DIXIE DEAN (Feisty Featherweight from the Sixties)

DIXIE DEAN (Feisty Featherweight from the Sixties)

Dixie Dean back in the day.

Dixie Dean back in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dixie Dean, a popular Londoner who boxed out of Covent Garden, held the position of landlord of the Prince Arthur Pub in Shoreditch for 35 years, where he was very much the host with the most.  Indeed, many an ex-boxer could be found supping at Dixie’s place on a regular basis.  The Prince Arthur was a stone’s throw from where the London Ex Boxers Association hold their meetings on the first Sunday morning every month.  Before Dixie’s retirement from the pub game, as the LEBA meetings were winding down for the day, one of the most bandied about questions in the place used to be “Are you going over Dixie’s?”  These days, Dixie is free on Sunday mornings, so LEBA is the big winner because now he comes to us, and his effervescent company is always in big demand.

“I was born in Islington on 13th November 1942, and I’ve been called Dixie since I was one day old.  I was born in St Mary’s Hospital, and my aunt came to see me.  My mum had called me Clifford, and my aunt said, ‘I ain’t calling him that.’  My dad was nicknamed Dixie, so that’s what I got called by the family.  My aunt and uncle were killed during the war and my mum brought up my cousins.  When my youngest cousin was 17, she picked a letter up one day that was addressed to me, and she went to my mum, ‘Who’s that?’  She didn’t realise that Clifford was actually my name, because everyone called me Dixie.”

“I had a very good childhood.  I had one brother.  My father was away during the war.  My mum was Italian, and my grandparents had a café in Clerkenwell, but it was bombed out before I was born.  So we got put up in temporary accommodation in Islington, and that’s where my family have been living for most of my life.  Personally speaking, I’ve been away a lot.  I went to Jersey when I was 15 and I spent a year working on the docks with a lot of Scottish boys.  Then I come back and went down Smithfield Meat Market.  Then, when I was 17, I went in the Merchant Navy for just over two years on the Australia and New Zealand run.  Then, after I finished boxing, I lived in Spain for 12 years.”

“From when I was at school, I always wanted to be a boxer.  There was no one boxing in my family.  They were all cricketers.  My father played for Middlesex with Denis Compton, but he was more in the second team than the first.  I had my first amateur contest when I was eight years old at Holloway County School and I won, and I’ve still got the plaque.  My first club was Covent Garden.  Then, when Covent Garden closed down, we all moved to Fitzroy Lodge.  There was me, Kenny Field, Vic Andretti, all us.  I was very good friends with Vic Andretti.  We went to school together, and we’ve known each other all our lives.  Bill Chevalley was my trainer there, and he was a great man.  I had a really good time in the amateur boxing.  I had 141 amateur fights altogether and I had quite a good record, although, funnily enough, I lost the important ones really.  I lost about 30-odd, I suppose.  I did win the London Schoolboys final, and I got beat in the National Semi-finals.  I got to the London ABA Finals, and I got beat by Ralph Charles.”

Whereas nowadays, there are more southpaws about than you could shake a stick at, when Dixie was boxing, they were a rare commodity.  As such, they were often encouraged to adopt the orthodox stance.  “Bill Chevalley used to say to me ‘You’d be much better off turning round.’  I’m not saying I didn’t try, but I probably didn’t try hard enough, because I am naturally left handed, although, when I had an operation on my hand and I was out from boxing for a year, I learnt to write with my right hand and I write right-handed now.  So it just goes to show that you can do these things if you have to.”

“I turned pro when I was 21.  I was working for the Evening Standard in those days.  My father was the publisher of the Evening Standard, so he got me so I could work 10 until 3, which meant that I could do my running, go to work, and then, at 3 o’clock, I’d go to the Thomas A’Becket and train.  Danny Holland took over as my trainer and Jim Wicks was my manager.  I had a very good relationship with both of them.  My first professional fight was with Vic Brown at the Empire Pool at Wembley.  Going in for my professional debut, I was a bit overawed.  When the bell went for the first round, Vic Brown ran right across the ring, stopped in front of me, and he was jumping about all over the shop, hitting the air.  Joe Lucy was in my corner with Danny Holland, and I froze.  Joe Lucy had to pinch my bum to galvanize me into action, and I stopped Vic Brown in the first round then.”

“After my fourth fight, the British Boxing Board of Control said I had to box an eight-rounder.  I fought the Welsh Featherweight Champion, Billy Thomas, at Lewisham Town Hall.  In my first four fights, two ended in the first round, one ended in the third and the fourth one ended in the second, and you always worried about stamina when you were going up in distance.  I beat Billy Thomas on points over eight rounds, and that was a big step up for me.”

“When I look back, I often wonder whether they pushed me too quick.  Also, I was unfortunate.  I got to about fifth in the rankings, and I broke a bone in my left wrist called the scaphoid.  It happened while I was sparring.  I was boxing with it broke for two or three fights, and I was always complaining about the pain.  So Jim Wicks sent me to Lord Tucker in Harley Street, and the operation took seven hours to do.  I was out of boxing for a year, and then I came back, but it wasn’t the same because I found that I was hesitant to throw my left.  The good thing is that, these days, I’ve got no problems with it whatsoever.”

On his second fight back after his recuperation, Dixie experienced his first professional loss against Terry Gale at the Albert Hall as a result of a badly damaged eye.  “That was a tragedy!  I had him on the floor three times in the first round.  In the second round, I jack-knifed him.  I hit him in the stomach, he came forward and smashed my eye.  The referee had to stop it.  He told me afterwards, every time my heart beat, the blood was spurting, and it wasn’t really a disqualification thing because it wasn’t intentional.  It was just one of those things.”

