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

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

Tasty Young Amateur

Tasty Young Amateur








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Rowe, Larry O'Connell and Ronnie Smith.

Mark Rowe, Larry O’Connell and Ronnie Smith.

GARY HOBBS (Former Southern Area middleweight champion)

GARY HOBBS (Former Southern Area middleweight champion)







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

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

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

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

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

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



Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth

Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth.







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

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

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

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.








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

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

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky's corner.

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky’s corner.







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

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

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

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.







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

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

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAT THOMPSON (Former Central Area light-heavyweight champion)

PAT THOMPSON (Former Central Area light-heavyweight champion)

Pat Thompson

The affable assassin.

His friends call him Killer, but one would be hard pushed to encounter a more amicable assassin than Pat Thompson.  When he speaks about what boxing has meant to him throughout his life, his face lights up with boyish enthusiasm.  He was born in Merseyside and his formative years were shaped by the fact that Liverpool was still recovering from the aftereffects of the Blitz, not that the lingering war damage prevented Pat and his chums from having fun.  “In the street where I lived, some of the houses were bombed, but they just hadn’t had time to knock them down and rebuild them.  We used to play in them, trying to catch pigeons and all that.  There was one particular street called Reading Street and there were all different landings and, at the back of them, people used to play dice and crap games, and everything was good.”

“I didn’t come from a traditional boxing family.  There was my mam and dad, and my three brothers and three sisters.  One of my brothers boxed, but that was about it.  They did an interview with me years ago, and I’ve still got the tape somewhere.  They introduced my mother and they asked her ‘What do you think when your son is boxing and he’s getting hurt and getting battered?’  My mam turned round and said ‘He’s big enough to batter them back!'”

“In the neighbourhood, all the kids were boxing.  I used to read about these fellas being good boxers, and the first club I ever joined was the Maple Leaf, but I wasn’t there for very long.  Then I joined the Liverpool Transport Club.  But, with me being a big lad, I was always a bit big to fight the other kids, so I only had a few amateur fights, about 15 or 20.  Having said that, I boxed for England and I won a silver medal in the Multi Nations tournament in Denmark, because I was good, see.  I got to the final and I got beat by a guy, and I can’t think of his name now, but he came in with a big Viking hat on him!  He was a giant and I suppose I was maybe a bit scared of him, instead of not worrying about him.  I went the three rounds with him, but I was grabbing and holding because he was a lot bigger and heavier than me.  But I won the silver medal anyway.”

“I joined the Merchant Navy when I was 15.  I went into the sea school and they used to have boxing matches every month, and I used to win all the time.  Then, after about three months, I went back to Liverpool to get on a ship.  I was on all sorts of ships, cargo boats, iron ore boats, passenger ships and tankers, and I was in the Merchant Navy for seven years.  I’ll always remember my first trip.  I was only 15, turning 16, and we went to Montreal.  It took us about a week to get there, and I remember coming off the ship and thinking ‘Blimey, they’ve got pigeons here!’  I didn’t realise that there were pigeons all over the world.”

“I was always training on the ships.  When I was on the deck on lookout, when I was supposed to be looking for ships, I’d be shadowboxing all the time to pass the time away.  One of the last ships I was on was the Empress of Canada, which used to cruise all around the Caribbean.  All the American tourists would be on the ship and we’d put boxing shows on for them, and then we’d go round with the bucket and collect all the dollars.  We’d have a share out and we’d all get drunk, and then we used to get fined a day’s pay because we all had hangovers.  But it was great.  I loved it!  It was just wonderful to be with all your mates and we’d box one another, but then we’d be the best of mates after the fight, so it was lovely.”

“I first came down to London with Pat Dwyer.  I was going to go back to sea, but Pat said ‘Come down to London and see how you get on down there.’  When I first came to London, we were living in a little hotel in Finsbury Park and then, when Pat went back to Liverpool, I was on my own.  Sometimes, you’d come back to the hotel, and there’d be three beds in the room and the landlord used to rent out one of the beds without telling you.  So you’d come home and you didn’t know who was there, but we got by.”

