ROCKIN’ ROBIN DEAKIN (by Melanie Lloyd)

ROCKIN’ ROBIN DEAKIN (by Melanie Lloyd)

On 19 April 1986, Robin Deakin entered this world at Crawley Hospital.  Born perilously premature, he clung on to life defiantly, a tiny scrap of humanity refusing to give in.  As if the odds weren’t already stacked high enough against him, Robin was destined to contend with a crippling deformity which rendered him unable to walk unaided throughout his childhood.  He grew up in a home environment which functioned in a perpetual state of conflict and, during his formative years, he spent more time inside hospitals than out of them. 

Now in his late thirties, Robin’s personality is warm and endearing, laced with a disarming element of traditional courtesy.  However, he has a complex and somewhat enigmatic side to his nature.  In many ways, he comes across as calm and extremely clued up, and then, in the blink of an eye, he could make a casual remark to reveal an astonishing disregard for his own physical well-being.  There is definitely something of the little boy about him, playful and open, although sometimes he projects an air of cynicism that makes him sound older than his years. 

“I forget exactly how many weeks premature I was, but they didn’t think I was gonna survive.  I’ve got a bad left clubfoot, real bad.  My right one’s club, but it’s not as bad as my left one.  The doctors were saying that I’d never be able to walk.  I don’t know the exact number of operations I had, but I spent my childhood in Carshalton Hospital.  That was basically school for me, if you like.”

“My dad was a hard, hard man.  He was a bit of a boy back in the day.  He had a reputation.  He wasn’t kind to my mum, and my mum wasn’t kind to him.  They weren’t made for each other really.  Then my mum ran away from my dad, and my dad got the hump about it.  He couldn’t find out where we were, so he went to our social worker’s office and dangled him out the window to try and make him tell my dad where we were, but the social worker wouldn’t tell him.  It was breaking news on the telly.  I don’t remember it because I was too young at the time, but everyone used to always talk about it.  So he was definitely a bit of a violent man, my dad.  I’m glad that my mum and my dad did meet because obviously they had me, but, like I say, they weren’t meant to be, and it was hard growing up trying to fit in, which is probably one reason why I took up boxing because I wanted to be loved for something that I was trying to be good at.”

“I was a shy kid.  I had no confidence and I didn’t like people.  Even now, I’m very, very wary of people.  It takes me a lot to sort of like someone and to let them in.  I was about seven years old when my dad started taking me down Horsham Amateur Boxing Club with my bigger brother, Daniel, who never went pro, but he was a very, very good fighter as an amateur.  I used to go down the gym on one of those frame things that old people have.  I couldn’t walk, but I could stand holding that and punch with my left hand.”

As a result of prolonged and torturous physiotherapy, Robin eventually began to take tiny steps on his own.  His dogged determination prompted his boxing coaches to shake their heads in amazement as he persevered to the point of basic dexterity and, gradually, the training helped to strengthen his legs and boost his confidence.  Whereas thousands of fit and perfectly able-bodied lads walk into boxing clubs all over the country every week, many of them never reach the level where they will actively compete, so the fact that Robin became a carded boxer was a phenomenal achievement in itself.

“My first fight was against a guy called Craig Clark.  He was from Crawley.  I lost to him on points the first time and then we boxed again on a dinner show and I beat him.  I boxed for Crawley boxing club as well as Horsham.  Putting the two cards together, I probably had about 80-odd fights for both clubs.  I won over half, I’d say probably about 50-odd.”

Robin pursued his amateur journey to championship status, and there was nothing boastful about his demeanour as he explained “I boxed in the ABA’s at 57kg.  I reached the national semi-finals and I lost to Gary Sykes.  Everyone was raving about Gary Sykes.  I was in the same dressing room as him and it was in Cleckheaton [Sykes’ hometown] and he was England number one at the time.  I gave him a good fight up to the third round and then they stopped it because there was a 20 point barrier and he got 20 points ahead.  I’ve never really been good with defence and Gary Sykes just outpointed me, but I gave it all I could and, yeah, he beat me.  But, there again, I’ve been in with a someone that ended up beating Anthony Crolla as a pro and Gary Sykes went on to win the British title and Anthony Crolla went on to win a world title.  I still speak to Gary, even now.  He’s a lovely guy.”

“I didn’t really travel much as an amateur because I wasn’t picked for the England squad.  I represented England in the Limassol Cup in Cyprus, but that was for my club.  The Limassol Cup was a great experience and I won a silver medal over there.  In the final, I boxed a guy called Michael Blackburn from Scotland.  I never actually knew what happened to him.  I think he was Scotland number one at the time and everyone was raving about him and, when I got drawn up against him, everyone was like ‘Oh, you’re gonna get stopped’ and, to be honest with you, I did get stopped, but it was very, very hot Limassol and the heat just got to me.  Every fighter will say this, and I’ll say it as well.  It was a premature stoppage, but I understand why the referee stopped it because it was a combination of a left-right, left hook and it caught me and I didn’t go down, but I went back on to the ropes and the referee just basically waved it off.”

“Apart from boxing in Limassol, I boxed in Guernsey and Jersey.  In Jersey, I boxed a guy called Ben Murray.  Jersey is a small place and Ben Murray was a big name out there because his dad owned a business and they were a massive family.  I knew I was never gonna get the win out in Jersey, so I just went out there and took the piss out of Ben Murray, sticking my tongue out at him and blowing kisses at his girlfriend.  Steve Collins was over there sitting at the ringside, and I was blowing kisses at Steve Collins.  Ben Murray couldn’t really hit me because my head movement was real good as an amateur.”

“After my fight with Ben Murray, I was talking to Steve Collins.  When I told him what I’d been through, he told me that he couldn’t believe how good I was.  He said ‘We’ll keep in touch’ and I just thought, yeah, whatever, it’s just another pro that’s had a few to drink telling me we’ll keep in touch.  But, after coming back from the Limassol Cup, I had a random text from Steve saying ‘I want to meet you and take you to Frank Warren.’  I was at work at the time, only working behind a bar, but I was buzzing, jumping around and everything.  So the day come and I met Steve at St Albans train station.  He come and picked me up.  We went to Frank Warren’s office and Steve got me a deal with Frank Warren.”

Robin made his professional debut at York Hall in October 2006 against Shaun Walton, a journeyman who fought out of Telford and went by the ring-name of “Slasher”.  “I signed a three-year deal with Frank.  I had my first fight and I won against Shaun Walton.  I didn’t box my best.  I think I won 39-37.  But was a massive thing for me and, if I’m going to be honest, it got to my head.  Being with Frank Warren, I thought he was sort of like my shield and I wanted to take on the world.”

It was nearly four months later when Robin got the call for his next fight, which was against a Latvian opponent called Eduards Krauklis at Wembley Arena, and it was a far cry from the frenetic atmosphere of his debut at York Hall.  “My second fight was a late notice fight.  Dean Powell phoned me up and he said ‘Are you back in the gym?’  I said ‘I am, but I’m not really doing much.  I’m just eating what I like and ticking over.’  He said ‘Right, you can fight at Wembley Arena.  I can get you on the undercard of Michael Sprott and Audley Harrison.’  So I said ‘Yeah, wicked, do that.’  I sold like £5,000 or £6,000 worth of tickets and I got put on the first fight.  There was no one in the arena.  I’m not too sure, but I think it was just before the doors opened and not a lot of my friends were in there, the people who had bought tickets, and I was wondering why.  It was so different to my debut.  The place was just bare, so I sort of froze a little bit.  I still thought I won the fight, but I ended up losing by a point.  It wasn’t me because I’ve always been a showman, the arena was echoing and I was thinking ‘Frank’s not even here.  Who am I trying to impress?  What’s the point?’  So I ended up losing and then, when I lost, it all went downhill, so I rang Dean Powell and I said ‘Dean, I want my contract back’ and he said ‘Okay, I’ll talk to Frank’ and, within about three months, I ended up getting my contract back from Frank.