“My favourite fight as a professional was probably when I got a draw against Colin Lake at Bermondsey Baths, because me and Colin were friends.  I knew Lakey and he knew me.  We didn’t used to spar because we were in different gyms, but we used to go running every Sunday together.  Obviously, we both wanted to win, and he thought he won it and I thought I won it, so the draw was the perfect thing really.  One funny thing that I remember was the Krays were on one side of the ring supporting me and the Richardsons were on the other side of the ring supporting Lakey.  Lakey is a great guy.  We’ve been great friends all these years.  That’s what I miss about boxing now.  The youngsters don’t become friends.  They hate each other before they get in there.  I know it’s putting bums on seats, a lot of it, but I think it’s a shame because it’s sort of degenerated boxing a little bit.”

Dixie and Colin Lake, old friends.

Dixie and Colin Lake, old friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Dixie’s last ring appearance was against Jimmy Anderson at the Lyceum Ballroom.  “I didn’t know that was going to be my last fight. To be honest, I simply walked on to one and I got stopped.  That fight was in the April, and we never used to have boxing in the summer in them days.  So I went to Italy for six weeks, just to have a rest.  When I came back, I couldn’t make nine stone again.  I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t.  The tragedy was, about a year after I retired, they brought in the junior lightweight division, which I would have done comfortable.  I wanted to move up to lightweight, but Jim Wicks wouldn’t have it because I was too small.  I would have been giving away too much weight.  I fought some tall featherweights, but lightweights, they would have been well above me.  So Jim Wicks was 100 per cent right, although I didn’t think so at the time.”

“Because I was so despondent, I went and lived in Spain, where I met some very rich Arabs who set me up in a big business.  I was a partner in three nightclubs, and a big café on the front of Benidorm.  I had 12 good years over there.  It set me up money-wise, and I lived like a millionaire.  When I went to Benidorm in 1966, there were only five hotels there, so I was there right at the beginning.  Then, when I came home in 1978, the Arabs bought me out of the business.”

“That’s when I went into the pub business.  I was landlord of the Prince Arthur for 35 years, and it’s a big chunk of your life.  I loved it, because I like talking to people.  That’s why it’s taken me a bit of time to adjust in retirement.  But I think retiring from boxing was probably harder because, when I retired from the pub, it was my decision to call it a day.  With boxing, it wasn’t my decision, although it was the right decision, without a doubt.”

“I’ve been a member of the London Ex Boxers Association since the early seventies, right from the beginning.  It’s great because, now that I’m retired, I can attend regularly.  The thing I love about it is you can see all your old friends, and make new friends, because we’ve all boxed at different times.  It’s great, because it’s all to do with boxing and boxing personalities.  Obviously, you can’t like everybody.  But, in boxing, it seems that you do.  They’re all polite, especially the ones from my generation.”

 

TONY RABBETTS (Eighties welterweight from Middlesex, and trainer at Twickenham Brunswick boxing club for 30 years)

TONY RABBETTS (Eighties welterweight from Middlesex, and trainer at Twickenham Brunswick boxing club for 30 years)

With respected trainer, Harry Monger.

With respected trainer, Harry Monger.

 

 

 

 

Life, as they say, can be a funny old game.  When Tony Rabbetts was eight years old and his father sent him down the boxing gym to follow in the footsteps of his brothers, Tony was far from over the moon about the prospect.  However, the way things worked out, Tony’s dad did boxing a hell of a favour.

Founder of the Twickenham Brunswick Boxing Club, for 30 years Tony has worked hard at the grassroots level of our sport.  On a personal basis, Tony is very much one of the lads, although he freely admits that he loves a game of bingo.  He is a straight talker who doesn’t beat around the bush and, in his own opinion, he is one of the stricter types of trainer.  At the same time, Tony has solid compassion for the young men in his charge, men being the operative word, as he doesn’t hold with women boxing because he thinks they should look nice and he doesn’t believe that they should have flat noses.

“I was born in Whitton in Middlesex on 22nd June 1960, and my childhood was great.  I started boxing because my two older brothers were doing it.  I had to follow them because my dad said so.  My brother, George, boxed in the ABAs and he won the London Finals, and I’ve got another brother called Roy who boxed, but he had to pack up because he had bad ears.  I boxed for Southall ABC, which became Hogarth Boxing Club.  My trainers there were Harry Monger and Harry Holland.  Me and Harry Monger were very close.  He was the one who showed me the ropes as I’ve gone along, and that’s why I’m a boxing coach now.  He taught me about everything, and he was always there for me until he died in February 2009.  Harry Holland was a mate of my dad’s, so that’s why my dad took us to him when we were kids, and me and Harry are still friends to this day.”

“I had my first bout when I was 11 years old.  I fought a boy called Paul Kettle from Kingston at Battersea Town Hall.  I only went to watch, but I was carded by then and there was a boy called Steve Tennant and I borrowed his shorts and vest.  Anyway, I won on points.  By the time I got to 13 or 14, all of a sudden it just fell into place.  I can’t remember how many amateur fights I had altogether, but I think I had about 40.  I boxed in the Schoolboys and I was Middlesex Champion four years on the trot, from 1971 to 1975.”

“After I finished in the amateurs, I was working at Smithfield Market.  I was having a break from boxing.  Then I started doing a few unlicensed fights.  They called it unlicensed, but it’s just that it wasn’t recognised by the Board of Control, but we always had paramedics there and everything was just the same.  That was in about 1980 and I used to train up the Thomas A’Becket.  I was up there one day and Harry Holland walked in with Rocky Kelly and Gary Hobbs.  I think I was sparring with Terry Marsh at the time.  Terry Marsh was absolutely brilliant.  I couldn’t even get near him in sparring, he was that talented.  He wasn’t rough in sparring, but he was just too clever for me, and he was a very nice person.”

“I hadn’t seen Harry Holland for a few years, and he said ‘What you doing?’  I said ‘I’m doing a bit of unlicensed.’  He went ‘Don’t be daft. Come and do it the proper way,’ and that’s what I done.  Harry was our trainer as well as our manager, and he was a good trainer.  I was training with Rocky and Gary, and we used to have a great time.  We all got on really well.  Me and Gary have been friends since we were kids.  Me and Rocky used to spar together, and we used to have a pint and a fag after training every night on the way home, and a lot of people didn’t know that.  Harry certainly didn’t.”

