My love of the Noble Art goes back a long way, probably to when I was about eight and (contrast this with today’s namby-pamby PC-ridden, ‘elf & safety-obsessed, world) and the year when my brother and I received pairs of boxing gloves for Christmas.
I don’t know for sure – they may privately have been sadists – but through my rose-tinted, John Major-issued, perception of the Britain of fifty-odd years ago, I like to believe that in their choice of present that year my parents were doing no more than what was then perfectly normal for people of their homespun meagre wealth and position in society at the time.
I’d like to emphasise – in the context of the inherent dangers to the brain involved, which are medically indisputable, and the overwhelming weight of logical argument behind the notion that, of physical contact sports, boxing is one of the few in which deliberately inflicting potentially permanent injury on the opponent is part of the raison d’être and therefore morally wrong – my love of the fight game had nothing to do with the thrill of stepping between the ropes myself.
To this day I can recall the first time in my life I was hit squarely and firmly on the conk as a small kid. My eyes watered with the pain but the far bigger no-no for me was the shock. Back then I loved a rough and tumble, a bit of wrestling on the floor, or even a bit of jovial pushing and shoving, with my mates (or even my enemies) but – if you’ll pardon the expression – being hit flush on the nose was a whole new ball game.
Boxing wasn’t exactly compulsory at either my prep school or boarding school, only it was if like me you had the misfortune to be identified by your house prefects as the kind of chap that generally seemed both up for a physical challenge and simultaneously possessed a high pain threshold.
As a result between the ages of nine and about fourteen I had an undistinguished career as an amateur boxer, regularly getting beaten up by other kids, sometimes even smaller than I was, in the cause of satisfying the honour of both my school unit and the glorious Corinthian principle that the important thing was not the winning but the taking part.
My younger brother was of a similar limited ability and general mind-set. When asked by our father one year on a rare exeat from our school (there were only two allowed per twelve-week term) what he might be considering giving up for Lent, with courage and perhaps not a little pleading in his voice, he famously offered up “Boxing …?”
No, boxing was never of participatory interest to me.
Nevertheless, the ‘attractive’ features of man-to-man fisticuff combat under the Queensberry Rules – e.g. the elemental thrills involved in anticipating a bout between two great exponents of the art, or watching two unbeaten fighters stepping into the ring (knowing that both knew that, barring the unlikely outcome of a draw, one of them was going to lose his unblemished record), the admirable dedication to training required of its participants, the myths and legends of the boxing world, the whole atmosphere of vague underworld skulduggery and corruption that accompanied it and (lastly) its long history of brilliant journalism and writing, not least its rich vocabulary – were wonderfully compelling and fascinating to kids like me as we progressed into our teens and beyond.
It still is, although over the last twenty years or so my ‘belief’ in the professional version of boxing has been tested and found wanting sufficiently and consistently often as to leave me as a semi-detached cynic.
Which brings me to the link I am recommending to my readers today. I apologise for not coming across it before, because it comes from the website of The Guardian/Observer last weekend: it is an excellent piece by a lady named Sarah Hughes, billed as a boxing writer, on her misgivings when her son expressed interest in taking up the sport.
See here – THE GUARDIAN