The loss the Latvian turned out to be the first of 51 consecutive defeats for Robin and, from this point onward, he trod the tough road of a fighter who looks after his own affairs, taking his chances and trusting a friend whenever he could find one.  “Graham Earl managed me for a bit.  At the time I signed with Graham, he hadn’t long had the first fight with Michael Katsidis and everyone was raving about how good that fight was, so I thought signing with Graham would boost me a little bit more and try and get me another step into something big.  I was with Graham for a couple of years and Graham was good.  He wouldn’t take 25 per cent.  He’d take 10 per cent, and he done it to get me fights and get me out there.  Graham would say ‘I’ve got you a fight’ and I’d be straight on Google having a look and I’d say ‘Take it.  I think I could beat him.’  I never cared who I was fighting.”

Robin’s record is peppered with looked after and unbeaten fighters.  For his fourth fight, he travelled to Irvine in Scotland to box Swansea southpaw, Ricky Owen, and he was stopped in the second round for his trouble.  “The thing is with me, I always go by the face, so I Googled Ricky Owen, I see his face and I thought he’s a fucking pansy!  I thought I could beat him, so I said ‘Yeah, fuck it, I’ll take it, Graham.’  Graham said ‘Are you sure?  It’s tomorrow.’  I said ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’  I remember I had to weigh 8 stone, 12.  So I said ‘I’ll go to the gym and sauna now.’  Graham got it booked and I flew out to Scotland.  I lost the weight and drained my body, and Ricky Owen was a very, very good kid.  I didn’t do my research.  He was Welsh ABA champion.  He boxed for Wales and he was very strong.  He was one of the strongest I ever boxed.”

Although Robin’s course had rapidly become firmly set on the losing side of the scorecards, the fact that he always wanted to put his heart and soul into his performances regularly won him the respect of the crowds.  “When I boxed Ryan Walsh the first time, it was on the undercard of David Haye v Enzo Maccarinelli at the O2 and there was 15,000 people there.  I was booed coming in, but, going out, I was cheered because we got ‘Fight of the Night’ on the undercard and it was amazing.  I had a great war with Ryan Walsh.  Whenever I was fighting, it would always be exciting, and my dad was always with me.  My dad was always there throughout my career, amateur and pro.  His name is Lester and he’s like my best friend.  He’s always been by my side.”

Robin has always maintained that Anthony Crolla and Stephen Smith were the hardest hitters he ever faced, and he stepped into the lion’s den to box both in their respective hometowns.  He boxed Crolla at the MEN Arena in September 2008.  Robin was under no illusions that he stood a real chance of beating the ‘Million Dollar’ Mancunian, but he was happy that he went the distance with the future British and world lightweight champion. 

“With Anthony, I sort of called him out, if you like, but I like Anthony.  He’s a good friend.  He turned pro when I turned pro.  We both signed with Frank Warren.  We were always talking on the phone before we fought each other.  Then, when I called him out, we didn’t fall out, but I think he was in fighting mode, so he was ignoring me.  The weigh-in was at the Arndale shopping centre and I said to him ‘Look, I’ve been offered good money and I’m taking the fight for the money.  I know I’m not gonna beat you.’  All his fans were shouting ‘Deakin is a wanker!’ and who cares?  I know I’m a wanker!  The crowd never, ever bothered me because I love being the underdog.  I love people saying ‘You’re gonna lose.’  Yeah, so what?  It doesn’t faze me at all.  In life, I’ve learned to deal with a lot worse than fucking people shouting abuse.  I’m not scared of no man.  On the street, in the ring, I’ll fight anyone.  You live life once basically and you’ve gotta enjoy every moment, so I just enjoyed every moment whether I was booed or what.”

Just over four weeks after his fight with Anthony Crolla, having squeezed in another two fights in between, Robin took himself to Stephen Smith’s native manner to do the honours with the future British & Commonwealth champion at the Everton Park Sports Centre.

“Stephen is a lovely guy.  I love him to bits.  I love all the family.  They’re lovely people.  Stephen stopped me in the second round with a body shot, and he can whack!  I can still feel it now!  But I wanted to be in with the best, to say that they’ve been on my CV, to say ‘Yeah, I’ve been in with them.’  I knew I’d never be a world champion, but at least I could say I’ve been in with world champions and world champion challengers, boxing the best so I can say I’ve been in with them.”

Robin in action against Liam Shinkwin at York Hall

In January 2012, Robin had a typically dramatic battle with Ryan “The Bomb” Taylor at York Hall.  Taylor put Robin down in the first round.  Then Robin put the Londoner down with a peach of a right hand in the second.  In the third, Taylor floored Robin with a body shot and it was game over.  Robin had characteristically gone out on his shield and he’d been happy with his performance that night.  “That was a good fight, that was.  I give him a bit of a war, to be fair.  I took him to the trenches and I give him a good go.  It was on the undercard of Carl Frampton defending his Commonwealth title, but afterwards it was me and Ryan Taylor that everyone was talking about.”

Robin says that, after the Ryan Taylor fight, he was summoned to the office of the British Boxing Board of Control for a meeting during which he was told that he should be fighting like a journeyman rather than coming out “all guns blazing”.  Robin flatly refused to change his game, and he strongly believes that it was his adamance that caused the Board to revoke his licence.  When the news reached him that they were taking his licence away, he was devastated.

Back at the beginning of his pro career, when Robin found that overnight he had switched from the status of prospect to the guy in the losing corner, he was quick to understand what was happening, but the thing with him was that, rather than play it relatively safe and have a move-about in the workmanlike manner of a traditional journeyman, which he would have been perfectly capable of doing, Robin always wanted a tear up.  There was undoubtedly something masochistic about his fighting style and it could easily be thought that he needed saving from himself. However, the way Robin saw it, he had served his purpose in boxing.  He declared that he had never been knocked momentarily unconscious and, whereas it cannot be denied that there had been times when he’d taken many fights condensed into a short time period, the Board had allowed this status quo to continue throughout his career.  He reasoned that, if the Board were so concerned about his welfare, what had taken them so long to do something about it?

Determined to continue boxing, Robin had his final handful of fights under the jurisdiction of various foreign boxing commissions.  At this stage of the game, he linked up with a genuine boxing man named Dave Murphy, who Robin describes as “a good and loyal manager”.  It was on one of Dave’s shows, licensed by the Maltese Boxing Commission, that Robin finally accomplished his first win since his professional debut almost nine years earlier, winning on points against a Latvian called Deniss Kornilovs. 

“I phoned Michael Jennings and I asked him to train me for this fight and he agreed.  I was homeless at the time, so I went to Manchester and moved into Michael’s house.  I lived in his cinema room for a few months.  I loved that time in my life.  Getting trained by Michael and his brother, David, was brilliant.  We worked hard every single day and I was in great shape.  I love the Jennings family.  They’re like my own.  When I won, obviously we all went mental and then I started crying at the end.  It was a relief to think ‘Fucking hell, I’ve done it!’  But it was a bit surreal.  I thought I was dreaming.”

The above-mentioned Dave Murphy was kind enough to let me interview him for this piece.  Dave’s aim as a manager/promoter was to provide fighters with an alternative to the Board of Control and he lost thousands of pounds of his own money in the process, as he explained “I’ve spent my whole life in boxing, and the pro game is a hard old game.  It’s not like the amateurs, which I loved with a passion.  It’s a cut-throat world out there and everyone will have you over.”   

“I manged Robin for a very short while.  He’d had 50 fights when I first met him.  I got chatting with him and he was looking for help, so obviously I offered it.  His first fight with me was on one of my shows at York Hall when he boxed Damian Lawniczak.  Damian was tough, but he was a scrapper and not a boxer, so I said to Robin ‘Just box him.  Here’s your chance for a win.’  I spent time in the gym with Robin, trying to get him out of his journeyman attitude, because he’d just stand there and wait to be hit and then he’d turn it into a fight which he couldn’t win because his movement wasn’t as good as some of the other lads.  But, if he got off the back of his jab and boxed, he could actually win a fight.  I wanted to do his corner so I could have kept him calm and talked him through it.  On the day before the show, my wife got rushed into hospital and I didn’t make it to the show and apparently Robin got involved in a fight and just got outpointed.”