“When I first turned over, Gary got me in the ring and he bashed me up in sparring, and he went ‘This is what it’s all about.  Are you going to do it or what?’ and I went ‘Yeah.’  There was this one time, I’d had a fight in a car park and some bloke had kicked me, and I was being stitched up at West Middlesex Hospital, and then I saw Gary in there.  Some bloke had hit him over the head with a bottle.  So we’d both got into fights at different places at different times, and there we were, both of us professional boxers, both getting sewn up in the same hospital!”

With former stable-mate and old pal, Gary Hobbs.

With former stable-mate and old pal, Gary Hobbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“After a while, I left Smithfield and I became a dustman, and I’m still there now.  I’m a driver, and it’s a good job with good hours and good money.  While I was boxing, I had two supervisors who loved me.  I might be fighting on a Wednesday night, and on the Monday they’d say ‘Go on, Tony, we’ll see you next week.  Make sure you win.’  They used to give me loads of time off.”

“I think I had my last fight at light-middle, but, apart from that, I was a welterweight all the way through.  I made my professional debut against Sean Campbell in October 1982.  He was a southpaw and I hated fighting southpaws, but I felt brilliant that night and, to be honest, I thought I won it.  I put him down in the second round, I think, and again in the fourth, and I got a draw.”

“I had 15 professional fights and the only time I ever got stopped was in my second fight with Sean Campbell.  We boxed at Hornsey Town Hall and the referee stopped it in the third round.  What happened there was I slipped, I got up and the referee just stopped it.  I had the right hump!  I wanted to attack the referee at the time, but that’s just the way it is and you’ve got to accept it.”

“One of my best fights was against Dave Harrison when I beat him on points in the Lyceum Ballroom in February 1983.  We got £64 slung in the ring for nobbins that night and I’d really like to meet him again, but I don’t know where he is.  There were times when I took a fight at a day’s notice and that was fine with me because we were fit all the time, and at short notice you didn’t have to sell any tickets, so it took the pressure off.  I just loved everything about boxing, getting in the ring, the adrenaline, the nerves, the lot.  It was all there.  The excitement of performing, it’s just really fantastic.”

Tony Rabbetts landing a right cross on Dave Harrison at the Lyceum Ballroom in February 1983.

Tony Rabbetts landing a right cross on Dave Harrison at the Lyceum Ballroom in February 1983.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony’s last fight was against Newton Barnett at the Merton Civic Hall in Croydon.  Having drawn with the London-based Jamaican the previous year, this time Tony conceded a points decision.  Incidentally, after boxing Tony, Newton Barnett shared the ring with the likes of Derek Grainger, Robert McCracken, Kevin Lueshing and Kirkland Laing.  “I knew that was going to be my last fight, because I had married my wife, Colleen, and we had two kids, Robert and Sarah.  I had a good job on the dust and I was happy.  I think I’ve been really lucky to have been a professional fighter, and I’ve got to say I had a pint with every single one of my opponents afterwards.”

“After I packed up boxing, I started doing a bit of karate.  But I missed competing, I started to miss it so bad, so that’s why I thought I’d go and get my own club and do the boxing.  I done all the courses and I founded the Twickenham Brunswick Boxing Club.  In 1995, I persuaded Harry Monger to come and join me at the club, which was lovely.  I’ve got two other trainers working there with me, Ford Davey and Lee Williams.  I do all the pad work, I teach them the technique of boxing and I take all the sparring.  Ford and Lee do the physical fitness side of it, and Lee is our competition secretary as well.  I tell every kid I teach that the hardest fight they’re ever going to have is going to be their first fight and, once they’ve got over that, they’ll either love it or hate it.  Every lad I’ve had who has got in the ring has come out and asked ‘When am I fighting next?’”

“I look after all the kids I train.  If they’ve got anything to tell me, if they’ve got problems, they come and see me and it goes no further.  I’ve had kids come down my gym from broken families, and the mother has said to me six months later ‘What have you done to my boy?  He’s turned out to be really nice now.’ Mind you, I don’t have parents in the gym.  I tell the parents to drop their kids off and, if they don’t like it, they can take them somewhere else.  I’d say I’m definitely a strict coach, because I think the idea of the sport is discipline.  If a boy keeps turning up late, I’ll send him home and I’ll say ‘Come back Tuesday.’  The class has already started, and they should all know that.”

“I do the judging on amateur shows as well.  I’ve done the course and I go to shows, and sometimes they say ‘Can you do a bit of judging tonight?’  Sometimes I say ‘Yes’ or sometimes I say ‘No,’  I like judging actually, but they’re changing it again now.  In the amateurs, we’re seeing changes all the time.  One change that’s good is the rules about head-guards.  Personally, I think head-guards are more of a target.  When I was boxing as an amateur, I didn’t wear a guard.  A lot of the time they don’t fit properly, and the referees are always pulling the boxers apart and sending them back to the corner to strap up.  My boxers all prefer to box without head-guards, but I make sure they all spar with guards on.  I don’t have no sparring without head-guards on.”

“Every time a kid is in the ring, it’s me in there again.  That’s the way I look at it.  What I love about it is I can get a kid come down my gym and he don’t know the difference between his left hand and his right hand, and all of a sudden he’s going in the ring and he’s fighting.  We’ve had a few boys over the years who have been really good and we’ve thought we’ve had a star on our hands, and it just hasn’t happened.  You put all the work in, and they get to an age and go, and that’s the way it goes.  But, from the day I started coaching, I’ve loved training kids. I absolutely love every minute of it.”

With The Explosive Rocky Kelly, still great friends after all these years.

With The Explosive Rocky Kelly, still great friends after all these years.

