Last night Ivan Conway kindly invited me to an evening of white collar boxing at the Hilton Brighton. White collar boxers are amateurs who train with accredited coaches to acquire fitness and learn the skills of the Noble Art. The evening was also to celebrate the 50th birthday of Tony Cottey, the Sussex CCC legend who played in the first ever championship side of 2003. Now in charge of the commercial department, he entered into the ring on the third bout against the club catering manager Keith Berry and was typical of the more senior amateur on view. What these guys lacked in ring craft they made up for in enthusiasm. I know one Ruster used to play football for a team called the Assassins FC de Montevideo where an elaborate fantasy was acted out that they were South American footballers on tour. As the boxers like gladiators entered the ring on a walk way in their gowns and made their practice moves in the ring under flashing neon strobe lights to the tune of Rocky I could sense the same feeling of fantasy, living the dream and excitement of enacting a sporting ambition.
White Collar boxing also follows the tradition of the fair ground contest which led to some notable prize fighters like John Sullivan “the Boston Strongboy”, well described in R.T Jarvis’s definitive work on prizefighting They Fought Bare Knuckle. Indeed to continue the tradition there was such ‘milling’ the word has passed into boxing argot and might be translated into a modern slang as ‘a tear up’. A hairdresser, wine merchant, paramedic and chief executive of the Rocking Horse charity – all of various weights, sizes and age – donned the gloves for three 2 minute rounds. I recognised on Ivan ‘s table a former All Ireland featherweight Champion Paddy Breen, now a pharmacist at Hove who occasionally clapped at some shuffle or bob and weave but it was generally fairly basic attritional fighting. Paddy and I spoke of the some of the fistic legends from the Emerald Isle: Jack Doyle, a fine tenor who would sing in the ring before a fight, world champion flyweight Rinty Monaghan from Donegal, Eamonn Andrews who would climb into the ring to box after commentating on a bout, and Barry McGuigan with his long reach and hands like shovels who fought the last-ever 15 round title fight against Pedroza.
I’m always impressed how deep rooted sports are in this country. In football there is a plethora of semi-professional leagues: in cricket hundreds of clubs playing for fun: in golf 2500 apprentices trying to make the big time, maybe a couple will make the European tour. Add to this those that give up their time to officiate. Last night there was an entertaining MC, a capable referee, scorers, shapely girls holding up boards of each round as well as trainers and corner men. Some night be making or taking a few quid but 10000 pounds was raised for the Rocking Horse Charity and most of all these were genuine enthusiasts for their sport. Daffers would have found fault in the gamey wild boar pate and bland chicken in greasy gravy, we had to serve our own wine – but hey, we all had a great time and I felt the Noble Art is alive and well.