“My wife was in a coma for six weeks from that night.  We’d both come back from India with a cold.  Mine went.  Hers didn’t.  It got worse and worse.  We took her to the hospital and, about 7 in the morning, I went home.  I got all the stuff ready for the show and then I got a call that she’d stopped breathing, so I shot back up the hospital and I spent about a month in the hospital with her and she’s never been the same since, but we’ve worked through it. I done a few more shows after that, but my heart wasn’t there anymore.  I put Robin on a Malta Boxing Commission show where he got the win against Deniss Kornilovs, and then I don’t think I ever saw him again.  I spoke to him a long time after and he was talking about going bare-knuckle and stuff.”

“What you’ve gotta know about Robin is he was as game as anything.  I mean, he would fight absolutely anyone.  I mean, he had no fear whatsoever.  I’ve met a few people like him in the past and he really had a lot going for him, but he just couldn’t seem to get it together and box properly.  He really did have abilities, but I think he’d just been used and abused and he couldn’t get it out of his system.  They all went in the press ‘The worst boxer in Britain’ and there was no way he was the worst boxer.  He just needed the opportunities.  Anyway, whatever he does, I wish him all the best.”

Robin had his final two gloved fights in 2017 in Spain, where he got stopped in the second and third rounds respectively.  The Spanish connection came about when he happened across an agent on social media.  At the time of our interview, Robin couldn’t remember his name.  “I got in touch with this fella on Facebook, who’s a promoter or manager.  He’s Bulgarian or something.  I said ‘Get me some fights’ and he said ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll get you a Czech licence and I’ll get you some fights in Spain,’ so I went to Czech and I got a Czech licence.  My first fight in Spain was against Alin Florin Ciorceri and I lost to him, and I come back and I had a word with the agent and he said ‘You’ve gotta go in there a bit more aggressive.  You can’t keep just going in for money.’  To be honest, the money was shit anyway.  It was like €400 or €500.  But I said ‘All right then’ and he got me another fight.”

“So that’s when I boxed on a Spanish card again against another guy, Diego Valtierra.  I went to Spain all on my own.  I had no trainer and no manager, and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish.  I just had an agent I’d never even met.  They paid my expenses, my flight and my accommodation, but I didn’t know anyone out there.  I made a lot of press and it was on their TV out in Spain and it was massive.  I thought ‘Fuck it, it’s probably gonna be my last fight,’ so I got in his face at the weigh-in.  Then, walking out on to the ring, I was like a celeb.  It was mad!  They were cheering me when I was going in and cheering me going out.  It was lovely boxing out in Spain.  It was a great experience, an experience that I could never forget, to say thank you to boxing for giving me the character and the push to go and do something, because there’s not many people – able bodied people – who can turn round and say they’ve done this, they’ve done that.  I’m in a disabled body and I can say I’ve done more than most people could ever dream of doing.”

Just over a year after his final professional boxing match, Robin returned to the ring for a handful of bare-knuckle fights, which spanned from 2018 to 2022.  He drew one and lost the rest.  On the face of it, these events are well organised with plenty of razzamatazz, but, to my mind, bare-knuckle fighting is the pitiless distant cousin of the noble art and, when we reached this stage of his story, I had one simple question for Robin.  Why?

“Why?” he echoed, before continuing “Because I like fighting.  I know I haven’t got the body to be a fighting man because of my legs, but there’s one thing you can’t buy and you can’t train for, and that’s heart and I’ve got the biggest heart out there.  I love getting hit.  I’ve aways had a good pain threshold.  Because I’ve lived with pain for so long, that’s all I’ve ever known.  So I did bare-knuckle to prove my point.  I’ll fight anyone.  Let’s go.  For my last one, I got two grand plus I got my hotel paid for, which was 500 quid.  So, if you like, I got two and a half grand for a fight basically.  Obviously, no money’s worth ending a life for and anything can happen in bare-knuckle, but I don’t regret doing it.  I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done, but now I’d definitely never want to change what I have.”

“I met a wonderful lady who is now my fiancé.  Her name is Kristy and I found her at the end of my fighting career.  She changed my life basically.  She’s Welsh and we live in Wales.  We’ve got a lot in common.  Kristy is my best friend.  I know it’s a cliché.  Everyone says that, but she’s so hardworking and she inspires me to go to work and forget the boxing.  She’s the best.  She’s beautiful.  I wanted to find love, and I found love.  Kristy said ‘Don’t fight’, so I’m not fighting because of love, although I will never let no man hurt Kristy or her family.  As far as I’m concerned, my job now is to keep them safe.  Kristy has kept me sane.  I’m happy with my life and I cherish every minute we spend together, because every day is different and no one knows what’s round the corner.”   


For various reasons, this article took a long time to complete.  In April 2024, almost a year after we did the interview, Robin took part in an exhibition match against former opponent, Ben Day, to raise funds for the Ringtone Boxing Gym which is run by Ben and situated in Drummond Street, London.

Finally, Robin wishes to take this opportunity to say “Thanks to Mick Collier and Les Potts from the Board of Control for everything they’ve done for me, for saving my life.”

Jimmy Flint – Freeman of the City of London (by Melanie Lloyd)

Jimmy Flint – Freeman of the City of London (by Melanie Lloyd)

Jimmy with the happy gathering who came to witness him becoming a Freeman. His longstanding friend, Henry Jones, (wearing his ceremonial robe) is standing next to Jim on the right.


On Tuesday, 6 June 2023, Jimmy Flint, one of the most feared punching featherweights in Britain back in the seventies, made an appearance in court.  He turned up respectfully suited and booted to be greeted by his numerous friends who had come along to support him and, when he saw us all there waiting for him, his face broke out into a sunny smile because it was far from a sombre occasion.  We were at the Guildhall in the heart of London’s square mile and we were heading for the Chamberlain’s Court where Jimmy was to be bestowed with the honour of Freedom of the City.

The freedom ceremony, which dates back to 1237, is one of the oldest surviving traditions in the world. Back in the middle ages, a Freeman was not considered to be the property of a “feudal lord” and was entitled to earn money and own land.  Two of the ancient privileges which Jimmy particularly liked were the permission to carry a sword around London and the right to be escorted home after a drink too many, but sadly these benefits no longer apply.  However, should he ever want to, Jimmy can still drive sheep across the London Bridge on a certain day every year which, it has to be said, didn’t seem to impress him all that much.

Jimmy follows in the footsteps of the likes of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela and the courtroom is a historical treasure-trove with many relics from past ceremonies on display.  The proceedings are conducted by the clerk of the court garbed in a silk gown, and the medieval language of the declaration contains a couple tongue-twisters, particularly the part where the recipient has to promise to “maintain the franchises and customs and keep this City harmless, in that which in me is”.  When the clerk asked Jimmy to read from the card, there was a sense of togetherness in the room as we collectively willed him to get through it without a hitch, but we needn’t have worried.  As a result of his acting experience, Jimmy is a man who is used to reading lines and he pledged his oath calmy and clearly.

Jimmy signing his declaration.

As soon as the business end of things was done and dusted, we adjourned to the bar upstairs.  While the drinks flowed and plentiful plates of sandwiches were munched, common councilman of over 20 years, Henry Jones, who put Jimmy forward for the accolade explained “I’ve known Jimmy for donkey’s years from Wapping.  We go back 40 years plus and we still have a drink together most weeks.  I can put people’s names forward to receive the Freedom and I spoke to Jimmy about it because it’s a lovely ceremony that dates back hundreds of years.  Obviously, it’s more a formality now, but these old traditions are things that we’ve got to cling on to and keep.”