RONNIE SMITH (London amateur star of the sixties, and trainer at St Pancras ABC for 45 years)

RONNIE SMITH (London amateur star of the sixties, and trainer at St Pancras ABC for 45 years)

Tasty Young Amateur

Tasty Young Amateur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronnie Smith fought as right-handed southpaw whose love of boxing kept him hooked for over half a century.  A prolific amateur throughout the sixties, he boxed for London eight times, the first of which took him to Uganda.  He also represented England eight times, including appearances in Russia, West Germany and Italy.  As Ronnie grew from light-welter to light-middle, he won the North West London divisional championships five times in a row and the London finals twice.  There were a tough bunch of contemporaries on the prowl at the time, including Bunny Sterling, Howard Sharpe and Mark Rowe, all of whom he beat, although Mark Rowe repaid the compliment in their next fight, which turned out to be Ronnie’s last.  At the age of 25, he became a trainer at St Pancras ABC, where he remained for 45 years and produced a string of champions.

Ronnie was born in Kentish Town in 1942.  “I was a war baby.  There were a lot of derelict houses all over the show because Kentish Town got hit quite hard, and they wanted to take all the children away, but my mum said ‘No, we’re all staying.’  I came from a family of seven children and I was the youngest.  I had two brothers, but they didn’t box.  As I kid, I used to collect pictures of all the boxers, especially Randolph Turpin.  He was my idol and, every time Randolph boxed, I stayed up to hear him on the radio.  So my interest in boxing went from there.”

“My brother-in-law lived up Hampstead, so he took me to Hampstead Boxing Club.  It was only a bus ride of three stops up the road.  Mind you, I used to walk there, as it happens, and walk back home again with my bag.  So I joined Hampstead when I was ten years old, I started boxing when I was 11, and I boxed for them all the way through.  Charlie Webster was my first trainer there, but he went into the pub game and became a landlord.  After that, Danny Hallett took over, and he was my trainer all the way through my career.  I had quite a few junior bouts.  I ended up a Class C champion, which is just before you become a senior, at 17, and I boxed in the ABAs from the following year onwards.”

“I boxed as a southpaw, but the funny thing was I shouldn’t have been a southpaw really.  Although I was right-handed, when I started, I used to lead with my right, and I boxed like that for so long that it was too late for me to turn round.  If I’d have been changed round as a junior, I think I would have had a good right cross.  I could have thrown it with my shoulder behind it, put my weight behind it.  But I had a good right hook, I must admit.  That’s what I caught a lot of people with, the right hook.”

“There were so many good fighters around in my day.  One time, I had five fights in one day at welterweight in the North West London divisional ABA championship, which obviously wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.  That was when they had four rings going at the same time at the Stanmore Arena.  That was the year when I stopped Larry O’Connell in the semis.  Being a southpaw, I caught him with a right hook and it was a lucky punch.  Larry went down and, when he got up, he walked into a neutral post thinking he was going back to the corner.  The referee waved it off, because Larry didn’t know where he was.  But, after it was stopped, Larry was saying ‘I shouldn’t have been stopped.’  To be honest, it probably shouldn’t have been stopped.  It could have carried on if he’d moved away and put his hands up.  If he’d have done that, he probably would have been all right.  Anyway, later on in life, when Larry became a referee, he came over to me and he said ‘Ron, I’ve got to admit that it was right that our fight was stopped.’  All the way through, Larry and I have always got on well, and it was fantastic for him to say that to me after all that time.”

“That was my first year that I went right through to the national ABA final, and I boxed Brian Brazier.  I think Brian didn’t expect me to produce what I did on that night, and I thought the bout was quite even.  It could have gone either way.  But I must admit, when I had a match with him a year later, he stopped me on a cut eye.  I think he trained a bit harder that time.  But I’m not taking anything away from Brian, because he was a very good boxer.”

“The first time I went abroad to box was for London against Uganda, and I won over there.  I was the first winner out of our team and, after that, all the other London boys went on to win.  It was a terrific place, really beautiful, and they treated us well.  They put us in a top hotel.  But, to be honest, I felt a bit out of place really, because I felt uncomfortable with the hospitality they gave us.  It was like they gave us too much.  When we were touring, we saw the people were living in mud huts and straw huts, and things like that.”

England Team in Red Square, Moscow - Ronnie's hand is on Larry O'Connell's shoulder.

England Team in Red Square, Moscow – Ronnie’s hand is on Larry O’Connell’s shoulder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following year, Ronnie travelled to Moscow where, wearing an England vest, he had his hardest fight that he can remember.  “My first international was against the Russians, and I was the only winner out in Moscow.  The hotel where we were staying was in Red Square, and we had a lovely tour of the country.  It was December and it was snowing, but we all took our overcoats with us so that was okay.  I think the toughest fight I ever had was against the Russian in Russia, because I got my nose broken.  I came out of the ring and, when you’ve got a broken nose, you know you’ve been in a fight.”

“I boxed for London against West Germany twice, once in Hannover and once at the Albert Hall.  The one against the West German in England, I can’t remember what round it was, but I put him down twice anyway.  I well won it, and the verdict went the other way. Everybody booed and booed, and they all stood up.  They ripped their programmes up and threw them in the ring, and there was so much commotion over it that they re-checked the score cards, and one of the judges had the red and blue corners mixed up.  So they called me back in the ring and the verdict went the other way.  So I won that one, but I was going to pack up boxing altogether after that.  I got a lot of close decisions, but I’m not having a go at anyone.  When I fought Tom Imrie at England versus Scotland, that one could have gone either way.  I lost on points in Italy, against Rome, and I thought I was robbed there.”

“In 1965, I beat Mark Rowe in the London Finals, and then I got through to the national finals and I boxed Pat Dwyer.  I think those two were the hardest of all the British fellas that I boxed.  When I fought Pat Dwyer, we’d both stopped our boys in the semis in the second round, I think it was, so it was always going to be a punch-up, and that’s how it was.  We never moved from the middle of the ring.  He ended up getting the verdict.  It was very close, but I never complained about it, and the audience enjoyed it anyway.”

“In the North West divisionals the next year, I beat Bunny Sterling and Howard Sharpe, and both of them were outstanding fighters.  Then I got beat by Mark Rowe in the London finals.  So I ended up fighting Mark twice in the last two years of my boxing career, and both of them were hard fights.  After the second fight with Mark, that was it for me.  I’d been at the top over a period of about six years, and nobody backed off from you because you represented England.  They all wanted to beat you and get a name for themselves.  To tell you the truth, I got a little bit tired of it.  I was having a bit of trouble with my nose from when I got it broke in Moscow, and I’d just had enough.”

