Football and Boxing

Naturally I imagined that as a professional footballer I would be helping my mother financially even at that early age. The proprietor of a chain of gambling clubs heard of me through one of his employees and I started playing for them regularly. Their football team played on Wednesdays in some sort of league. I was paid a few shillings and given free meals on match days. I gave my mother every penny I could. I also managed to find some odd jobs, to earn a bit more.

I was spotted by a scout working for one of London's biggest football clubs. He told the manager who arranged for me to have a trial. I went along on my own hoping for the best. The manager was busy, but he came out and looked at me and asked, “How old are you?” I said, “Fourteen”. He called his scout over and said something and went away. The scout said that the manager thought I was too young, and should write to the manager of their juniors. I said thank you very much, but there was no trial. On a previous occasion I had played against those juniors and our team beat them 5-0 so I didn't bother.

At the age of fifteen I was playing three times a week, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. In between I found a part time job with a small printing company, whose boss was a keen football fan and always allowed me time off to play. I was approached by a man who worked for a company that owned several shops in the clothing business. He asked me if I would be interested in playing for the firm's football team. He told me that they had some ex professional footballers in the team and I could learn a lot playing with them. They were the best team in their league. They offered to pay expenses and I was happy to join them. It meant more and better experience playing with them although I was sorry to leave the club where I had made so many friends. I was about to meet some of the most famous professional footballers at the time. Their team were English champions. The owner of the stores was a director of the club and he had a beautiful daughter who used to come and watch the games. All the unmarried players also came mainly just to be near her.

After one game one of the great stars came over to me and walked with me all the way to the dressing room, I was so happy to be so close to one of my idols but I was extremely shy and couldn't find the appropriate words of adulation to say to him. He in turn said nothing to me. I learned later that he was completely deaf, I am sure from what I heard later he would have been pleased to coach me and I might have been his protégé.

The Sunday team I played for were in association with the Sunday leagues, within the local boroughs. The league organized a tour to Paris and in the trials I was chosen to go. There was no pay for us but all expenses were covered including hotel accommodation. Although the touring squad was selected from sixteen teams, I was made vice captain even at my young age. We played three games, won them all and I even scored. The tour was a successes and a similar tour was organized for the next year. This time I was elected captain and we did even get to see a bit of Paris. 

Because of the great success, the mother association for the whole of London decided to organise a tour of Paris at a higher level. Again trials were held and once again I was chosen as captain. I made it a policy to make sure every player got a game, including the reserves. We played four games with me contributing my usual one goal, and the usual kiss on the cheeks by the beautiful girls when they presented me with flowers.

The Wednesday team I played for sent me a letter. We had reached the final of the league cup and I had played in every round. However, the letter stated that I couldn't play for the team any longer. I was barred by the British Football Association because I played football on Sundays. They said that they had a photograph of me playing on Sunday. I don't know what was on the photograph that showed it was Sunday, but I got the push. No one in any team connected to the F.A. or in organized sport was allowed to play in any team playing on Sundays. At that time, the Church controlled everything and on Sunday all sports were banned and all shops were closed. The F.A. knew perfectly well that lots of Sunday sport took place and they turned a blind eye unless there was a complaint. I realised that I had been banned because another member of the team disliked me and wanted his friend in the team in my position. But the damage was done and there was no way it could be rectified, I was too young and inexperienced to handle it.

I was given another trial by a professional club. I went along with a friend who was an ex professional himself. At the break at half time one of the staff came over to me and said, "You can play a bit." After the game ended and we had bathed and dressed, names were called out that were required for more trials. My friends name was called out but not mine. He said that he had no idea what was going on. He said that I was the best player on the field. He had no intention of going there again even if they wanted him.

I played a few times for my old gambling club. We played a team who were ex-professionals who had found jobs working in what used to be called a “mad house” caring for the inmates. They had no training for this work and couldn’t care less. The inmates were allowed to watch the game and at one stage the ball was kicked over the goal and into the spectators. It hit one poor chap on the head and knocked him down. As we went to receive it he got up quickly and kept on repeating, “Sorry sir, sorry sir”, as though he was used to being knocked down by one of the staff. We had something called tea after the game, but the screaming and shrieks of laughter forced us to leave as quickly as possible.

I was still attending evening classes. My mind was a little easier with the little money I was earning, so I could concentrate on the subjects I liked: History (ancient and modern) and Science, which included all human existence. But there were always family concerns. My mother’s health was no better and the medication didn't seem to help. My father was also having problems and although my brothers were working their pay was poor and with so much unemployment it was difficult to find jobs to match their capabilities.

I also attended a youth club that had a gym. Sport and fitness go together and I became interested in all the different types of exercises. We had a fine instructor who explained many things to me because I took a great interest and he liked me as a very good pupil. He taught me boxing, wrestling and something I had never heard of that time, unarmed combat. Although I was only a novice I was a quick learner and after a year or so, the instructor was so pleased with me, he arranged for me to attend a specialised training institute for future physical training instructors. I went along there and although it was a tough course I managed to get my diploma. Even after the course finished I carried on training to keep fit which was essential and which I enjoyed.

My mother was getting a reputation as being a good cook. She worked for firms of caterers and also took on private work if she was approached by some friends of friends to arrange a party or banquet for them, knowing it would be cheaper than going to a professional caterer. On these occasions mother worked twice as hard as usual. She had to hire crockery, linen, pots, and pans, tables and chairs and all other requirements and also recruit others to help in the kitchen and wait on tables. On a few occasions the head waiter, seat planner and master of ceremonies was me. I know that every function she arranged was a success and all the participants were more than satisfied.

