Assisting Midlands Ex Boxers And The Community

5 Minute Interview

Melanie Lloyd

melMelanie Lloyd is a boxing author, writer, and regular contributor to our bi-monthly Newsletter.
LEBA member Melanie has written two books so far, Sweet Fighting Man, and Sweet Fighting Man (Volume II).
She has a real enthusiasm for our great sport, and due to her bubbly and vibrant personality, Mel is a very popular member of the boxing community.

How did you first become interested in boxing?

The first boxing match I ever saw was Mike Tyson and Trevor Berbick in November 1986. I was at a party in Chessington, and they were showing the fight in the next room. I went in to watch it out of curiosity, and I was blown away by it. I think Tyson during those magic few years was truly a force to be reckoned with and he would have stood his ground with anybody. I’m just sorry that the wrong people got hold of him and ruined him mentally, which in my opinion led to his downfall as a fighter. I am pleased that he appears to be content and at peace with himself now, which is great. There was a time when I didn’t think he was going to live to be an old man.

Who is your favourite fighter?

That’s a tricky one to answer, because I love so many fighters. With Tyson being my “first love” in boxing terms, he has to be one of my favourites. I was always fascinated by Max Schmeling. In fact, I used to write to him towards the end of his life. I think Max was an underrated fighter who was badly treated by the world because of the times in which he lived and his nationality. I love Roberto Duran, and my favourite Duran fight was his one against Iran Barkley. Finally, I have to mention Tommy Farr, who I would have loved to meet. A lot of people who knew him tell me that we would have got on very well.

Best fight you’ve seen?

It has to be Tyson against Berbick. I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration I felt from watching that one. I knew I was discovering a whole new world!

Have you had any formal journalistic training?

No. In fact, I stopped going to school when I was about 14. I went to a very violent comprehensive school in Swansea, and a lot of us just used to bunk off every day. The school was on the edge of a park, so about 50 of us used to meet up and fritter away our days. So I left school with no qualifications whatsoever.

What drove you on to become an author?

I’ve always loved reading books. I think I started reading books when I was about four years old. Before I stopped going to school, English Language was my favourite subject. Years ago, I did a creative writing correspondence course. I never finished it, but it got me into the habit of writing articles and submitting them to magazines, a few of which were published. When I became interested in boxing, I started getting boxing books out of the library. One day, I took out a book written by Tommy Farr called Thus Farr, which he wrote in secret and was not discovered until after he died. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read, and that definitely inspired me to write the type of books I do, which encourage the boxers to tell their own stories in their own words.

How many books have you written and are there more in the pipeline?

I’ve written two books, Sweet Fighting Man and Sweet Fighting Man (Volume II), in which every chapter consists of an interview with a boxer. I am currently in the process of completing Volume III, which will complete the trilogy. I am negotiating with publishers at the moment, so it should definitely be coming out towards the end of this year. After that, I plan to move on to biographies and working on autobiographies with boxers, which is something I am constantly being asked to do.

Do you have a best friend in the boxing world?

I’ve been involved in boxing for so many years now, and I’ve had so much help from so many people over the years, so it really is difficult to narrow it down to one particular person. Most of my friends are boxers and ex-boxers, and I tend to form very solid friendships with a lot of them. I would have to say that your President, Bunny Johnson, is certainly amongst my most treasured friends

John Thomas

jtJohn Thomas has been involved with both Wolverhampton Amateur Boxing Club and the local boxing scene for as long as most people can remember.
I interviewed ‘Thommo’ at WABC headquarters, where the office is a virtual museum to boxing. Posters and memorabilia adorn the walls, and the whole place has an ‘atmosphere’ that impressed me. The gym area is well equipped, and is a fine testament to ‘Thommo’s’ hard work and dedication over the years.
John Thomas
Secretary of Wolverhampton Amateur Boxing Club

Age you started boxing

I boxed in the navy, so I was around 18 at the time.
I had around 8 fights, lost most of them, so packed it in!

Favourite all time fighter

There have been some great fighters over the years.
Obviously Ali was the best of his era, but the ‘brown bomber’ Joe Louis was one of my first favourite fighters, and I have to say Sugar Ray Robinson was a superb boxer.

Best fight you’ve seen

Benn v McClellan, that fight had everything, though it ended with tragic consequences.

What would you change in boxing

I dont like the computer scoring system, and I would get rid of headguards.

Best friend in the boxing world

I have always got on well with PJ Rowson, who along with Gary Bates helped WABC some years ago.
I would have to say though, that Ron Gray and myself go back a long way. I’ve known Ron for over 40 years, we were both on the committee of the old Wolverhampton Sporting Club. I used to go round to Ron’s house to pick him up, and his missus would have toasted him a complete loaf to eat for his breakfast! No wonder he was a heavyweight!

How did you begin your training career, and tell me something
about the history of Wolverhampton A.B.C.