Ronnie never had aspirations of turning professional.  “To tell you the truth, I was happy with what I was doing. I was a glazier by trade, and I was earning pretty good money. I was only 25, and I became a trainer.  In those days, you had to complete a GLC course, and I took that course and I become a trainer at St Pancras.  I think they were short of trainers in those days, and I just wanted to pass something on, give a bit of knowledge back to the game.  So I was lucky to be around at the right time, and I stayed at St Pancras for 45 years.”

“I always liked the training side of it.  When I was boxing, I used to run over Parliament Hill Fields on Saturday and Sunday every week.  So, when I became a trainer, I used to take all the boys over there, and we had quite a few boys coming through the running track, right over the back, across the country, and it was beautiful.  When you come back after a run and you have a shower, you feel so refreshed and so relaxed.  When I was fighting for England, I used to get up at about half past 6 and do the outer circle around Regent’s Park every morning before I went to work.  So I was always fit as a fiddle.  My fitness was my main weapon really.  I would say that I was definitely an aggressive fighter.  I tried to do a bit of boxing, but it wasn’t me.  I used to hook all the time and body punch.  I was a good body puncher.  Well, I think I was a good body puncher anyway!”

“I enjoyed my time as a trainer at St Pancras, and I had some nice boys that I looked after, like Jim McDonnell [Commonwealth silver medalist] and Mickey Hughes [Olympian at Los Angeles].  They were both ABA champions, and so was David Dent, and one of the most experienced ones out of the lot of them was Herman Henry.  I’ve had schoolboy champions, Federation of Boys’ Club champions, junior and senior ABA champions, and England reps.”

“My proudest moments were when my boys won the ABAs and represented England.  That was quite a good achievement.  The thing was, I always made sure that they got matched up in bouts they could handle, and they weren’t over-classed.  I made sure that their first bout for England was an even bout.  It wasn’t against a Russian, like my one.  So that’s what I passed on, my knowledge of representing London and England.  With most of the boys I trained, they got to a certain level, the level I got to, and then they turned pro.  Quite a few of them stay in touch.  I still see Jimmy McDonnell now and again.  Funnily enough, Herman Henry phoned me up about three days ago because he’s heard I’ve got the old Parkinson’s disease.  He said ‘Look, we must have a meet and have a meal.’  I still see Micky Hughes and David Dent.  I still see a lot of them.”

“To tell you the truth, I honestly don’t know how many amateur fights I had, but I won the majority of them. I went to some great places, and I had some great fights with some great people.  I think our elite amateurs today get looked after very well.  I think we got £1.25 a day spending money and, if you had to have time off work, you never got paid.  But I just wanted to represent London and my country, I had a lovely time, and I really enjoyed my whole amateur career.”

Mark Rowe, Larry O'Connell and Ronnie Smith.

Mark Rowe, Larry O’Connell and Ronnie Smith.

GARY HOBBS (Former Southern Area middleweight champion)

GARY HOBBS (Former Southern Area middleweight champion)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things, as they say, are not always as they seem.  Although former Southern Area Middleweight Champion, Gary Hobbs, was born in London, he actually considers himself to be an American.  “My dad was American and my mum was English.  I was born in Stepney in September 1956, and then we moved to America until I was seven.  My dad was in the American Air Force, so we moved all over the place.  Then my dad got stationed at West Ruislip, so we came back to England.  My dad went to Vietnam in about 1968 and, when he went back there for a second term, I never saw him again after that.  Him and my mum separated.  The thing was, I didn’t really know him because he was always away on an American airbase, so I only used to see him maybe once a week.  But it’s true that I do still consider myself to be American and I’ve got an American passport.”

“Me and my mum lived near Harry Holland, and he took me to the Southall British Legion Boxing Club when I was 12.  The other trainer there was Colin Cracknell.  I was 13 when I had my first amateur fight.  It was a boy from St Pancras, and I still remember his name. It was Skelton. I remember my friend got a trophy for his first fight.  So I won by third round stoppage in my first fight, and they gave me a Pyrex dish!  It’s really disappointing when you’re expecting a trophy and they give you a Pyrex dish.  When I got to be about 14 years old, I used to stay the night at Harry’s house and look after his kids while he went out on a Saturday night.  I was like his babysitter, and then I’d go to the gym with him on Sunday mornings, and I used to help him out in the corner sometimes on the shows.”

“I had 85 amateur fights, and I won about 60.  I won the South West London ABAs at middleweight, and I think I got to the semi-finals of the NABCs.  In my last amateur fight, I fought Jimmy Price.  Harry paid him loads of money to come to London to fight me and I lost on a split decision.  Jimmy Price went onto win the Commonwealth Games and, when he was getting ready for the European Championships, I went to Crystal Palace to spar with him.”

“I used to do a lot of sparring with people.  I sparred with Alan Minter when he fought for the World Title against Vito Antuofermo.  I was still only an amateur then, and I couldn’t believe that Alan was using me as a sparring partner.  Obviously, we weren’t allowed to spar with the pros, so the thing was you weren’t meant to tell anybody what you were doing.  One day, we’d gone to the Wellington Pub gym and Frankie Lucas was in there.  He was the Southern Area middleweight champion at the time, and he wanted to spar with me.  So I said ‘I can’t spar today because I’m fighting in another couple of days.’  Anyway, I was fighting on a London versus Ireland dinner show and I stopped the Irish Champion in the first round, and Frankie Lucas was the guest of honour.  So he comes up to me and he’s shouting ‘You’ll have to come down and spar with me!’  Harry Holland was going mad, because all the ABA officials were there.”

