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.
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.
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.”
“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 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 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.”
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.”
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 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.”
Anybody wishing to contact the Footsteps Trust with a view to sponsorship or donations can contact Chris Hall on 07838 132091 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.'”
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 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.”
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.”
They used to call him ‘The Wapping Assassin’ and, when he was in his boxing prime, Jimmy Flint was one of the most feared punchers in the British featherweight division. Always fierce and electric to watch, Jimmy was a big favourite with the London crowds, but he never let that go to his head. He wasn’t that type of man, although he still remains very proud of the fact that Johnny Owen once asked him for his autograph in the changing room. Jimmy started boxing as a tiny tearaway at Broad Street in Stepney before joining Repton boxing club in Bethnal Green, where he became national junior ABA champion, he won the NABCs and the London ABAs as a senior.
“When I first boxed, I used to weigh 4st 7lb and, to be honest, I was a little sod. I was always fighting on the street all the time. But, even back then, I had to throw loads of punches. They always used to talk about me being a hard puncher, but I worked so hard at learning to become a puncher. I’ll never forget watching José Nápoles talking on the television when he was a younger man about how he practised his punching power, how he turned his body and used his feet. So I got a mirror and, after I’d been out running for an hour or so, I used to just practise moving my feet backwards and forwards and pushing my hands forward. Then, as I reached about 16 years old, I started knocking lots of people out with a short right-hand punch, and then the left hook over the top came as I got a bit older. But it ain’t just power. It’s technique. My dad used to say to me ‘Jimmy, punch like the pistons of a steam-train.’”
Jimmy turned professional with Terry Lawless and Mickey Duff, training at the Royal Oak in Canning Town alongside the likes of John H. Stracey, Johnny Waldron, Dave Armstrong, Charlie Magri, Maurice Hope, Jimmy Batten, Sylvester Mittee and Kirkland Laing, the latter of whom always brings a smile to Jimmy’s face. “Kirkland was a lovely bloke. He had such a nice nature and he was a proper character. When he used to sit in the corner between rounds, he used to whistle! Me and Kirkland used to go running together a lot and we used to spar with each other all the time. I sparred with Sylvester Mittee and he was okay with me, Sylvester was. He moved well. I sparred with Jimmy Batten a thousand rounds and I sparred with John Stracey, Maurice Hope, all of them.”
In 1973 at the age of 23, Jimmy made his professional debut and, three and a half years later, he won the Southern Area featherweight title by stopping Mark Bliss in the fourth round at the Royal Albert Hall. Big things were expected from Jimmy Flint by the boxing business, and he expected big things of himself. “The truth is that the Southern Area title was just a steppingstone to the next one as far as I was concerned. I was miles away from where I wanted to be. Mark Bliss was a very good fighter. I’m sure he could have been British champion, but I just got in his way. I went on to box for the British title against Pat Cowdell, but I wasn’t myself in that ring that night and he won our fight fair and square. Lawless and Duff had a few featherweights, and they held me back and held me back, not that I’m saying it was a bad thing. I was 30 nearly when I was finished. In my day, 30 was old, and I didn’t want to box on beyond 30.”
There was no official retirement announcement. Jimmy’s boxing career came to a halt in a somewhat circumstantial fashion. After his thirtieth and final fight, while he was waiting for a promised phone call that never came, he began to realise that he didn’t need boxing anymore and he made the decision to walk away. He never made much money between the ropes and boxing certainly never did him any favours, but Jimmy was never the kind of man who expected any favours.
“I was raised in two rooms with an outside toilet. I’ve never asked anybody for nothing. I didn’t expect anyone to give me any money, like they have these tribute nights for fighters to get them some money. No one gave me nothing, so I thought ‘Well, I’m going to have to go to work.’ So I got a job at the casino driving their big spending punters about. I got the job because I knew the fella in charge. He was an amateur boxer. He knew I was no chauffeur, but he gave me the job anyway. I never used to speak too much to people because I had no vocabulary. My dad used to do all the talking. But, when I got that job, I started to earn real money and become independent, and it changed my whole life.”
“That was when I became an actor. One day, this guy called Johnnie Quarrell knocked on my door. He had written a play called The Third and Final Round and it was being put on at the Half Moon Theatre, and he wanted me to do down there to get involved. I still looked very young and I played an amateur boxer, and then the director said to me ‘Listen, Jimmy, you’re a cockney and we’d like you to speak.’ I said ‘If I’m no good, drop me out.’ So I started speaking, and that’s how it started. Then the film director, Ron Peck, put me in a film called Empire State and it all took off from there.”
Jimmy’s association with Ron Peck formed the foundation for two iconic boxing films. First was the compelling documentary, Fighters, in which, at one point, Jimmy is being interviewed by Peck in Jim’s mum’s front room. The moment when Jimmy stands over Peck with such understated menace while he calmly confides that he might “let one go” when he’s walking down the street is classic. Then came the film, Real Money, in which Jimmy Tibbs plays an old-school boxing trainer and Jimmy Flint is a malevolent drug dealer who is blatantly stealing Tibbs’ fighters away and setting them on the road to hell. The story builds to a sensational showdown between the two Jimmys, when Tibbs smashes Flint across the face with the butt of a gun.
