As a youngster I always had an interest in Boxing.
I can recall sitting in front of the television glued to such illustrious programmes as Sportsnight and Grandstand, enthralled by the sight of two pugilists coming up against each other in a head-to-head battle.
As I entered the climax of my teenage years, and with my pockets now lined with cash, I started to venture into London to watch the odd show or two, picking out my own favourite boxers to spend my hard-earned cash on.
Now during those early years, I?d also closely followed the career of a budding legend, a likeable young man who had shown promise, power, a physique many would be proud of and a wicked line in humour when it came to chatting with the legendary Harry Carpenter.
Of course, the boxer in question was Frank Bruno.
With age now creeping up on me and with my memory often getting a little fazed, I can still remember the march Frank made towards the top. I can recall Frank wobbling (badly) when tagged by Jumbo Cummings and the despair I felt when the unbeaten record went against James ?Bonecrusher? Smith when, at the time, Frank looked to have the fight in the bag.
But, aided by an excellent managerial team, Frank was soon within sight of a world title shot, all that stood between him was a clash with the big white South African, Gerrie Coetzee. The night of the fight is still vivid in my mind. With the family lounge vacated by all but myself, I huddled in front of the radiogram and tuned into the radio commentary. With the crowd cheering Frank on, Coetzee was soon in trouble and when a huge blow dumped him on the ring canvas, arms and legs sprawled outside the ring, Frank had an early knockout victory and the world title shot was his.
With the negotiations having been concluded, Frank was to face the reigning champion Tim Witherspoon at Wembley Stadium. Immediately, I knew I had to be there. Emptying out my bank account I took the train journey into London and arrived at the Soho offices of Mike Barrett and Mickey Duff, to purchase two tickets. The only trouble being that all I could afford, despite it being a huge outlay at the time, were two tickets right at the back of the famous old stadium, although the young lady behind the counter did give me a few promotional posters to adorn my bedroom wall.
On the day of the fight, with my younger brother in tow, we were in London some twelve hours before the fight was scheduled to commence. As is the norm on such occasions, the sights of London were visited, a few ale houses were frequented and a general relaxing time was had by all.
But, as early afternoon slipped into late afternoon, we found ourselves sat on the grassy slopes between the famous old venue and the stadium itself watching the crowds building up and generally soaking up the atmosphere. Little did we know that we were to witness the arrival of one of the greatest names of our fine sport has ever had.
Sensing an increase in the atmosphere, we became aware of a huddle of suited gentlemen heading in our direction. Stood in the middle of them was a face that most people around the globe would instantly recognize, that of Muhammed Ali. Naturally, courtesy of the bodyguards in his entourage, there was no chance of getting close enough for an autograph or even a photo, but it was a scintillating moment as the crowd around me flocked to tread in his very footsteps.
Finally entering the stadium, our disappointment at finding just how far away from the ring our seats were changed to excitement that we were now just hours away from seeing Frank Bruno fight for the world title. The next few hours remain a blur, I guess the adrenalin fuelled anticipation relating to the main event helped to erode any of the early bout action.
But, as darkness descended the arena had a distinct aura about it, the seating areas began to fill up and the noise levels started to increase. Soon, after a wait that seemed almost endless, Bruno, the challenger, was on his way to the ring. Union flags fluttered everywhere as serious chants of Bruno, Bruno, Bruno filled the night air.
With Frank stalking around the ring, bobbing, weaving and shadow-boxing to keep the muscles loose, we awaited the ring arrival of Witherspoon, the champion. Emerging from the shadows, but from a fair distance away, we could see the huddled figure of the champion, surrounded by his entourage, making his way to the ring. For Witherspoon there were no large national flags, just his whole entourage waving miniature version of the familiar stars and stripes, once again the noise levels were upped a notch.
The crowd, in the early rounds, urged Frank on but Witherspoon showed his champion credentials by withstanding Frank?s surges and stopping Frank in his tracks with a few hearty blows of his own. I can recall the noise levels being like nothing I?d heard before at a Boxing promotion before, but as we edged through the middle rounds and towards the latter rounds, the tide turned significantly. Frank was in trouble, his stamina had been sapped, his blows were now few and far between and lacking power and conviction.
Witherspoon sensed this and upped the pressure, the noise levels dipped as it became clear Frank was in trouble, he?d come off worse in an exchange of hefty right handed blows. Thoughts about holding on to the end of the round and then trying to clear his head, get a minutes rest and come again were prevalent, but it wasn?t to be. Frank?s dreams of becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World had ended in round eleven, with the referee having to step in to prevent Frank coming to serious harm.
Frank looked desolate, drained and inconsolable as he sat on his stool. The huge crowd started to drift away and the journey home was a solemn affair, the dream had died but Bruno was to rise again, but that?s another story!
Remembering 19th July 1986
As a youngster I always had an interest in Boxing.