“I never took money for sparring.  Alan Minter offered me money, but I never took it.  When I was a pro, I went and sparred with Tony Sibson and I wouldn’t even have thought of asking for money.  I was happy to spar with them, because you’re going to learn from someone who’s better than you.  When I was a bit younger, I sparred with Kevin Finnegan at the Craven Arms.  The one I used to spar with regular was Keith Bristol, a good light-heavyweight who fought Denis Andries three times.  He didn’t ask me for money and I never asked him.  I’ve never seen Keith to this day.  I always ask, and some people say he’s still about.”

“I had my first professional fight in November 1981.  They took me down to Southend and I stopped Casey McAllum in the fifth round.  I suppose I was a bit nervous, but I knew I always hit hard.  I was a good body puncher and I used to think to myself ‘As long as I can hit anybody, I’m in with a chance.’  So I wasn’t bothered about anybody.  Boxing was just a great time and I enjoyed every minute of it.  In any fight I was ever in, I never got hurt by anybody.  I loved the training side of it.  On Sunday mornings, we used to go running over Cranford Park.  If you were a useless runner, you went first, and I used to start off first because I wasn’t very good.  So I used to cheat.  I used to wade across the river and get to the other side and meet them right up in the front.  They’d still all come tearing past me, and I’d be soaking wet from wading through the river up to my waist.”

“The first time I went the distance was against Russell Humphreys.  I beat him on points over six rounds on a show that Pat Brogan promoted in some club in Burslem, Staffordshire. That was a hard fight, and it was a strange old day actually.  For one reason or another, I’d had a lot to eat and I thought I might be a bit tight on the weight.  When we got there, Ernie Fossey was doing the weighing in.  So, as I’m getting on the scales, Ernie came up behind me and he said ‘Stick your elbows out.’  The official in charge said ‘Ernie, what are you doing? I can see you!’  Anyway, I weighed in and my weight was all right.  So that was against Russell Humphreys and I won nobbins there.  I think we got £62.”

“The worst one was Joe Jackson.  The gloves that we fought with were terrible.  They didn’t have any 8oz gloves, so we ended up wearing 6oz gloves.  They were damp, they smelt of mildew and they had no padding in them.  I’d never been cut before that, and I got cut to pieces in that fight, but I still won it.  Nowadays, they wouldn’t even let you wear gloves like that.  They must have been about 25 years old.”

“I fought Deano Wallace twice. I beat him the first time, and he said to me ‘You was lucky.’  So we had the fight again a couple of months later and I knocked him out then.  As I got out of the ring, Frank Warren said ‘Do you want to fight for the Southern Area Title against Dave Armstrong?’  I didn’t think I was ready for it, because I’d only had seven fights.  But I had nothing to lose, so I just took it and that was it.”

Gary and Dave Armstrong with Gary’s Southern Area title belt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary won the Southern Area Middleweight Title from Dave Armstrong of Hackney in May 1983 at the Bloomsbury Crest Hotel, and it took him 2 minutes and 50 seconds to get the job done.  “For most of my pro career, Johnny Bloomfield had been in my corner, and he kept saying ‘Keep your chin down and your hands up and, once he’s blown himself out, you’ve got him.’  I knew Dave was going to come out going berserk.  I just stood there and took everything he threw, blocked it all and kept my chin down.  I remember hitting him round the side and you could see on the television that it hurt him.  Then, after that, it was easy.  He slowed down then, and I stopped him.  It was a great night.  All my friends were all there, and I couldn’t believe I’d done it.  I remember leaving the Bloomsbury Crest, getting into a coach, going to a pub at midnight, and suddenly Sports Special came on the TV with Brian Moore and they put my fight on.  So I stood in the pub and watched myself winning the title on the telly.”

“I boxed Mick Morris at the Civic Hall in Solihull in October 1983, and I stopped him in the seventh round. One of the things I remember about that fight is, in the corner after the sixth round, Harry Holland and Johnny Bloomfield, the pair of them laying into me, and I mean physically!  They both gave me a slap and Johnny was saying ‘You’re going to throw your career away if you don’t do something here.’  So I went out and stopped Mick Morris then, because I wasn’t going back to the corner to take another pasting from them two!  Afterwards, Mick Morris said ‘I was winning that.’  I said ‘Yeah, you probably was, but you didn’t win it though, did you?’ because I knocked him out.  That was the last fight I ever had.”

“What happened was I had a car accident and the aerial went in my eye, and that was it.  It was the end of my boxing career and it happened overnight.  They took me to the eye hospital and they said ‘Sorry, you’re blind in one eye.’  Then a friend of mine, Bob Flynn, told me ‘I’m going to take you to Harley Street,’ and he took me to see a specialist up there who said they may be able to save the sight in the eye if I had the operation that day.  They booked me into the Harley Street clinic.  An eye surgeon came down.  I had the operation, and they stuck me in a lovely hospital for recovery overnight.  Norman Tebbit, the MP, when his wife had been in the Brighton bombing, she was in the next room to me, so it was a nice place and Bob Flynn paid for everything.  Then I woke up the next morning and they said to me ‘No, that’s it.’  I was only 28, and I was completely blind in my right eye.  But Bob Flynn really looked after me, and I still see him today.  I go round his house every Christmas.”

“When it was over, I just had to get on with life really.  After I done my eye, I never put a pair of gloves on again.  My career ended that day, and that’s the end of it.   I’ve got three children, Kevin, Colin and Lisa, and you have to do whatever you have to do to look after your family.  You’ve just got to get on with it.  It was Chris Finnegan who told me that.  I met up with him at a boxing show one time and we had a chat about it, because he was blind in one eye as well, and that’s what he said to me, “You’ve just got to get on with it”, and I didn’t think you could get much better advice than that.  I had an HGV licence and, because I lost my eye, I had to go before the court and prove that I could still drive a lorry.  So I went and done that, and started driving a lorry round Europe then with one eye.”