In the meantime, the man of the moment finally had time to sit back and relax.  With a mischievous little grin, he reflected that “Today was interesting, about the sheep and everything, but where’s my sword?  I want to get drunk and carry my sword, and they’ve taken all that away!  I mean, what am I getting out of all this?”  Then, as he surveyed the sunlit room full of smiling faces, the mellow hum of convivial chatter permeating the air, his eyes shone with a contended gleam and his expression became serene.  The lad from the streets of Wapping who was raised in two rooms with an outside toilet has come a long way.  “Seriously though, I was very proud to receive this honour today.  It brought some people together and it was really nice.  It’s been a lovely day, something different, and I’m very happy because now I know that my name is there forever.”  Well done Jimmy.  We are all very proud of you.

I was so delighted that Jimmy invited me to come along and help him celebrate his big day x
Peter Haymer (by Melanie Lloyd)

Peter Haymer (by Melanie Lloyd)

Former English light-heavyweight champion, Peter Haymer.

When former English light-heavyweight champion, Peter Haymer, began attending our London Ex Boxers Association meetings five years ago with his dad (Peter senior), the 44 year old from Enfield came across as a quiet man who couldn’t help standing out from the crowd.  With his handsome features and his 6ft 2in stature, Peter possesses the type of charisma that could easily encourage conceit, a fact that makes his respectful modesty and sunny disposition all the more disarming.

The Haymers, father and son alike, are boxing men through-and-through.  St Pancras was their club, and their connections with LEBA stretch way back (for the father) to when he used to spar with Stephen Powell and he trained alongside prolific amateur and 45 year trainer at the club, Ronnie Smith, and (for the son) to when Peter began as a junior at St Pancras and Ronnie became one of his first trainers.  The Haymers’ first visit to LEBA actually transpired in the year 2000 when our meetings were held at Kings Cross and Peter was voted best London amateur, and they came along to collect the trophy.

Peter’s boxing pedigree also stems from his mother’s side of the family.  “My mother’s dad, my Granddad Charie, boxed in the army.  He was also the secretary and matchmaker at St Pancras, and my mum’s brother, my Uncle Charlie, won some national titles.  I’m not sure my mum loved me fighting, but boxing was in the family.  None of my family played football and stuff, so I just think boxing was a natural thing that my mum was expecting me to get into.”

“When I first started at St Pancras, I was only seven years old.  Ronnie Smith was actually one of my granddad’s juniors, so I knew him quite well.  Ronnie definitely had a part to play with my jab, that’s for sure.  He really made me work the jab well on the pads.  But a man called Brian John was my main junior trainer.”

Peter with his amateur trainers, Brian John and Ronnie Smith, all enjoying an afternoon at LEBA.

“Although I was involved in boxing from young, the competing didn’t start until I was nearly 16.  I think I hadn’t learnt how to control myself properly.  If someone was better than me, I couldn’t accept it back in the day.  When I got to about 15, I was quite big for my age and I started sparing with the bigger guys.  I had to accept that you can’t always win, so I learnt to control myself.  I had my first fight midway through my fifteenth year and I never turned back.”

“Because I won my first few fights by knockout, I found it quite difficult to get opponents, so I used to get thrown into the championships.  I won the Londons every time, and then I’d come into contact with someone.  The first loss I had was a Foley ABC boy called Geoffrey Diggins.  He was absolutely huge and he towered above me.  I had a really good fight with him, but he was just too clever.  Afterwards, Diggins’ dad came up to my dad and said ‘That was a good fight,’ and my dad said ‘Yeah, he didn’t do bad for his fifth fight.’  Diggins’ dad was like ‘My God!  My son is a four time national champion,’ and he sort of touted me to do good things in the future, so that was a nice little boost for my confidence back then.”

Peter as a teenage amateur.

Peter went on to win the junior and the senior ABAs, the latter against Patrick Smyth when Peter stopped the Bristol-based banger inside three rounds at the Metrodome Leisure Centre in Barnsley in May 2000.  “Patrick Smyth was an all-Ireland national champion.  I’d just lost my grandmother, my granddad’s wife, the guy who got me into the boxing in the first place.  I was quite well-known for being a pretty good technical boxer.  But, that night, I just didn’t have no feelings.  I just wanted to go out and win for my nan, but I didn’t care how I won.  I was very rugged.  My chin was up.  I was throwing my shots almost from my hips, rather than from my shoulders.  I was just walking on to shots and I was clumping him and hitting him all over the place, and I think he sort of gave up on himself a little bit.  That day, it was as if I could have fought anybody in the world and I was not going to be denied.  We’ve got the fight on video and sometimes I sit and watch it with my kids.”

Peter turned pro in 2000 at the age of 22 with another important influence from his amateur career riding shotgun, a man named Chris Hall.  “I’ve known Chris since I was about 16.  I’d been training on and off with him as a kid and he helped me towards the senior ABA title.  When I turned pro, I signed a contract with Sports Network, so I had my first eight fights with them and Chris was my coach.  Then I parted ways from Sports Network because I thought I’d go and learn the pro trade a little bit, so Chris stepped in as my manager.  We used to use the smaller hall promoters, rather than the bigwigs, just get some fights.  I was a pretty decent ticket-seller at the time because my father knows quite a lot of people, so I was able to get on shows here and there.”

“Then they offered me the opportunity to fight ‘Spartacus’ for the English light-heavyweight title, and that was a great fight for me.  We’d boxed as amateurs, I think in the quarter-finals, and I think I beat him by a point on the scorecards, so he definitely wanted revenge.  He was a very big puncher and I was a clever boxer.  I had a good chin and I just kept it long.  We had a very good fight, and I won it on points.”

After defending his English title against Mark Brookes, who he stopped in the tenth round in Sheffield, Peter made his second defence at York Hall against Tony Oakey.  “Tony Oakey was definitely the best professional opponent I ever faced.  He was tough as old boots and a very underestimated boxer.  I thought very highly of Tony as an amateur.  So I went into that fight giving him loads of well-deserved respect, but I think it hindered my performance because I just stuck with my boxing.  Although I got the decision, it was very close and he still thinks he might have won.  We laugh about it from time-to-time because we’re still friends to this day.”

Peter in the ring with his English light-heavyweight belt.

Peter made one more defence of his English title, stopping Leigh Alliss in nine rounds in Bristol, before relinquishing the English belt to challenge Ovill McKenzie for the Commonwealth title.  “I boxed Ovill twice, the first time a couple of fights previous to the English title fight, and he was a very tough, big-punching guy.  I believe I was the first man ever to put Ovill down.  I gave him a shot, but, as he fell, he sort of caught me by the legs.  After the count, he got a bit of a telling off and that wound the clock down a little bit.  I like to think I might have been able to get a few more shots in before the end of the fight, but it went the distance and I won it on points.”

“When we boxed for the Commonwealth title, the fight got postponed a couple of times and I never took a break from training.  By the time it got to the fight, I’d trained too much and I’d overboiled, so everything went wrong.  Ovill put me down three times in the second round before the fight was stopped.  I just had no balance.  The referee, Marcus McDonnell, came up to me and said ‘Pete, is everything all right?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ because I didn’t realise what was happening.  Then Ovill caught me with a shot and he came in a little bit with his head accidentally, which cut my eye, and I think that was the excuse that Marcus McDonnell needed to stop the fight.  I was devastated.  I think even Ovill was shocked because, whenever we’d sparred previously, there were never any signs of him being able to do that.  But I really don’t want to take nothing off Ovill because he was never, ever given any free rides.  He worked his arse off for everything he got, and I’m glad he became Commonwealth champion that night because Ovill is good stuff and I give him all the respect in the world.”

Peter sharing the ring with his friend, Tony Oakey (photo by Philip Sharkey).