My father was involved with the old North Rd Club in Wolverhampton, and they used to hold boxing shows there.
I eventually did an A.B.A. training course, but a guy named George Griffiths, who was an ‘out of ring’ referee taught me an awful lot.
I also used to work the corner for Ron Gray on some of his early shows, as well as looking after the ring card girls. i used to love that part of the job!
Wolverhampton A.B.C. was formed in May 1936.
We have been based in 4 different locations in Wolverhampton over the years, and have just signed a new 25 year lease on our present premises. I got involved with the Club when I got out of the Navy, and we’ve had some great boxers pass through the doors over the years. One of our lads, Bobby Blower, beat Alan Minter in the morning and John Conteh in the afternoon on the same day! Bingo Crookes was another good lad, along with Richie ‘Sparky’ Carter. We have also trained 2 Olympians.

What was your job outside of boxing

I worked at Manders Paint & Inks, working my way up from Supervisor, to a Divisional Manager until retirement.

Frank O’Sullivan M.B.E.

frank-o-sullivanIt has been a real privilege for me to interview Frank for this section of the website.
I doubt that there is anyone involved in the amateur scene within the U.K. who has not heard of Frank O’Sullivan.
I was in Co. Mayo, Ireland last year, where I visited St Annes Club in Westport. The first thing that their head coach asked me was “how’s Frank O’Sullivan?”
Frank has been involved in boxing for over 60 years, and a brief outline of his coaching career is as follows:-

1956 – Founded Ladywood A.B.C. later to become Birmingham City A.B.C
1972 – 94 worked with the England squad
1978 – 81 Midlands Area coach
1992 – 2004 Director of Coaching for England schools

Over the years in his coaching capacity, Frank has travelled with squads to Russia, South Africa, U.S.A, Germany & Ireland.
He has worked with Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, James De Gale etc, and took Frank Bruno along to his first International, as well as Tony Wilson and Herol Graham.
Frank has an amazing memory for dates, names and places, and I am surprised that no one to date has asked to write a biography about a man who’s knowledge of the amateur boxing scene both locally and nationally must surely be unrivaled.
Age started boxing.

I started boxing at 8 years of age at the Newboys Club in Cork.
I boxed as an amateur in Ireland and in England, I wanted to turn pro but failed the medical due to poor eyesight.

Favourite Fighters.

Sugar Ray Robinson and Willy Pep

Best fight.

The one that sticks in my memory is Tommy McGovern v Solly Cantor for the Empire title in the 50’s, that was a great battle.

What would you change in boxing?

I would get rid of headguards, and I don’t like the computer scoring system.

How did you begin your training career, and tell me something about the history of Birmingham A.B.C.?

When I went to London to turn pro, I trained with Solly Cantor. When I returned to Birmingham, he asked me to help out at the Ladywood Centre where I trained with Pat Ingram and Joey McCann who both went on to win Boys Club titles. A local vicar happened to be passing one evening and enquired as to why we were hanging around outside the building waiting for it to open. He kindly offered us the use of St Marks school hall, and in March 1956 Ladywood A.B.C. was officially formed. In August of that year we became affilliated, and in November we held our first show.
From there we moved to Ozerly Street school, which was a disused building awaiting demolition. We trained under lamps, had no heating or hot water, but still produced two England internationals. In those days ‘Iron’ George Phillips, a great character from Warley helped out. He really was as tough as nails, and would go to any lengths to ensure the welfare of his lads. He was as straight as could be, and he could have a heated argument with you, but it would be forgotten the next day and you would shake hands. He brought 27 lads by bus so that we could try to match them and stage our first show!
From there we moved on to a new community centre in Vincent Street. Tom & Paddy Lynch offered to sponsor us with a move to new premises in Cannon Street, with the provisio that we changed our name to Birmingham City A.B.C. Lease problems led to us moving to John Bright Street on a short term lease, before moving to Meriden Street in Digbeth in 1990. We moved to our present premises at the rear of St Agatha’s Church, Sparkbrook in 2001.
We have had some great boxers pass through the doors over the years.
One story that sticks in my mind concerns Billy Endall, who won the junior A.B.A’s and later turned pro. As a schoolboy he was a southpaw, and broke his hand. During this time he could only hit the bag with one hand, and because of this turned orthodox! He should have fought Jim Watt one year in the A.B.A.’s but for some reason Jim couldn’t make it for the semi’s. He challenged him the following year and they finally met in Bedworth Town Hall, where Billy beat him convincingly.
Some of our boxers who went pro include Wally Swift, Kostas Petrou, Robert McCracken, Hughie Ford, Malcolm Melvin, Jimmy Vincent, John Foreman & Ricky Lawlor.
One of our ex members Tommy Lynch joined and boxed for the Irish Guards, along with another lad named Kevin Tracey. In 2008, as part of a recruitment campaign, the Irish Guards team boxed against Birmingham A.B.C. Kevin suggested that they donate the Jack Doyle Trophy to us, and that it be contested annually against an Irish team. Last year we welcomed the Golden Cobra Club from Dublin.
The club is now thriving, and we were the only club in Britain to have two boxers in the podium squad for the forthcoming Olympics. One of the lads had fought 12, lost 10, and been stopped 3 times when he joined us. He went on to win his next 38 bouts, won the junior A.B.A.’s twice, won Boys Clubs titles 3 times, became the first English Junior World Champion, and went to the last Olympics at 18 years of age where he got beat in the quarter finals.
I still go to the gym most nights, have a very positive outlook for the future, and always say that mistakes from the past are the stepping stones to the future.