Boxing out of Islington, Pat amassed a record of 72 fights, with 38 wins, 29 losses and five draws in a career that lasted from 1972 to 1977.  He regularly fluctuated between light-heavy and heavyweight, and it was all the same to him.  “When I turned professional, Ernie Fossey was my manager.  In those days, if Ernie said to me ‘You’re fighting King Kong tomorrow,’ I’d have boxed him, because I knew Ernie wouldn’t have me hurt.  He really was a good manager and he was a lovely fella.  We had such a great time in the gym.  We boxed all over the country and we never stopped laughing.  To be honest, I was an average fighter, an ordinary guy, an eight round fighter, but I was always happy.  I’d fight anybody, and I was always in the gym.”

“I lost my first professional fight on points over six rounds in Manchester.  That was against a guy called Terry Armstrong, and I’ll always remember that fight.  It’s your first fight with no vest on, and it’s funny the things that go through your head.  Then, a few weeks later, I boxed Billy Brooks in London and I stopped him in one round.  Throughout my career, I won quite a few and I lost quite a few, but I never really got hurt by anybody.”  Pat actually boxed the above mentioned Terry Armstrong six times in total, the final of which provided the setting for the jewel in his career crown, the Central Area light-heavyweight title.  He took the vacant belt from the Mancunian on 1st April 1976.  The contest took place at the Adelphi Hotel in Merseyside, and Pat made sure that he was no April fool that night.  “It was like being king of the country!  I loved it, coming home with the belt and showing my mam and dad, and I was made up.  I thought I was going to be world champion.  I felt like a world champion.”

“When I defended my Central Area title, I boxed a fella called Alex Penarski at the Liverpool Stadium and everyone thought I’d won the fight, but they gave the decision to him.  John Conteh was fighting Len Hutchins the same night and Jerry Quarry came over to Liverpool to commentate, and the show was on the telly in America.  A lot of my family lived in America, so they saw me box and I’ll always remember what Jerry Quarry said about me.  He said ‘This kid has got the greatest smile I’ve ever seen.'”

Throughout the five and a year time-span of Pat’s career, he boxed an average of once a month, often getting the call at short notice.  “We used to go to the Noble Art Gym in Haverstock Hill on a Sunday morning and train.  I’ll always remember this one time when I came out of the gym and I had nothing going on, so I went and had a pint with the fellas next-door.  Then, when I got back to my house, Ernie Fossey called and said ‘Pat, you’re boxing tonight.’  Anyway, I boxed that night and, if I remember it right, I stopped the fella.  I don’t know how I done it, but I did!  But, even though I was a sort of ‘have gloves, will travel’ boxer, I could sell as many tickets as any of the Londoners, because I had a good name and I was with the right people, like Ernie Fossey.”

“Me and Billy Aird used to spar with each other all the time, and we did used to get up to a bit of mischief.  I’ll tell you a little story about big Bill.  We were in the Isle of Wight.  We used to have a free holiday out of it, because we’d go and spar with the kids over there.  Billy had a title fight coming up, and I said ‘Listen, Bill, don’t spar with them little kids because they don’t know what they’re doing.  They’ll come and smack you, because they’re only young kids.’  Bill said ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and this little kid went BOSH and he cut Billy’s eye, so Billy had to cancel his fight.  I couldn’t stop laughing!  But me and Bill, we always had great times and we were laughing all the time.”