In February 2008, Peter found himself back at York Hall facing Tony Oakey again, this time for the British light-heavyweight title. aH“It was so boiling hot in York Hall that night.  While me and Tony fought like hell, there were people sitting at ringside with shorts and vests on and they were finding it hard just to lift their pints of beer up!  I gave Tony so much respect in the first fight, so the second time I decided to just go in there and take it to him.  I was marking him up and he was taking some big punches, but Tony was an absolute machine.  It got to the point where I was hitting this guy who just wasn’t moving.  In the end, I couldn’t hold my arms up.  He clipped me as I was on my toes trying to pivot away.  I went down and I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even get my bum off the floor, and he stopped me in the ninth.  But I could have hit Tony all day long with bricks, and he weren’t being denied.  So I’ve got nothing but respect for Tony.  The man is a great, great fighter.  I’m pleased to call him my friend and I was delighted to share the ring with him on both occasions.”

“My last fight was a points win against Danny Couzens at Newmarket.  They were telling me I was in line for another shot at the British title, and then everything just went quiet.  In the end, no opportunities came and I’d not long had my daughter.  So I was giving up all this time, no money was coming in and I had a little girl at home that I wasn’t seeing.  I’d finished on a win.  I had a good run.  So I decided to call it a day and become a father properly.”

“Throughout my boxing career, the support I got from my wife was great.  When I met Katie, I was 21 and she was only 18.  My sister, Lynsey, and Katie became close friends and, when I was in the ring, they were always in the background screaming out ‘Go on, Pete!’  Lynsey’s favourite one was ‘Keep your guard up,’ like I weren’t gonna do that!  While I was training and I wasn’t working, Katie was my support system really.  Financially, Katie gave me free rein to train.  I’d pick up a little bit of part-time work, but she worked really hard to support my boxing, so now I try and work hard to make sure that she gets repaid back.”

Family man.

Peter and Chris Hall have remained side-by-side as life has moved on, and nowadays they work together at the Footsteps Trust, a facility for 12 to 16 year old boys who have been permanently excluded from mainstream education in Tottenham which Chris founded in 2010.  Peter’s ‘office’ is the boxing gym.  “We want to give the young people a deflection from just education, which is what they tend to struggle with, so we put some sports around it to let out their aggression and we try and mentor them into finding a better way.”

“The cohort we’ve got at Footsteps at the moment are average size.  But we’ve had some absolute monsters, you know, 14 years old and 6ft 6in tall.  There are times when I have to break up physical fights, but usually, as soon as they see it’s me that’s getting between them, it doesn’t tend to escalate too far.  They’re just children at the end of the day.  A lot of them come from broken families and areas where it’s very, very rough, so it’s not surprising that they lose their way a little bit.  I’ve got a lot of empathy and compassion for these kids.  To see what some of them have been through is very sad.”

The majority of the pupils at Footsteps are connected with gangs and it’s not unusual for an enemy outfit to turn up looking for trouble.  It’s part of Peter’s remit to see these youths off.  “There’s been times where I’ve had to go to the door and send some guys away.  I’ve been doing this job for so long that I’ve learnt how to diffuse a situation.  I talk to these lads respectfully and let them know ‘The police will be here.  Get yourself away.  Don’t do nothing stupid.’  Nine times out of ten, they don’t really want to be doing what they’re doing.  They feel like they’re in a predicament, I’m sure.  I’ve seen some sights.  I’ve seen some bad stuff happen, but I never really feel in danger because I treat people how I want to be treated and, thank God, I’ve never had no one turn on me.  They always realise I’ve got their best interests at heart.” 

The Haymers, father and son with yours truly.

The Haymers have become an esteemed presence at our meetings, and Peter senior loves nothing more than to stand back and watch his son strutting his stuff.  In the words of the father, “I love being at LEBA with Peter.  It’s an absolute pleasure just to see the people that know him, not me, because I’m 73 now and I only had two fights as an amateur, although I did used to spar with Bunny Sterling and Lenny Gibbs and people like that.  But Peter is the boxer of the family.  I think it’s terrific what Peter achieved in boxing, and also what he does for a living.  I don’t think I could put up with some of the aggravation he gets off some of the children, and how he deals with them is fantastic.  He’s such a lovely friendly boy.  He’s not flash.  Everybody he meets seems to take a liking to him.  I couldn’t be more proud of him, and I love coming to LEBA with him every month.”

It is great news that Peter and his friend, former British bantamweight champion, Martin Power, have joined the LEBA committee.  “Me and martin go back to when he was maybe seven years old and I was about ten.  Our friendship goes so deep that he was my best man at my wedding and his wife was Katie’s bridesmaid.  It’s an honour to try and help bring in some new blood to LEBA, and we’re going to do everything we can to get LEBA kicked off in a new way.”

“The best thing about LEBA is being together with likeminded people, talking about experiences that you all share in common.  There’s respect left, right and centre throughout the whole room because we all know what heart it takes to get in the ring, to jump up in front of a lot of people and put yourself on the line.  The best people in the world are boxers, and I love to be part of it.”  

Peter with his longstanding pal and fellow LEBA committee member, Martin Power.

Anybody wishing to contact the Footsteps Trust with a view to sponsorship or donations can contact Chris Hall on 07838 132091 or

Martin “Too Much” Power (by Melanie Lloyd)

Martin “Too Much” Power (by Melanie Lloyd)

British bantamweight champion (photo by Philip Sharkey).

From the moment Martin Power walked into St Pancras ABC, he was a proper little fighter with the face of an angel who always wanted a tear-up in sparring.  He was a naturally gifted boxer with a lively personality and his trainer used to say he had muscles like Popeye.  He weighed barely four stone for his first bout.  He had 62 altogether, winning 57, including seven national championships (three schoolboys, three NABCs and one Junior ABAs).  He represented England and won eight gold medals in Box Cup tournaments around Europe, making him the most successful St Pancras boxer ever.  The club voted him their Millenium Boxer of the Year and then, at the age of 21, he turned professional and became British bantamweight champion.

Martin was born on 14 February 1980.  “So I’m a real Valentino!  I’m a traveller cockney.  I was born way inside the sound of the Bow Bells in Whitechapel Hospital.  I have three sisters and one brother.  We lived in a trailer until I was 21 years old on a site in Camden.  To be honest, the conditions on the site wasn’t the best.  Outside was just plywood on the ground over mud.  If we wanted a shower, we’d go outside to the tin toilet and run a hosepipe in there from the cold water mains.  We never had hot water until I was about 17.  My brother, Sean, still lives there and it’s all modernised now.  Sean was a good boxer too.  He was schoolboy champion, he boxed for England and won gold medals.”

“All traveller children box, and it was handy for me that St Pancras was round the corner from where I lived.  The showers never worked properly and they were lukewarm, but that was luxury to me.  None of the other kids would use them, but I’d be in there thinking ‘This is amazing!’  I was about six years old when I started going down the gym, but I started boxing properly when I was eight.  I was only titchy and I had these skinny little arms, but I had big biceps.”

“When I was growing up, there was a fella who used to train at the gym who used to call me Skeletor.  His boxed under the name, Adrian Dodson.  Adrian was American and he was the Golden Gloves champion.  He was ABA champion and he represented England in the Olympics in Seol and Barcelona, and he was an unbelievable fighter.  He’d be on the speedball and he’d ask me ‘Can you time me?’ and, just for that alone, I felt privileged.  He was a great fella and I used to look up to him massively as a kid, and that’s what he used to call me, Skeletor.”

Martin after his second amateur fight, which he won by first round stoppage.

“I went to primary school around the corner from our camp.  I wouldn’t say I was a good little boy.  I’d say I was very good at being bad.  Me and school didn’t agree, but I was liked by all the teachers.  I was never going to learn, but I was always polite.  When I turned 11, I left school and went to work with my father doing strong manual work like construction and rubbish removal.  I reckon that helped me mature quicker than what normal kids would have.”

Angel Face: Martin pictured with his first trainer, Big Phil Pierson, and his dad.

