Author Andrew Fairley’s tireless campaigning has resulted in a permanent memorial in honour of Pompey’s greatest
THE Portsmouth boxing fraternity owes a debt of gratitude to author Andrew Fairley, who has done more than anyone to preserve the city’s boxing past. After commemorating Portsmouth’s local ring legends in his excellent 2016 tome, Pompey’s Boxing Heroes, Fairley embarked on a oneman mission to get a permanent memorial to honour the area’s boxing heroes. The fruit of his labour, an impressive granite monument dedicated to 10 of Pompey’s finest, was unveiled on August 20 at Guildhall Square. Fittingly, Portsmouth’s reigning English lightheavyweight champ, Joel Mcintyre, and the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Ken Ellcome, conducted the unveiling. The leader of the local council and Andrew himself gave poignant speeches to a 300-strong crowd that included descendents of the men being honoured.
A Pompey native, Fairley crowdfunded the £4,800 needed to produce the three-quarter-tonne monument. The memorialised boxers are Harry Andrews, Arthur “Kid” Connor, Matty George, Len Lemaux, Billy Streets, Monty Brown, Steve Goldring, Harry Vine, “Stoker” Bob Reynolds and Johnny Smith.
THE TWO THAT GOT AWAY
l IT takes a brave man to form a stable comprised solely of unknown boxers from overseas in a small community centre basement without a ring, but in the early 1950s ex-pro Peter Banasko did exactly that. The Liverpool-based manager/trainer could hardly have dreamed that two world champs would emerge from his little team of Nigerian fighters. And much to his regret, when the world titles finally arrived the two fighters were with other managers.
The first of Banasko’s Nigerian charges was Israel Boyle, who entered Liverpool as a ship stowaway and had his first paid bout there in 1950. Boyle was soon joined by other Nigerians: Santos Martins, Dan Collie, Sandy Manuel, Bola Lawal, Jimmy Zale and a certain Hogan “Kid” Bassey. The arrival of Bassey proved a turning point for the stable. Starting at the Liverpool Stadium in January 1952, the “Kid” had 27 fights in 17 months to set up an October ’53 clash with 27-01 star Sammy Mccarthy of Stepney. Bassey’s backer, the bookmaker Harry Ormesher, put up a £1,000 sidestake to get the match, which Hogan won on a tight decision. The win set him on the road to stardom, and in 1957 he won the world featherweight crown to become Nigeria’s first world boxing champion. By then, though, Bassey had left Banasko and signed with George Biddles.
But in 1955, future world middle and light-heavy ruler Dick Tiger left Nigeria to join the Banasko camp. “Unlike Bassey, he showed no real sign of potential, and in the early stages was losing more than he was winning,” Peter told the Liverpool Echo in 1973. So when Bassey switched managers, Banasko decided to walk away from boxing. “I told Dick Tiger of my decision,” he recalled. “Dick was very upset, but I passed him on to Liverpool manager Tony Vairo and from then on he never looked back. Tony must get all the credit for Tiger’s rise to the top, like me with Bassey, but neither of us were there as we could, and should, have been when the world titles came around.”
FITTING TRIBUTE: Ten of Portsmouth’s best fighters are now immortalised on this impressive granite monument; Manuel, Lawal, Zale and Banasko pose for a photograph [below, from left]