“All through my boxing career, I laughed.  Sometimes, you’d have hard fights, but it was the good company that I liked.  I loved the camaraderie with the boxers and the banter.  I never got into much trouble, because boxing gave me discipline.  Every single fella I boxed, I’d have boxed every one of them again.  They were all good fellas.  Even if you get beat, you still like one another.  You stand together.  I had some great fights with Johnny Wall from Shoreditch.  I boxed him three times.  I won one, lost one and we had a draw, but I thought I got the three of them.  Another guy I boxed was Billy Knight.  He stopped me in five with a cut eye at the Albert Hall.  When he hit me, he hit me so hard that I didn’t know if I was in New York or New Brighton!  I was still up for it, but I was glad I got stopped with a cut, because he probably would have killed me otherwise!”

Pat’s last ring appearance was a points victory over eight rounds against Theo Josephs at the Norfolk Gardens Hotel in Bradford.  “I didn’t know that it was going to be my last one at the time, but I’d had 72 and that’s a lot of fights.  Also, I was getting married, so Ernie said ‘You’ll have to retire now.’  To be honest, the signs start showing when you start slowing up a little bit, and you know it’s time to step down and leave it to the young kids coming up.  I loved being a boxer and I really missed it, but, when you get older, your timing is just that fraction out.  You can see the shot coming, but you just can’t get out of the way and your reflexes start to go.  All of a sudden, your opponent is going to throw a left hand at you and you can see it coming, but, before you can get out of the way, it’s got you.”

“Throughout my career, I always worked on the building sites.  Sometimes, I’d go to work the day after a fight looking a bit bashed up, and they’d say ‘Hey, good looking!’  Then, when I finished boxing, I became a publican.  So I had 72 professional fights, and then I made it 100 by going into the pub!  But I loved being a publican.  You’re like the Lord Mayor.  Everyone knows you.  I had different pubs in the East End, and I did that for over 20 years.  Then, when the all-day opening came out, the pub game was finished then.  After that, I went into the catering game and I’ve been doing that ever since.  It’s similar to the pub game because you’re mixing with people all the time, and I love mixing with people.”

“Believe it or not, I’ve never actually stopped training.  These days, I’m down the gym about three times a week.  I was in the gym a while back and this kid came up to me.  I didn’t know who he was.  I’d never met him before, but he said ‘I’ve got admiration for you, because it’s inspirational to see you, the way you train.’  When I told him that I’ve been doing it for 50 years, he couldn’t believe it.  Obviously, I don’t do sparring, but, apart from that, I do the lot.  I do about 12 rounds, shadowboxing, skipping, working on the speed-ball, and I love it.  It’s great to still be around the boxing game after all these years, and it makes me feel young.”

Pat Thompson

Pat still packs a punch.

STAN KENNEDY (Light-welterweight contender who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties)

STAN KENNEDY (Light-welterweight contender who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties)


Light-welterweight who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties.








If there was ever a boxer as bashful about his ring achievements as Stan Kennedy, he would indeed be a hard man to find.  On a personal level, Stan is such an affable man with a quietly confident demeanour and a ready smile.  So, once we had the voice-recorder going and we embarked upon this interview, his candid viewpoint of his own shortcomings as a fighter took me by surprise – a classic example of just how complicated boxers can be.

“I was born in Olney in Buckinghamshire on 18th April 1942.  They say I boxed out of Dagenham because my family were evacuated out to Olney during the war.  Then, once I was born, we all came home again to Dagenham.  So I was born in the middle of the war.  I was one of eight children and, like it was for a lot of people back then, they were very hard times, but there was a lot of love in our family.  My eldest brother was boxing, and so was my next brother up, so then I went along with them and that’s how it all started.”

“I boxed for Ilford Boxing Club, which doesn’t exist anymore. I suppose I must have had 50 amateur fights.  But, to be honest, I was the most under-confident boy who ever boxed.  Because I came from such a poor background, I never had nothing.  When I used to get to the shows, I always felt a bit inferior because all the other kids had flash shorts, but anyway, I got over that.  As an amateur, I never boxed as a senior.  I boxed as a schoolboy. I reached the semi-finals of the Schoolboys of Great Britain, and I got beat down in Bristol.  I joined the Army Cadets when I was 14 and I got to the Army Cadets Championship final, and I got to the London Junior ABA finals, and I got beat by Johnny Mantle.”

