, just around the corner in Mayfair. And so we leave these six fighters, perhaps forgotten now, but good honest craftsmen in their day.

The Cafe Royal continued to stage regular boxing until the 1980s and the old National Sporting Club, for so long part-and-parcel of the British scene, is now sadly defunct.

Sid Nathan is still with us, well into his 90s. He must be one of the few boxers who fought before the Second World War who are still alive. He won 12 out of 14 before he packed up in June 1940, his promising career cut short by the war. He looked like an inoffensive wages clerk, all five foot six of him, with his bald head and thick glasses. But what a good referee he was.

If you get the time, sit back and watch this YouTube clip, and see what a good job he does with Joe Bugner and Eddie Neilson:


  1. Hello Miles!
    I've been out of the picture a while (don't ask!)and had totally missed the revamp of the site. It's really, really good. Congratulations to you and everyone involved.

    About the early 50's incarnation of the NSC - I did a bit of (not totally conclusive) research into this a while back. BBYB 1989 listed one 1951 promotion at the Mayfair Hotel, and the rest at the Empress Club. Now in the 1940 Street directory the Empress Club is listed at 35 Dover Street, but by 1951 it had moved to the Crystal Rooms of the Mayfair Hotel - as confirmed by this Pathe News Clip of a fashion show from 1951: Here is the brochure of the Crystal Rooms today:
    Boxing News 28th November 1951 stated that the NSC bill of 19th November 1951 was the first promotion BACK at its old premises, the Crystal Rooms of the Empress Club, Berkeley Street. From this I surmised that the first new NSC bill on 30th July 1951 was at the Empress Club, in the Crystal Rooms of the Mayfair Hotel, the next four promotions elsewhere in the Mayfair Hotel and then back to the Crystal Rooms by 19th November... I am very willing to be put straight about all of this! =D
    Best wishes,
    Tony Simmons

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  3. This is one detailed analysis on the match. I’m not into boxing so this wasn’t really for me but I’m sure people who are must have enjoyed your post.

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