HUBBARD’S CUPBOARD – 14.8.17
When I was a kid Newcastle was one of the nation’s top sporting citadels, largely because of its football team.
In their heyday, United were never far from the higher echelons of the Football League and seemed to dominate the FA Cup in the fifties thanks to luminaries like ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn and the game’s original clown prince, Len Shackleton.
Boxing was pretty popular to, not so much in terms of big fights or big names, but the proliferation of small-ish hall shows well attended by supportive and knowledgeable fans.
The fight game in Newcastle at that time centred around the first St James’ Hall, a purpose-built arena, where regular weekly and bi-weekly shows had been held for ‘donkey’s years’. The promoter at the Hall was local ex-fighter Will Curley, who staged the Hall’s first show in September 1909, and also the last show on in June 1929.
The hall’s same-name successor built that year featured boxing in front of packed crowds from 1930 until 1967. When the doors of the new hall opened on May 1930, police were called to control the large crowds.
When football went into a recession locally as success drifted away, Newcastle also became something of a fistic wilderness in later years, with sporadic shows at the Metro Radio Arena which had replaced the now demolished second St James’ Hall.
It was Frank Warren who really re-ignited the Geordie passion for the sport, bringing stars such as Nigel Benn, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe and Prince Naseem Hamed to Tyneside.
He also promoted Amir Khan’s first defence of his world lightweight title against Dmitry Salita at the Metro in 2009.
A few years earlier, self-promoted Audley Harrison had also headed north for his second pro fight against Derek McCafferty, part of his ill-advised BBC deal. The discerning but hard-to-please Tynesiders booed dear-old ‘Fraudley’ out of the Telewest Arena after a typically tedious points win.
Now Warren is poised to bring Newcastle back to boxing’s big-time in style, and establish the city in its rightful place alongside London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow in Britain’s pugilistic premier league.
It is a firecracker of a fight and according to the Newcastle Chronicle newspaper the reprise between the nail-hard Liverpudlian and the spirited Welshman Williams, whose intense dislike of each other is by no means manufactured, is a major coup for sport the city and evidence that boxing in the region is again on the rise.
“The first was a barnstormer up to the clash of heads which cost Williams a defeat when he was ahead and I’m sure the rematch will be even better,” the promoter assures us.
“It will be a great pleasure for us to be back in Newcastle putting on a top quality show.
“As I expected, the announcement has been met with enormous enthusiasm by the North East public, who are just the most amazing fans when it comes to sport and getting behind events in the region.”
The Hall of Fame promoter has been planning a return to the North East for some time now and has been signing some of the region’s top prospects in readiness for his plans to make the city a regular destination for his shows.
Teesside’s Josh and Kalam Leather and their stablemate Joe Maphosa are all signed to the burgeoning Queensberry stable and will feature on the card with Troy Williamson and Jeff Saunders, also on Warren’s books along with British super-bantamweight champ Thomas Ward, who makes his first title defence against Birmingham’s Sean Davis.
Queensberry now possess some of the finest young talent in boxing, several from the North East. And well to the fore among them is 25-year-old super-lightweight Leather, from Guisborough, unbeaten in a dozen outings. He battles Wearsider Glenn Foot with the IBF European title on the line.
Although Newcastle itself has not produced a recognised world champion there has been no shortage of talented top level fighters from around the region: Glenn McCrory, Maurice Cullen, Billy Hardy, Stuart Hall and George Bowes to name but a few.
The North East used to be a breeding ground for talented young footballers. Shout down a coalmine and would-be internationals would emerge, they used to say. Now it can be boxing’s turn to be a breeding ground.
Geordie pals tell me that Newcastle is buzzing in anticipation of the Smith-Williams super welterweight war.
Howay the lads… good that boxing is the talk of the Toon again.
Catch up next with Frank Warren’s exclusive column