Stan turned professional at the age of 19.  “I was Terry Lawless’ first fighter.  Funnily enough, I was speaking to his wife, Sylvie, two or three weeks ago.  I still keep in touch with her regularly.  Terry used to train me at the Duke of Fife in Katherine Road, East Ham, and I was lucky because I was the only fighter he had, so he really looked after me.  To me, Terry Lawless was a brilliant man.  The gym itself was really busy.  It was run by a fella named Bert Spriggs.  Terry Spinks used to train there, and Billy Walker, the heavyweight, he used to train there.  I got quite friendly with Billy.  He was a nice fella, a very quiet man in the gym, and I remember he was a bouncer down the Ilford Palais at the time.”

“There was an awful lot of boxing going on in the East End in those days, and the local paper was called the Stratford Express.  The boxing reporter was a bloke named Norman Giller, and he used to write about us all in the paper, so a lot of the fighters that came out of East London used to buy it.  All of a sudden, they put a photo of me in the paper, saying “This boy has just been signed up by Terry Lawless.”  So, after that, every time I won, the other boxers used to read about it.  After I had 12 fights, and I only lost two, the Stratford Express was reporting on how well I was doing, and then certain fighters, some of whom beat me as amateurs, they came to Terry Lawless, and it all sort of snowballed from there.  I mean, anybody can get a manager’s licence, but it’s getting the first fighter to go with you.”

“As I say, I was always the under-confident fighter.  I got knocked down so many times.  I remember, one time, I was boxing at Shoreditch Town Hall.  I must have had about seven or eight fights by then.  My missus, Diane, was in the third row from the ringside and, unbeknown to me, there was a bit of a scuffle.  Anyway, I fought this fella and I beat him.  I went and got a shower, come out to pick my missus up, and she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.  I said ‘Has anyone seen my wife?’, and they said “Yeah, they sent her over to the back.’  So I went over to find her, and her face was like thunder.  I said ‘What’s the matter?’  The thing was you used to have betting round the ringside in the old days, and my wife said ‘The two fellas in front of me, when you come in, one asked about the odds, and the other one said you only go down to push the betting price up, and that you’re a slippery bastard.’  So my missus got the hump with it and had a go at these two blokes.  They called security, and they carted her to the back of the hall.  It was funny really.  But, I mean, whenever I went down, it was never planned.  I just used to walk into punches.  I never got knocked out.  I got stopped, but I was never knocked out, touch wood!”

“For me, one of the best things about being a boxer was having my hand lifted at the end of the fight.  Also, I think boxing gave me a little bit of prestige, if you know what I mean.  You got some respect.  It made me feel, not important, but a bit special.  I boxed a geezer named Ray Thompson.  We both came from Dagenham, but he was a seasoned pro and he was a big hero of mine.  Although he was one of those boys getting beat, he fought the best.  When he was fit, he was a very, very good fighter.  He fought good class fighters.  When I boxed him, they called it the featherweight championship of Dagenham.  Anyway, he had me down twice the first round, once the second round, and I came back and I got the decision.  I don’t think I won it, but they held my hand up, so I must have done something right.”

Stan retired from the ring at the age of 24, and he was on a winning streak when he decided to hang up his gloves. “To be honest with you, I couldn’t believe my luck how my record had gone.  I was quite pleased with it and I didn’t want to spoil it, so I decided to retire.  I loved the fight game, but I never believed I was that good.  But, when I think back, I got to the Schoolboys semi-finals of Great Britain.  As a pro, I used to get knocked down a lot, but somehow, I kept getting back up and I kept winning.  I only lost four out of 23, so I didn’t do too bad really.”

Stan Kennedy (right) with his pals and fellow ex-boxers, Brian Hudson and Georgie Day, with the late, great Jake LaMotta.