For some years, Gary has been a regular face at the London Ex Boxers Association, and he has proved to be an asset to the organisation.  He is like a magnet for attracting new blood into the meetings, spreading the word and bringing along many of his contemporaries from the past.  They are a lively bunch who are growing in number every month, and the old guard, of which there are hundreds, are delighted to have them in their presence.  “Tony Rabbetts told me to come to LEBA a few years ago, and I’ve been attending ever since then.  I really enjoy it there, and I’ve met a load of people that I haven’t seen for years.  One time, I bumped into Dave Armstrong up there, who I won the Southern Area title from.  The funny thing was, he was standing right near me and I didn’t even recognise him at first.  A few years ago, somebody told me that I was entitled to have a Southern Area Belt because I wasn’t able to defend mine.  Anyway, Ray Caulfield, the secretary of LEBA, contacted the Board of Control and they organised a belt for me, which they presented to me at one of our Sunday morning meetings.  Dave came along that day as well, which was great, and it was a very proud moment for me to finally get my belt to keep after all these years.”

Gary with old stablemates, Tony Rabbetts and Rocky Kelly, having beer and banter at LEBA.

THE EXPLOSIVE ROCKY KELLY !!

THE EXPLOSIVE ROCKY KELLY !!

Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth

Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was born in Liverpool on 5th January 1963 to an Irish mother and a Caribbean father, and he was christened Hamilton Kelly.  When he was six years old he moved to Acton and, during his formative years, fate saw fit to deal him a diabolical hand.  He became a wild child heading in a dangerous direction.  Then he discovered boxing, and he grew up to become ‘The Explosive Rocky Kelly’.

He turned professional at the age of 18, and his fans were fanatical.  They loved his ferocious intensity, they worshiped his bravery, and their devotion was tribal.  He captured the Southern Area welterweight title in 1984 which he defended three times, and he subsequently made fearless challenges for the British and Commonwealth belts against Kostas Petrou, Kirkland Laing and Gary Jacobs respectively.  Throughout his life, bad luck has never been a stranger and he has had to battle through some seriously hard times, but there is something that nobody could ever take away from him.  When ‘The Explosive Rocky Kelly’ climbed through the ropes, there were always fireworks.

“It was Harry Holland’s idea to call me Rocky, because my story was like the Rocky story.  When I came from Liverpool to London, I used to get bullied a lot at school, because they didn’t like Scousers.  My mum died, so I was put in a children’s home and it was horrible.  The staff used to have to pin me down, because I kept fighting all the time, because I lost my mum when I was seven years old and I was really close to my mum.  Then this woman at the children’s home said to me ‘Hamilton, if you don’t get rid of all this aggression, they’re going to send you away.’  They were going to lock me up because I was too violent.  So she took me down to the Hogarth boxing club.  I walked into the gym, and there were all these boys punching, and I was frightened because they were all giving me dirty looks.  But I loved it.  I loved that feeling.  So it all started from there.”

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Once I went to the Hogarth, I didn’t look back.  The training taught me discipline.  When I was a kid, I used to be fighting all the time, but, as soon as I took boxing up, it all stopped.  I didn’t get myself in trouble.  I didn’t do nothing wrong.  I just boxed, and I loved it.  I got as far as the London ABA finals and I got beat by Johnny Andrews.  I thought I won, but obviously I never because they gave him the decision.  But I fought him as a pro, and I destroyed him as a pro.”

At Hogarth, Rocky found himself an important ally, a man called Tim Cowen.  “When Tim spotted me, he didn’t like me at first. He thought I was a right flash little so-and-so, the way I was walking, and all that. But then we got talking and he fell in love with me, and his son, Chunky, became one of my best mates as well. Tim used to pick me up from the children’s home and take me on days out. He was like a dad to me. He was always there. I don’t think he missed any of my fights, and he’s still my friend now after all these years.”

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky's corner.

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky’s corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky signed up with professional manager, Danny Mahoney, and his memories of his first medical still give him the creeps. “There was me, Gary Hobbs and Mickey Harrison, and Danny Mahoney took us to this doctor in Bournemouth. This house we went to was like a haunted house. It had cobwebs everywhere. The door squeaked and the stairs creaked. So Danny gives this doctor a bottle of whiskey and the doc just tapped our knees with this thing, took our breathing, and he says ‘Yeah, these boys are all right.’”

In his thrilling professional debut, Rocky stopped Dave Goodwin in two rounds at Acton Town Hall in October 1981. “I was scared when I had my first pro fight, but, once you get punched, all the fear goes. I used to love watching Roberto Duran. That’s where I got my inspiration. I loved the way he fought, and I wanted to be like him. I’d want to get stuck in there, because that’s what it’s all about.”  He went on to stop 21 out of the 27 opponents that he beat.  If he went the distance, but dropped a decision, the score was always close.  His first loss, against Gary Knight, was voted ‘Fight of the Year’.  “When I fought Gary Knight, he broke my ribs in the third round.  I was in a lot of pain.  Harry Holland wanted to stop it, but I wouldn’t give up.  Pain didn’t bother me.  I used to love pain when I was boxing because pain makes you stronger and more determined.  I thought I beat Gary.  It was a close fight and I had him down.  But it was on his show, so, of course, they were going to give it to him.  He beat me by half a point.  They should have made it a draw so we could have had a rematch.”

Rocky freely admits that the fighter in him has always remained close to the surface, and he owns up to a spot of extracurricular activity during his second points loss, against Judas Clottey at the Crest Hotel in 1983.  “I bit him in the eighth round.  I was that knackered because I couldn’t hit him.  He was so quick and he was very good.  He had a fast jab, but he didn’t hurt me.  In the eighth round, I got him in a corner and he was trying to turn me, and I pushed him and I bit him on the neck.  It was just out of frustration.  Judas Clottey was from Liverpool and, funnily enough, when I went to see my dad in Liverpool years ago, Judas lived upstairs and I bumped into him.”

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of Rocky’s opponents were forced to emulate his fierce fighting style just to keep him at bay.  However, when he challenged Chris Sanigar for the vacant Southern Area welterweight title in February 1984, he was matched with a man who also relished a war.  From beginning to end, the packed house celebrated the mutual bravery of two true warriors.  After a breath taking finale, Rocky had his glove raised and Sanigar announced his retirement.  “I was amazing fighting at the Albert Hall.  Down in the dressing rooms, it’s all brickwork.  It was a lovely atmosphere.  That fight with Chris Sanigar was out of this world.  He was a true soldier, old Chris Sanigar.  He was a southpaw, but I never had no problems fighting southpaws.  With Chris, it was just his long arms, having to get underneath that, which I did.  Harry Carpenter kept saying that he couldn’t believe the energy we put into that fight, because we went ten rounds like that, from start to finish.”