“My first trainer at St Pancras was a man called ‘Big Phil Pierson’.  Phil’s character was as big as him and everyone loved him.  When I reached 11, I started as a junior with Brian John.  Brian was in my corner right the way through.  He must have been in the amateurs now for 35 years and, back then, he was the youngest coach about.  Brian loved it as much as we did, and he was so dedicated.  He used to drive us about all over the country.  Back then, St Pancras never had no money and the majority of everything was out of Brian’s own pocket.”

A Proper Little Fighter: Martin in the ring with his longstanding amateur coach, Brian John.

“I actually remember my first amateur fight.  It was a Dale Youth show against a kid called Barrett, who wasn’t a bad kid, but I’d been sparring with lots of older, stronger people than me.  I think I weighed about 27kg, which is tiny.  After that first fight, I stopped a lot of kids and, at that kind of weight and age, you don’t really stop many opponents.  It was hard to match me, so the majority of my fights were in the championships.”

Of all his championship victories, Martin’s favourite was the schoolboys, holding the title consecutively from1993 to 1995.  “The schoolboys was the number one championship to win.  I won three and I reached a fourth final.  All the travellers were home tutored and I think some of their birth certificates must have got mixed up.  I remember Docherty fighting Rooney and the doctor had to ask Doherty to have a shave before the fight!  In my first two schoolboy finals, I fought Gareth Monaghan from Wales, and the second one was my toughest fight until I was 16, which was the first time I got beat after winning 33 in a row.”

“I used to love going away and boxing for England.  I boxed four times in Northern Ireland.  I’ve still got lots of family in Ireland and they all came and watched, and they came over to England on them occasions when I was a schoolboy.  I was multinational gold medallist in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and France.  The trip to France was my favourite.  We stayed in log-cabins in the middle of a forest.  It was like a Center Parcs.  The England squad I was with included David Haye and Carl Froch, and there was a little fella, Gary Jones, that I’ll never forget.  He was a 5ft 1in light-flyweight and, whenever we were out clubbing, he’d always find the biggest man to pick on that you’d ever seen in your life!  I had some amazing times, and Brian John paid for all them trips out of his own pocket.”

“Being on the England squad, most weekends we had to go to Crystal Palace, and I hated it.  I loved fighting, but training wasn’t my thing.  You’d get all the boys from up north, Liverpool, Manchester.  It would be snowing, and they’d come downstairs with little shorts and vests on to go running in the morning.  I’d be wrapped up in a big jumper, and they used to call us ‘southern fairies’.  My father used to tell me to train hard, fight easy, but I was my own worst enemy.  If only we could have time back again.”

“I reached two senior ABA finals against Steve Foster Junior.  The first one, I was way ahead going into the third round, and then he pulled it back and he beat me by two points.  Joe Gallagher was Steve’s trainer and, every time I see Joe to this day, he always congratulates me.  He says it’s the best amateur fight he’s witnessed in the corner.  Steve won the second time by a wider points margin, but both those ABA finals were great fights and the atmosphere was brilliant.  I wasn’t in many dull fights.  I was always exciting, even if I was on the receiving end.”

Martin sharing a moment with his professional trainer, Johnny Eames.

“Then I turned pro.  Pretty early on, Johnny Eames became my trainer.  Johnny is a gentleman.  I wanted to be with the best and Johnny had the best stable in London.  My two main sparring partners were Lee Beavis and Matthew Marsh.  Me and Lee both boxed out of northwest London and, as amateurs, we were two of the best in England.  Matthew and I were around the same weight, but he used to walk around at about 11 stone, so he was massive compared to me.  Those two fellas brought me on so much and, to this day, we’re all the best of friends.”

Stablemates: Martin with Lee Beavis.
Stablemates: Martin with Matthew Marsh.

Martin won his pro debut on points at York Hall against Sean Grant, who weighed in 8lb heavier.  “I came in at super-fly and he was almost a featherweight.  He was much taller than me and, by the time he’d rehydrated, he was massive.  Another huge one I boxed early on was Anthony Hanna.  We ended up having a proper war and it was a very close fight.  I should have got on my boxing more and moved around him, but, because he was so big, it was like hitting a heavy bag.  I was often matched against much bigger guys, and I’m not actually sure why that was.”

“Quite often, I’d be boxing late replacement opponents.  The fight before I won the British title, I boxed a Mongolian fella who lived in Oldham called Shinny Bayaar.  He was a late replacement.  I was meant to fight a fella called Joseph Agbeko for the Commonwealth title.  I heard that he got medical money off the promotor and he done a runner.  He ended up going to America and he won world titles, so it would have been a hard fight anyway.  I was on top form against Shinny Bayaar.  I well beat him on points, and he went on to be British champion after that.”

In his eighteenth fight, Martin fought Dale Robinson for the vacant British bantamweight title.  “Dale Robinson beat me in the NABC finals.  He was about 5ft 1in, and I thought ‘I’m gonna smash this fella to bits.’  I give him a bit of a hiding for the first round and, halfway through the second, I just died.  When we fought for the British title, it was very close.  He put me down in the eleventh round, but I never got put down.  He come into me and he lifted me up by my shoulder.  But I heat-butted him in the second round, so I reckon that was a bit of karma coming back at me.  If I hadn’t seen that fight on tape, I would’ve sworn on my life that I didn’t head-butt him.  But, when I was in there, I’d do anything to win, and that was just an automatic reaction.  Dale was flyweight Commonwealth champion and he’d just stepped up in weight and, that night, I thought ‘I’m winning this fight whatever happens.’  When they wrapped that Lonsdale Belt around my waist, I was so happy that I think I even gave Frank Maloney a kiss!”

Martin won his first British title defence via a split decision against Ian Napa.  The ringside mood at York Hall was fierce, and there were anxious moments when the referee halted the action during the sixth round. “It ended up kicking off in the crowd, and all I kept thinking about was a friend of mine called Gokhan Kazaz.  He fought the week before at York Hall under a different promotion.  All his crowd were Turks and they were all fighting, so his purse was suspended.  I’m in the corner thinking ‘As bad and as hard this fight is, I’m not gonna get paid!’  But me and Ian had a great fight that night.  In the interview afterwards, I said ‘There was only one winner.’  But, when I watched it back, it was a very close fight.”

Martin returned to York Hall to defend his title against Isaac Ward, a fellow Irish travelling man.  They were both unbeaten and ferociously supported.  Martin put Ward down in the first and rocked him in the fourth.  Ward knocked Martin’s gum-shield out twice in the third.  Martin put Ward down again in the eighth and the fight was stopped.  “The night I defended my British title against Isaac Ward was my favourite fight as a professional boxer.  I was in the best shape and the performance came out and showed.  It all clicked into place.”

“Four weeks later, Frank Maloney said ‘I want you to fight for the vacant Commonwealth title.’  So I agreed to fight this African fella called Tshifhiwa Munyai.  After the weigh-in, I seen Munyai and I thought ‘I’m gonna demolish this skinny little man.’  The bookies had me 1-66 on to win.  He was 100-1 on to stop me in any round.  This kid wasn’t meant to be any good whatsoever.  I seen him the next day and he’d rehydrated and filled out, and what an opponent he turned out to be!”

“He was tall and rangy and we had an absolute war.  It was stopped in the ninth.  He caught me with a shot.  I caught him with a right hand/left hook, but the referee jumped in and stopped it.  I was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards at the time and the fight should never have been stopped.  But Frank Maloney was banging on the canvas, ‘Stop the fight!’  I’m not saying it was because Munyai was 100-1 to win in any round, but Munyai did leave with Frank Maloney and he became Maloney’s fighter.”

“Six months later, Maloney offered me either another defence of my British title or fight Munyai again for the Commonwealth, and I wanted to fight Munyai again.  I wanted to prove that I should’ve beat him the first time, but I’d picked up a shoulder injury.  A few weeks before we were due to fight, I had to pull out.  When we eventually did fight again, the shoulder injury was still there and I ended up retiring on my stool at the end of the fourth.  Tshifhiwa Munyai is still boxing now.  He was South African lightweight champion until very recently.”

