The Grand Old Men of Boxing by Rev. David Gray – 2009

22 Nov

© Rev. david Gray – 2009

In the 1980’s, I worked in a Catholic hostel for homless men at a time when the names of boxers like Spider Kelly; Gallway Blacksmith Peter Kane and a certain Joe-Mac were on the lips of living memory. What few knew outside his immediate circle was that Joe himself, now in his 80’s, was alive and well and living in the backstreets of Ancoats.

The reverence the men afforded Joe was moving. We’d sit in a group around a bottomless tea-urn playing cards while sharing stories of boxing. As the evenings wore on, a silence would descend as men wandered quietly with their memories. After a while, Joe would look around with a beaming smile:

“I’m a grand old man”, he would say, “I’ll never die!”

On this note people would say their goodnights and go their seperate ways until the next gathering.

When Joe had a fall, I’d accompany him to MRI for checks. On one visit, I was stood near his head as he lay on a stretcher, a porter at his feet. Joe suddenly treated us to one of his beaming smiles:

“I’m a grand old man”, he began, “I’ll never ….”

We never heard the end of that sentence, though I am sure it was heard in eternity, for Joe died in the midst of uttering it.

Anyone who knows the history of Manchester knows that the Scuttlers, gangs who terrified our Victorian ancestors, learned to better channel their energy with the advent of Ardwick, Salford, the Adelphi and other Lads Clubs forming a network of concerned activity across the city, bringing years of competitive harmony. In a politically correct era that followed this somehow was forgotten, allowing a rot to set back in that led to needless loss of young Mancunian lives. Our city has again awoken to the need for providing sports and leisure activities on a grand scale. Let’s hope and pray that she doesn’t fall asleep again once the harmony of energetic, friendly rivalry replaces the hopelessness of frightened kids carrying guns and knives.

Joe represented the grand old men of a bygone age in a world where, though boxing had changed much, the courage and principles behind the sport remained timeless. The grand older men of today still keep the sport going, with respect passed like a batton from one generation to the next. Again we have boxing clubs being developed by caring Mancunians like Kevin Williams, Bob Rimmer, Ken Dobson and Kaya Dundee. The Mancunian, United Estates of Wythenshawe and other boxing clubs across our city are teaching young men and women courage, skill, respect and confidence. They play a crucial role in keeping them and all of us safe as timeless values are nurtered anew in young Mancunians of all ages and backgrounds.



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