“I loved training, and we used to have a laugh together.  We were young men and we all wanted to be world champion, or be something. When Tony Rabbetts started training with us, after we’d finished training, me and Tony used to go round the corner for a pint and a smoke.  I shouldn’t have smoked when I was fighting, but I think smoking gave me something to prove.  They’d say ‘It slows you down,’ and I’d say ‘It ain’t slowed me down.  I’m still going strong.’  When I was fighting, I always wanted to prove something.”

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 14th March 1986, Rocky fought Steve Watt at the London West Hotel in Fulham. After a barnstorming fight in which Rocky stopped Steve in the tenth, the Scotsman collapsed and never regained consciousness.  He passed away two days later at Charing Cross Hospital.  It was found at the autopsy that Steve had a recurring brain injury and the fight with Rocky was the final trigger.  “If you saw that fight between me and Steve Watt, you wouldn’t believe it.  Me and him was toe-to-toe.  Sid Nathan was the referee, and he slapped us on the head because our heads were getting too close together.  It was just pure energy and aggression.  Steve was a terrific fighter.  The day after the fight, I went to see him in hospital.  I’ve walked in there, I looked at him and I thought ‘Is this what I do for a living?’  It definitely changed me.  I ain’t really got over what happened, and I still think about Steve Watt.”

Rocky took comfort from his army of supporters, and he pressed on with his career.  “I think I had one of the best followings in London at the time.  When I was in the ring, I could hear the people shouting.  One time, I was fighting this American geezer.  While we’re boxing, this fella is shouting up from ringside, ‘Use your jab! Use your jab! Use your right hand!’  It’s annoying, because you’re trying your hardest, and they’re trying to tell you what to do.  So I stopped boxing, I leaned over the top rope and shouted down to him ‘Shut the fuck up!’ and then I just carried on fighting.”

One of Rocky’s favourite fights was his British title eliminator against Tony Brown at Latchmere Leisure Centre in Wandsworth.  Rocky emerged victorious in the eleventh round, and he looked pretty in pink in the process.  “Me and Harry Holland used to go to Tenerife to train.  I’m black anyway, but I’d have a nice tan when I came back from Tenerife.  I wore the pink shorts and dressing gown because they showed my colour off, not because I’m queer or anything like that!  Tony Brown thought he had me.  He kept using his jab and his trainer kept going ‘You’ve got him, you’ve got him.’  Tony Brown was a good fighter, but I think I broke his heart because he kept hitting me and I just kept coming at him.  But that was a really good fight.”

In Rocky’s final fight, he drew with Winston Wray over eight rounds at Latchmere Baths in September 1989.  “I never knew at the time that Winston Wray was going to be my last fight, but I didn’t really want to do boxing anymore by then.  After what happened to Steve Watt, it changed my personality and the way I fought.  When I fought Gary Jacobs for the Commonwealth title, he dropped his hands and all I had to do was go bang!  But I hesitated for that split-second because I thought of Steve Watt.  Gary Jacobs was a good boxer, but I swear to God, if I’d have thrown that punch, I would have knocked him out.  But I never threw it and he stopped me on a cut in the seventh round.”

“If I’d have been boxing today, I’d get a lot more money.  We got peanuts in them days.  You see people now getting all this money, and I don’t think some of these fighters are worth that much.  Another thing is I think they should stop the crowd drinking, because that brings aggression.  After they’ve seen a fight, they think they’re boxers and I’ve seen fights in the crowd at boxing.  I’ve seen them standing up in the aisle pissed, and it’s not right.”

These days, Rocky is a popular face within the boxing fraternity.  “I loved fighting.  It was my life, so I’m really glad they appreciated my boxing and what I done for the spot, because I wanted to be the best boxer in the world.  I wanted to be British champion, I wanted to be world champion, and I nearly was.  I had my chances.  It was just the people I fought.  When I was training to fight Kirkland Laing for the British title, I was so fit.  But it was hard because, for Kirkland Laing, three times I was going to fight him.  The first time, we’re ready for the fight and he rings up and says he’s broke his finger.  The second time, we go to Tenerife and come back, and he’s broke his toe or something.  So, by the time I fought Kirkland, I was too fit, so I lost my fitness.  I’d gone over the top.”

“Kirkland punched me in the second round and the referee should have stopped the fight, because I got up and what saved me was the bell.  I got back out and I was pushing him back.  Then, in the fifth round, he brought this punch out and it was just like walking into a brick wall.  I got back up and the referee stopped the fight because I was cut underneath the eye.  I was so disappointed.  I was pushing Kirkland back, and I knew eventually I would have got to him, but I didn’t get that chance.”

“Mind you, Kirkland Laing was that talented, and I loved him.  After the fight, we ended up having a shower at the same time.  I just happened to look down and I said ‘Bloody hell!’  He had a willy down to there!  I couldn’t believe it!  I said ‘What’s that, Laing?’  He said ‘That’s me wood, man.  That’s me wood.’  Kirkland Laing was a funny guy.”

Rocky has been a fleeting presence at the London Ex Boxers Association for years, but he has become reunited with his old crew and it is fantastic to see him on a regular basis nowadays.  “All these people are gentlemen.  They’re all friendly, because we’re all doing the same thing and we all wanted the same thing.  Some of us got it and some of us didn’t, and the ones who did get it, we take our hat off to them, because you’ve got to work really, really hard to get what you want in this world.  There are some right characters here who’ve been around the block a few times, and we’ve all got a story to tell.  It’s really nice to be around these people, and I just feel like I’m part of the gang.”

Rocky and Gary Hobbs, still pals after all these years.

Rocky and Gary Hobbs, still pals after all these years.