Nigel Rafferty

raffo2Ex Midlands Cruiserweight Champion

Age started boxing:

I was 14. I kept getting into fights at school, and a teacher took me along to a local boxing club.

First boxing memory

My first fight. It was at the Lea Manor hotel, I was 14, and had to fight a lad a few years older than me. My corner told me not to touch gloves when the bell rang for the first round as we’d already done that, just to go full pelt at him! When the bell sounded, we met in the centre of the ring, he went to touch gloves and I knocked him out! Some of the crowd weren’t impressed, but I was only following instructions.

Favourite all time fighter

I have two, Barry McGuigan and Nigel Benn, they both had a lot of heart.

Best fight you’ve seen

Nigel Benn v Gerald McClellan, without a doubt. Even though it ended with tragic consequences, that fight had everything, it was an absolute war. Benn showed tremendous heart to come back and win the fight after being knocked out of the ring in the first round.

Toughest opponent

Sam Storey, he gave me a hell of a pasting! I fought him in Belfast in 1992, and he broke my ribs in the first round. My corner wanted to pull me out, as they had actually heard my ribs crack! I thought I could still catch him, so went out for the second round and he cut me to ribbons! I insisted going out for the third, thinking to myself, what else can he do to me? The ref stopped it after about a minute due to the cuts, but I couldn’t help but chuckle when I got back to my corner, the b*****d had now gone and bust my nose!

What would you change in boxing

I dont agree with headgear being worn in amateur boxing. It creates a bigger target, and I don’t think that the safety aspect of the argument really stands up.

Best friend in the boxing world

That’s a tough one, but I’ll pick two. Richard Carter, and Richie Woodhall, even though Richie is a Baggies fan!
I would also like to mention the late Fred Wolfendale. He was Pat Cowdell’s father in law, and was with me right from the start. He was like a second dad to me, and I have some great memories of the laughs we had together. I remember one time I was supposed to be fighting in France, and the tickets weren’t selling well. The promoters asked me to stage a row at the weigh-in to create a bit of publicity, so I waited until my opponent was on the scales, then I started shouting and gave him a shove. Unfortunately I pushed him clean over a table that was positioned behind him, everyone went mad and they cancelled the fight! The powers that be drove Fred and myself back to the hotel, and escorted us to the airport the following morning to be flown back home!

What did you do when you retired, and what do you do now

I had various jobs, including door work, security, and debt collecting. Unfortunately, some debt collecting that I was involved with went wrong, and I was sentenced to a term in Gaol a few years ago. I’m a big believer in these things happen for a reason however. I take the positives from it and I wont be going back! Whilst I was there I had a hand in saving the lives of two lads, and after my release I was invited back to fight a prison officer at Winson Green. All the cons paid three pounds to watch, and we raised £5000.00 for Birmingham Childrens Hospital.
I now help run a pub for Richard Carter, who is himself a former boxer.

Ron Gray

ron-grayBoxer, manager, matchmaker & promoter

Age you started boxing:

I started boxing at a gym in Walsall when I was 15. I didn’t have an amateur career, and turned pro at 16 years of age..

Your toughest opponent:

Freddie Mack. I was supposed to be fighting Jack Bodell in Leicester, but after he pulled out Freddie was brought in as a late replacement. Despite being told that he would be a ‘soft touch’, I knew that he had been in with top class opposition and he was a right handful! I ended up getting disqualified in the 2nd round for a low blow. We became great friends, and whenever we met over the years Freddie would groan whilst bending over clutching his ‘crown jewels’!

Favourite all time fighter:

Sugar Ray Robinson, without a doubt. A great fighter!

What did you do when you retired from boxing:

I had several businesses, including transport etc. before getting involved in promotion. I held my first show at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton in 1974.

Best fight you’ve seen:

Well, certainly one of the best was a fight that I was involved with – Salvadore Sanchez v Pat Cowdell. It was held at the Astrodome, Houston Texas in 1981 and was for the WBC featherweight title. That fight had everything, with Pat getting up off the canvas in the 15th round to lose by a split decision.

What would you change in boxing:

Very little to be honest, I think the board do a good job. I wasn’t convinced that dropping from 15 to 12 rounds for title fights was a good move, but with hindsight, I can see the benefits. I do share the view of most people within the sport however, that there are far too many ‘mickey mouse’ titles around these days!

Dream job:

Being involved in boxing was my dream job. I feel privileged to have been involved in the sport for so long, and I can’t think of anything that I would rather have done.

Best friends in boxing:

They are too numerous to mention. I have been involved with some of the biggest names in the sport over the years, and I like to think that I had a reputation for being fair with people, and because of this I have made many enduring friendships, some of which have spanned several decades.

What are you doing now:

I still keep my hand in, I run the Gentlemans Friday Club with my son Steve. We run four shows a year with after dinner speakers from the world of boxing.