“I’m still great friends with Ron Peck. I’ve learned a lot from Ron, and another man who I’ve learned a lot about acting from is Stephen Berkoff. I first met Stephen when we were in the film, The Krays. Stephen taught me all about Shakespeare and I acted in one of his plays called Brighton Beach Scumbags. I’m there with all these actors and, when the play first opened up, they said to me ‘Jimmy, are you nervous?’ I said ‘Why should I be nervous? I’ve boxed in the Albert Hall in front of thousands of people. Do you think I’m nervous getting on the stage? No one’s gonna hit me.’ The thing with acting is you don’t get many working class people like me. This lot were all talking about how they went to RADA and the Guildford School of Arts and all that. Then they asked me ‘Where did you train, Jimmy?’ I told them ‘I did my training at the Thomas A’Becket and the Royal Oak!’”
Jimmy might not have been punched in the face during his acting career (although the gun thing with Jimmy Tibbs looked pretty close to me), but the acting business can be just as impossibly hard to navigate as boxing if you haven’t got the right connections. The knockbacks, lies and disappointments are all part of the game, but Jimmy has persevered and he has channelled the same energy and intensity that he applied between the ropes into his performances on the stage and in front of the camera. He has appeared in various films, such as Rise of the Footsoldier and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He has also appeared in several TV shows, such as The Bill, Casualty, Kavanagh QC and the mini-series, The Jump. He has written and performed his own one-man stage show about his life in which he plays the part of 20 different characters, and he has been shortlisted twice (down to the last five) by the British Film Institute to make his own film.
Jimmy’s most recent project is his YouTube channel, Wapping Assassin TV. Together with his friend, film-maker and producer, Steve Katz, Jimmy travels about interviewing a wide range of subjects. He went to Ireland to meet greyhound breeder, Sean Conway, and he goes to see one of his old professional opponents, Paddy Graham, who trains the amateurs at Clonard ABC in Belfast. In his film, Canning Town Voices, Jimmy walks the streets of his old stamping ground interviewing the locals, and he certainly appears comfortable in his role on the interrogative side of the camera.
“I’ve known Steve Katz for about five years now and we decided to create our own programme with me doing the talking. I wouldn’t say I was a presenter, but I can do it in my own style. I thought ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to act this?’ Then I thought ‘Just be yourself, Jim, and go with that,’ and it seems to be working.”
Since its inception, members of the London Ex Boxers Association who have featured on Wapping Assassin TV include Joe Lazar and the late, great Sammy McCarthy. Another LEBA regular who makes an entertaining appearance in one of Jimmy’s films is Roy Hilton, one of his former Repton contemporaries. During the interview, Roy acknowledges that it was sparring with Jimmy and Sylvester Mittee that prepared him to be strong and ready to go off and win the ABAs, although Roy confesses that he hated sparring with Jimmy because he was “an evil bastard who was always wanting to destroy whatever was in front of him,” a declaration which made Jimmy laugh heartily. “That was just concentration, that’s all. One fella I used to spar with was a good fighter who became a multimillionaire, and he said ‘When I sparred with that Flinty, it was like looking into the eyes of a shark.’ But that’s what you’ve got to do, ain’t it? I wanted to be the best. Of course I did.”
“I’ve been going to LEBA meetings for quite a while now. It was Peter Stanley who persuaded me to come along. I used to know Peter from around my local manor years ago, but I never saw him for a long time. Then, when I was in my early forties, I decided to get back into training, just to keep in shape. I started going down the Peacock Gym in Canning Town regularly and, by this time, Peter had become a trainer. Peter kept mentioning LEBA to me, but I was always one of them people where I felt that I should have achieved what I should have achieved, in my brain, to me, because I had the ability. Then, when it never happened, I just didn’t like the thought of going back there, if you know what I’m saying. That’s probably why I kept away, and then Peter Stanley said to me ‘Come on, Jimmy, you should come to LEBA,’ so I did and I’m very glad that I did.”
At our big comeback meeting in September this year, Jimmy and Steve brought their camera along to film the occasion for Wapping Assassin TV. Jimmy conducted interviews with several of our members, and the timing and expertise with which they have put it together is excellent. It truly captures the energy and the spirit of LEBA, and it is currently going down a storm on social media. “That idea came from Peter Stanley. He said ‘Jim, I want you to come along and film LEBA’s comeback. Can you do that?’ There are so many great characters at the meetings, and everybody in the film comes across so well. Michael Watson doesn’t say a lot, but what he does say is solid gold. With Sylvester Mittee, all you need is one line of poetry and that’s perfect, and I loved the 96 year old gentleman, Peter Kent. He’s unbelievable.”
“These days, I’m happy with life. I’ve got no regrets. Maybe I could have gone further in the boxing. Who knows? The main thing is I’m still quite fit and my brain is still there, still sharp. I still pop into the Repton every now and then. I went back there for the first time in ages a while ago and, when I walked in and told this fella that I was Jimmy Flint, he said ‘You’re not Jimmy Flint.’ I said ‘I am Jimmy Flint.’ So the fella says to me ‘You can’t be Jimmy Flint. Jimmy Flint is an old man.’ The man thought that I looked too young to be Jimmy Flint, so that made me feel pretty good.”
“What I like about LEBA is the friendship. Back when we were boxing, there was a lot of rivalry. But, when you get to LEBA, there’s no rivalry. It’s just friendship. No matter if you were champion of the world or you lost a dozen fights, they treat you with the same mentality. It really is a great to be back at LEBA on Sunday mornings to mix with all the boxers, and Steve and myself look forward to filming their fiftieth anniversary dinner in February next year for Wapping Assassin TV.”