In spite of this little extra money my mother earned by almost killing herself, with my father taken ill more money was needed. I had to find a way of earning more cash. The youth club where I did my training was in association with other youth clubs and they arranged boxing tournaments between them. Everyone was an amateur except for a couple of professionals who came to save their training expenses. During my training I had done some boxing and improved so much that I was chosen to box in the next tournament at my weight. I did so and won and was given a medal. I fought in these tournaments a few times and won each time and sometimes received various gifts instead of medals.

I kept boxing and was improving but still very inexperienced. I had a very hard punch but my boxing abilities were lacking. I needed an awful lot of coaching to improve. At the next tournament I won by a knock-out. This manager came to see me after I had dressed and said, “Do you know what? I could get you fights just like you're getting now but I could get you money instead of medals or a prize.” I told him that I would think about it and let him know.

I took a good hard look at my football career and my hope of becoming a famous football star. I was getting nowhere. There were players I knew to be better players than me who were also getting nowhere. Only three ever became internationals. Perhaps at boxing, if I really had talent, I could earn enough money to solve the family’s problems; at least I could give it a try. The manager had a few boxers under contract including a champion. He was well known and had some good contacts. I joined the clan and my father signed the contract, without having a clue of what boxing was all about. He just asked me if that was what I wanted, I said, “Yes” and he said, “Okay”. It was a long and drawn out contract which he didn't read. I was happy to join with the club’s other activities, which included rambling, weekend camping, cycling and going to the theatre, opera and ballet.

Now I had joined the ranks of professional boxers I had to do what they did. First I had to join the gym where they trained and I had to pay for the privilege as well as the cost of the car fares. No one approached me to give me any coaching. I skipped, punched the bag and on one or two occasions I sparred with someone in a friendly fashion. My first night was not too bad. My opponent was an old-time boxer, whose only concern was to prevent me hurting him and to do just enough to show he was a boxer. We got a draw. He told me afterwards that I shouldn't worry, he thought I would beat more boxers than would beat me. After that first fight, I was told that I had to pay the helpers in my corner, called seconds, as was custom with all novices. With the money I was paid and the expenses paid out, it would have almost been better to stay at home. I would show a profit, not much, but just enough to pay for my time.

My next fight was crazy. I hit my opponent just once on the chin. He went down and never got up for a minute. I had not hit him hard. It seemed so strange and suspicions were aroused. The usual doctor examined him and he thought the boxer might have brain damage but wasn't sure. They called an ambulance and the boxer was taken to a doctors’ clinic for a check-up - everyone was sorry for the poor boxer. Luckily he recovered completely but never fought again.

The third fight was a crowd pleaser. My opponent and I were hitting each other like two mad dogs. I broke a bone in my hand and my opponent was so hurt he never fought again and all for a few pennies. My broken bone was set in the local hospital and I had to wait until it was healed. All of that to earn just a few pennies! Looking back on my record I suppose I was pretty good but no more. You have to pay for experience and I certainly did. I know now, I should never have been a professional boxer - I was too short for my weight, I have high cheekbones, which are often the cause of cut eyelids, and my nose bled too easily.

With what I know now I hate everything connected with professional boxing. Boxing has always been popular but was completely unorganised until late in the ninetieth century and even then boxers fought without gloves. The new system was called the Queensbury Rules. It offered better conditions for the boxers but it did not stop boxing from being organised cheating because of betting. In those early days, there were travelling fairs like a circus. The owner of the fair would locate some good boxers, some from England some from America or others who were well known. He would advertise and stress the merits of one boxer more than his opponent. On the day of the fight, people would come and bet, usually on the one who had been advertised as a sure winner. When all stakes were counted and the highest amount of money was placed on the favourite, he would be sure to lose. It could be by accident or made to look genuine, it just depended on how the boss wanted to play it in the next town. These bosses had no scruples they would cheat the local tradesman, by disappearing overnight. 

The Punter has very little chance of winning that's why big bookmakers are millionaires and the punter has only hope. Sometimes a punter, by a miracle, wins an accumulator with a big sum of money and the bookmaker is pleased because that ensures that the punter will go on betting, hoping that they will win the next time. In boxing many tricks have been tried to get their man to win. One is to deliberately damage a glove to give the boxer more time to recover. Sometimes a substance was put on the boxer's glove to irritate his opponent's eyes. But other methods are used today. It is well known that gangsters had a major interest in boxing in the USA and had made millions illegally and on occasion legally. Over the years, several people have been murdered, including some boxers themselves. Anyone who opposed the gangsters died in some ingenious accident. Gangsters have no scruples. Most of the money in boxing comes from betting but also today from ticket sales and broadcasting. There are so many different boxing associations now it's hard to know which is which.

I now agree with many people that boxing is a cruel sport. If you go to see a boxing tournament you will see the fans shouting and screaming for their favourite to hurt or maim his opponent so that he can win. His greatest achievement would to knock him clean and out and render him unconscious. There is not the slightest feeling for the losing fighter unless the fighter dies or becomes a cripple.

The most popular boxing champion who ever lived, Muhammad Ali originally called Cassius Clay, was the most mixed up person. He could be clever, he could be cruel, he could be kind, he could be jovial and yet with all his clever boxing skills, he could not avoid the hurtful blows he received and ended up suffering from of a kind of Parkinson disease. He was illiterate and claimed to be a preacher in his new required faith. Unfortunately he allowed himself to be manipulated by people who used his earnings for their own interests.

Boxing can be good entertainment. It could be clever and technical and if the professional boxer were allowed to wear the protection they wear in training it would save a lot of injury and grief. The skills could still be there just like the amateurs only more so. You could be very skilled at wrestling, ju-jistu or kick boxing and beat your opponent, without hurting. But that does not have the same appeal - people only want blood.