Sammy McCarthy, the former British featherweight champion of the 1950s who has died aged 88, was – due to a genial personality, affable demeanour and highly courteous manner – often described as the nicest man in boxing.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAn amateur teenage prodigy from London’s East End who even had his own fan club, the “angel with gloves on”, as one newspaper dubbed him, became a celebrity in an era when competition in the sport was fierce.
During his brief pomp McCarthy’s wedding photograph appeared on the front page of a national newspaper, while his 1957 retirement announcement came on television, on This Is Your Life.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appBut McCarthy’s refined manners tended to disguise the fact that he was one of the sport’s great enigmas. Having hit financial troubles once the spotlight of fame had faded, he turned to crime and ended up serving three terms in prison – of three, six and 14 years – for armed bank robbery.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appBorn one of a costermonger’s 10 children in Stepney on September 5 1931, McCarthy was inspired to take up boxing by the success of an older brother, despite being – on his own admission – frightened of the sport. “I always thought as a little boy that the more you could fight the more masculine you were,” he recalled.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“But of course you realise when you get a little older how ridiculous that is. Everyone’s nervous, but I was petrified – not of fighting, but of letting the side down. It makes you sharp – your reflexes are very fast.
“My boxing career gave me confidence in myself – boxing made me happy. I didn’t enjoy the fights, but I loved the social life.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHaving taken up the sport on returning from wartime evacuation in 1945, “Smilin’ ” Sammy McCarthy – who reckoned that pushing a wheelbarrow packed with fruit and vegetables while working for his father helped to build his strength – proved a rare talent whose dazzling left-hand skills could attract up to a dozen coachloads of supporters whenever he entered the ring.
The biggest prizes tended to elude him, however, and when he turned professional aged 19, a trade magazine called him “surely one of the most brilliant postwar amateurs never to win a senior [amateur] crown.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHe nevertheless advanced swiftly through the paid ranks, remaining unbeaten for 28 contests, only to suffer successive defeats to the Nigerian future world champion Hogan “Kid” Bassey, the French former European title-holder Raymond Famechon and the reigning European champion, Jean Sneyers of Belgium.
But McCarthy overcame these setbacks to capture the 126lb British featherweight crown by stopping Blackpool’s Ronnie Clayton in eight rounds at White City in June 1954. Four more wins followed before he lost his title to the Empire champion Billy “Spider” Kelly at Belfast in January 1955: a heavy fog had grounded all flights and a sleep-deprived McCarthy had been forced to make the trip to Northern Ireland via ferry, only arriving on the morning of the fight.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appMoving up to lightweight, McCarthy lost again to Sneyers, as well as to the future British, Commonwealth and European champion Dave Charnley, before being stopped in 13 rounds attempting to take the British title off Joe Lucy at Wembley in June 1956.
McCarthy won his next four contests before being outpointed by the Frenchman Guy Gracia at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1957, a defeat that persuaded him to hang up the gloves. He finished with 44 wins from 53 contests, with one draw and eight defeats.
McCarthy announced his retirement live on national television – the first boxer to be the subject of This Is Your Life. The appearance of McCarthy’s six glamorous sisters caused such a sensation on the programme that the host Eamonn Andrews – himself a former boxer – invited them to return for an interview the following week.
McCarthy went on to manage the 1956 Olympic flyweight champion Terry Spinks, who remained a lifelong friend, and eventually became a publican before life took a grim turn. “I robbed banks and I stole a lot of money,” he told one startled interviewer. “I was caught and put in prison for years.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“I think I was too frightened not to do it. I’m not making excuses – I’m reformed now. I was all right in prison because I’m comfortable with my own company and I read books to pass the time.” Asked why he had become a bank robber, McCarthy simply replied: “Because we never had anything.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appAn incredulous Reg Gutteridge, the boxing writer and commentator, who came across the fallen champion at Maidstone Prison in 1979, summed up a widespread view when he observed: “It is incomprehensible to me that good-natured Sammy should be jailed a villain.”
Divorced from his wife, McCarthy nevertheless emerged from jail a model citizen. A hugely popular figure in the London Ex-Boxers’ Association, he regularly visited ailing members as well as former East End citizens marooned in care homes or hospitals, and continued to be a familiar and welcome face at London boxing shows.
Sammy McCarthy, born September 5 1931, died February 10 2020