His shoulder kept him out of action for ten months, and Martin had to relinquish his British title.  Ian Napa beat Jason Booth for the vacant title and, once he was fit enough, Martin challenged Napa for his old title.  Napa won a points decision, and Martin readily concedes the right man won.  “You couldn’t hit Ian clean.  It was unreal, the way he’d have that shoulder tucked around.  If Ian had world class punching power with the skills he’s got, he would have won every title out there, and Ian’s still a friend of mine to this day.  He’s a brilliant dude.” 

Martin had his final fight at the age of 31 against Kevin Satchell.  “What happened with Kevin Satchell was I aged.  I wasn’t fast anymore.  I remember he put me over in the second round.  Maybe, if we’d fought in our prime, it would have been a good fight, but he was too quick.  He went on to win the British, Commonwealth and European titles, so it weren’t like I got beat by a nobody.  I’ve met Kevin at shows over the years and he’s a lovely fella.”

“Growing up, I never watched boxing.  I don’t know if that was because I was around it so much or what.  But now I actually follow it.  I do personal training and I’ve got my pro trainer’s licence.  But my wife and my four kids come first.  That’s why I haven’t got any boxers because you have to dedicate 100 per cent of your time to them, which I’m planning on doing when my kids are bigger.”

Old Friends and Sparring Partners: Martin with Ricky Mann.

“The majority of my phonebook is friends through boxing, men like Ricky Mann, who I used to spar with regular at Newham boxing gym when I was a kid.  Ricky was the year above me, schoolboy champion, national champion and boxing for England.  I used to love going to parties round Ricky’s place and talking with his father, who recently passed away, about people we ain’t seen for 20-odd years, ‘Schoolboy champion this and that’ and ‘Do you remember such-and-such fight?’  To this day, me and Ricky chat about great things all the time.”

“There’s another two great men who have been in my life all the way through.  That’s Steve Hoier and Chris Mann, who were on the committee at St Pancras and I’ve known them since I was eight.  When I was about 14, I think I’d boxed in the schoolboy semi-finals and we ended up in a place called Chippenham.  That night, everyone tried to get into a nightclub and Steve Hoier told the bouncers at the door that I was the senior ABA flyweight champion and I was 21, and they let me in the club.  I was only 14.  I was tiny!  Thinks like that bring back some great memories for me.” 

“When I was boxing in France with the England squad, the bell went and all I could hear was these voices shouting for me and it was Steve Hoier and Chris Mann.  Both of them were there.  They never even told anyone they were coming and they just turned up in the middle of nowhere.  They’re that kind of people.  Even now, to this day, they still help me out and, every year, without fail, I receive a Christmas card from them and all my kids receive birthday cards with money in them, always saying ‘Take your family out and have a meal on us.’  They’re so genuine.  They never want any glory.  They never try to get their name mentioned, which is why I really wanted to mention them here.  It’s lovely to have people like that in your life.”

Martin at the London Ex Boxers Association with old pal, Peter Haymer, and yours truly.

“Me and Peter Haymer met at St Pancras.  We grew up together and we’re great pals.  When Peter started coming to the London Ex Boxers Association with his father, he was telling me to come along.  I knew about LEBA from 2004 when I got the London Prospect of the Year award, and the trophy was beautiful.  The great thing about LEBA is there’s always so much to talk about because we’re all from the same world.  I’m now on the committee, especially for recruiting younger people to join the organisation, and I’m loving it.  When you retire from the ring, there’s a massive hole in your life, but being a member of LEBA makes me feel that I’m still part of boxing. At LEBA, they have a saying and it’s so true. They always say ‘It’s nice to belong.'”

Mark Lazarus – QPR Star (by Melanie Lloyd)

Mark Lazarus – QPR Star (by Melanie Lloyd)

Mark in his Prime
Mark in his Prime

As an amateur boxer, Mark Lazarus favoured the noble art of defence and ring generalship.  As a professional footballer, he was definitely more of a reactionary spirit.  In his era, the leather football soaking wet and caked with mud was comparable to a medicine ball, and heavy tactics were entrenched in the game.  Mark was a right-winger who took intimidation in his stride and, as a result of his hard-running and fearless approach, together with his instinctive propensity to outwit the fullbacks, cut in and score goals, he became one of the most sought after players in the country. 

During his 20 year professional career, Mark made 606 appearances in total and scored 151 goals.  He played for Leyton Orient, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford and Crystal Palace, but his true love was Queens Park Rangers, for whom he played 206 times and put 76 balls into the back of the net.  He completed three separate stints for QPR, during the third of which he scored the winner against West Bromwich Albion in front of a crowd of 100,000 at Wembley, ensuring that Rangers became the first ever Third Division team to win the Football League Cup.

It is now 50 years Mark scored that goal, and he has been in great demand during the celebrations.  “West Bromwich Albion were a very, very good First Division side.  We were 2-0 down, and we came back and beat them 3-2.  Because it’s the 50 year anniversary, I’ve been to QPR and Wembley, I’ve been to a questions and answers session, I’ve been to a new strip fitting, I’ve been to the NFL Awards where we were honoured by the rest of the football community, and that’s all for this occasion.  Because I scored the winning goal, I’ve been right at the forefront of it all.  It’s been very enjoyable, but quite emotional as well.  The whole thing has brought back a lot of old feelings, and football clubs don’t do this often enough.  When we go to the boxing meetings, all the boxers go there regularly.  Football clubs aren’t like that.  They haven’t got the same solidarity with their ex-players.  They come, they go, and they’re forgotten.  It’s like Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal, in the past, they’ve won major tournaments, but their ex-players don’t get to go back to the club and meet the players that they played with.  It’s not the same as boxing.”

Mark with Chris Guy (QPR Fan Advisor)

Mark was born on 5th December 1938 in Stepney.  He was one of eight boys and five girls, and they were a formidable family.  All the boys boxed, most notably Harry and Lew, who boxed professionally and prolifically under the name Lazar, and the girls were also capable combatants.  “My brothers in order of age were Harry, David, Eddie, Lew, Mossie, Bobby, me, and Joe.  My eldest sister’s name was Rosie.  Then came Rayner, who was Harry’s twin.  Then came Carol, then Sarah, and my youngest sister’s name was Betty.  My sister, Carol, was a right tearaway.  She was the best fighter in the boys’ school!”

When Mark was six years old, the Lazarus family moved to Chadwell Heath.  “That was in 1945, just after the war finished, and Essex was very different for us coming from the East End.  You’d hardly see a car, just horses trotting down the Arterial Road.  We were possibly the only Jewish people out that far, and I wouldn’t call it abuse, but we did used to get called a lot of names on our way to and from school.  My mother said ‘If anybody calls you anything to do with Jews, you go and sort them out.’  So we used to do that daily.  It earned us a reputation that other people got to know, and they were very wary.”

“My dad’s name was Isaac, and he was quite interested in boxing, but he didn’t take the same sort of interest as my mum did.  My mum was called Martha, and she used to watch me play all the time.  She wouldn’t miss a game, and she was the same with Lew and Harry.  She was at all their fights.  My mum was a very, very proud woman of all her children.  In my house, when we got up in the morning and we were downstairs chatting, it wasn’t ‘How did Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea get on yesterday?’  It was ‘How did Sugar Ray Robinson get on?’  We’d talk about Randolph Turpin, Freddie Mills, Bruce Woodcock and Joe Baksi.  There was never any football spoken in my house.  It was all boxing.  I enjoyed playing football at school and things like that, but I didn’t know anything about football or football players.”

“I used to go with my brother, Lew, when he was training at Jack Solomons’ gym in Windmill Street, and I became Snowy Buckingham’s right-hand boy.  I’d be the one that would undo the boots of Yolande Pompey, Jake Tuli, Alex Buxton and Henry Cooper.  I used to get their skipping ropes for them.  I used to help them on with their gloves, and Jack Solomons used to order me around; ‘Go and sit on his legs while he does his press-ups,’ and things like that.  I helped with Terry Downes as well, who’s finished up a very good mate of mine, and I went all over the show with Sammy McCarthy.”

“I boxed for three different clubs, Dagenham Trades, Lawnsway and Stepney & St George’s.  I didn’t have that many fights, but I never got beat.  I boxed at Mile End Baths against a fella, I think his name was Burke, who was the London Federation Boys’ Champion, and I boxed the London Schoolboy Champion who boxed against the Golden Gloves Team from America.  I think I was a better boxer than I was a footballer and I could have turned to boxing quite easy, but I was playing football quite a bit and a lot of clubs wanted me to sign for them.  When I signed for Leyton Orient as a professional, the Amateur Boxing Association stopped me from boxing.  So I think I took the right step.”

“I was in the same Sunday team as Jimmy Greaves, and we played alongside each other on the district side as well.  Jimmy and I were the best of friends, even down to coming home and having what we had to eat at the time and going to the pictures in the afternoon.  In them days, I was 14 and Jimmy was 13, and he really took hold of the tails of my shirt and followed me around everywhere.”

When Mark was 15 years old, he joined Wingate Football Club, which was an all Jewish side.  “When I was playing football, amateurs never got paid, and there was the old saying that you’d find a couple of quid in your boot after the game.  I was playing for the Fulham youth team at the time, and Wingate offered me more than a couple of quid to play for them.  So it was nothing to do with religion or anything like that.  It was strictly all down to money.  Bearing in mind that it’s a long time ago now, I can’t remember all of the names, but Frankie Vaughan was on the Wingate team, and I remember Sam Soraf’s nephew, Lenny, played for us as a centre forward.”

In 1957, Leyton Orient manager, Alec Stock, spotted Mark’s talent and signed him up.  “I played my first game for Leyton Orient just before I went in the army to do my National Service.  I was in the Royal Artillery, and I hated every minute of it.  Bearing in mind I’d just turned pro as a footballer at the age of 19, they took two years of my life, which was just really starting.  All of a sudden, I was taken away from that environment to become a soldier, which I couldn’t handle either.  I was posted at Woolwich, which was just across the water.  Every Saturday when I played for Orient, all I had to do was get on the ferry, so that was no hardship.  The hardship of it was being in the army itself.”

“While I was in the army, Alec Stock moved from Leyton Orient to Queens Park Rangers.  I still played for Orient right up until I got demobbed in 1960, and the new manager there, Les Gore, told me quite frankly that he didn’t think I had a career left in me, but Alec Stock did and he wanted me to go to QPR, and that was the story of how I went over to Rangers.”

“I wouldn’t say I was an aggressive player, but I was retaliatory.  If someone kicked me, I wanted to kick them back.  If they insulted me in any way, I was prone to knock them down.  I stood up for myself.  The word was that most of the wingers were frightened of certain fullbacks in my day.  But I got in where it hurt, and the fullbacks and defenders knew that they wouldn’t be able to kick me or shove me around.  I’d go past a fullback and he’d say ‘You go past me again and I’ll break your legs,’ and I used to just laugh at them.  They were more or less the same size as me, some of them bigger, some of them nuttier, and some of them older.  Sometimes, they came down the ranks from the First Division, and they weren’t as quick or as good as they were, so they reverted to kicking you instead.   I was brought up with football as a contact sport.  Today, if you touch anybody, the referee blows for a foul on you.  I’d have been sent off every game if I was playing today.”

“I never asked for a transfer from Queens Park Rangers.  I was the top dog there, I loved it and they didn’t want me to go.  But other clubs were coming after me, and Wolverhampton Wanderers was the top team in the country.  They were as big as Manchester United are today.  Nobody wanted to refuse to go to Wolverhampton Wanderers in them days, so I signed with them for a record fee at the time of £27,500.  But I was never happy at Wolverhampton.  There were personality clashes with Stan Cullis, who was the manager at Wolves at the time.  I never agreed to live in Wolverhampton.  When I signed for them, he promised me that I wouldn’t have to.  Once I’d signed, he went back on his word and kept telling me to come up there.  The whole thing really was a mistake.  Stan Cullis was a sergeant major in the army and he produced that attitude as a manager.  He was one of those types of people that I just couldn’t get on with, so I asked to get away.”

“Alec Stock, who loved me to pieces, as a player that is, had no hesitancy in bringing me back to Queens Park Rangers, and it was like I’d come home.  I got a very good ovation from the fans when I went back, and I carried on where I’d left off.  I used to enjoy my football, and I suppose I was a character.  I used to give them a little bit of showmanship.  I used to do a lap of honour once I scored a goal, and I used to shake people’s hands on the touchline.  In them days, we made ourselves accessible to the fans.  We used to travel to matches with them on the train and spend time with them at the supporters’ club, and they enjoyed it as much as we did.”

50th Anniversary Program to Commemorate THAT goal!

In 1964, Mark was sold again, this time to Brentford, where he spent two years, made 62 appearances and scored 20 goals, before he returned to QPR for the final time.  He set a record for the same player returning to the same side and, on 4th March 1967, in that hallowed Cup Final against West Bromwich Albion, Mark scored the winning goal in the 81st minute.  “People always ask me what it felt like to score at Wembley, but it doesn’t register with you at the time.  We were professional people and things happen in a split second.  I took my chance, I shot the ball into the back of the net, and it just happened to be the winning goal.  So that’s more significant than, say, Roger Morgan who scored the first goal or Rodney Marsh who scored the second goal.  When you score the winning goal, there’s much more to it.  Being a winger, if someone else is in a better position to score, then you give him the chance to score.  Although I got a lot of pleasure out of laying on goals for other people, it’s not the same feeling as scoring yourself.”

In 1967, Mark became a wanted man again, this time by the manager of Crystal Palace, Bert Head, who was convinced that Mark was the key player to achieving promotion.  Mark played for Palace for two years, and they were indeed promoted to the First Division for the first time.  “Towards the end of my career, before I went to Crystal Palace, there was Reading and there was Luton Town who were pushing for promotion as well.  Both these teams came to get me, because they knew that I’d get them there.  Then, when I left Crystal Palace, I went back to Leyton Orient and they were promoted to the Second Division.  I got promotion with three teams on the trot.  But I’d had enough by then.  I had a transport business running while I was at Orient, and I was a bad trainer to begin with.  After 20 years, I didn’t like the thought of getting up in the morning and going training, running round pitches and things like that.”

Having left major league football, Mark finished his career back where he began, at Wingate Football Club, an outcome which suited him down to the ground.  “I was at the end of my career and Wingate said ‘We’ll give you a few quid to come and play for us.’  So I just accepted that.  It was nice to get back there, and I was only too pleased to play for them again.  They said ‘You don’t have to come training.  All we want you to do is play for us on a Saturday, and we’ll give you so much a game.’  Seeing as I wasn’t doing anything, I thought it was the perfect thing for me.”

“When you’ve done what I’ve done, it’s been mainly for money.  It hasn’t been for the love of the game, or anything like that.  But, when I was playing in the First Division with Wolverhampton, money never came into it then.  I took a big drop in wages to go back to QPR, because I knew I’d be happy there.  I had a love affair with QPR, and I had a very good relationship with the fans, but I also had a very good association with the fans at Brentford.  It was the same when I was at Crystal Palace and Leyton Orient.  So I wasn’t money orientated all my life.”

Mark has been a regular at the London Ex Boxers Association for the best part of 20 years, and he is proud to belong.  “I became a member of LEBA when the meetings were being held at King’s Cross.  I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing my idols, like Sammy McCarthy and Johnny Pritchett and, of course, it’s just the whole comradeship of it all.  I don’t go to a synagogue, but, if I was to go, I’d sooner go to one like LEBA, because I think it’s just a lovely morning.”

Spending a beautiful Sunday morning in Mark’s company at the London Ex Boxers Association x