Steve Dale...The box­ing butcher...

Alpine Observer - - News -

Wan­garatta’s Kevin ‘KB’ Hill reg­u­larly writes about lo­cal sport­ing leg­ends on his blog KB on Re­flec­tion at https://kbon­re­flec­tion. word­press.com/au­thor/ kb­hill7.

HE’S go­ing flat-chat. Has been since about 6.30am this morn­ing, in fact.

Af­ter all, it’s Fri­day and cus­tomers are pick­ing up their meat or­ders for the week-end. I sug­gest to Steve Dale that, maybe it’s not an ideal time to chew the fat with him.

“No wor­ries,” he says, and guides me out the front door of S & A Dale’s Butch­ery. A con­tin­ual stream of passers-by give him cheek. I sup­pose when you’ve been in busi­ness for over 30 years, you’re part of the fur­ni­ture in Myrtleford.

Steve’s slight and weath­er­beaten, with a warm smile. It’s a fair way back to his hal­cyon days as a boxer, when he rose to promi­nence in the glo­ri­ous era of Chan­nel 7’s T.V Ring­side.

He was the pride and joy of the Alpine Val­ley, this light­weight pug. His at­tack­ing style made him a favourite of fight fans, who re­li­giously turned on their tel­lies each Mon­day night, in the hope of watch­ing him in ac­tion.

Steve and his broth­ers – Bruce, John, Dick and Ger­ald ( he also had a sis­ter, Mau­reen) sparred each other reg­u­larly. They were right into box­ing and honed their craft at the old Myrtleford footy club rooms, where a ring was set up.

John Ga­roni, who was to be­come a great mate and men­tor, was Steve’s trainer and pol­ished his skills, guid­ing him through a five-year ama­teur ca­reer be­fore deem­ing him ready for pro ranks.

Af­ter a cou­ple of handy lo­cal wins, John sug­gested it might be time to step up in class. He quizzed Max Pes­cud, a for­mer lo­cal, and by now a top-notch city trainer, about the chance of pit­ting Steve against bet­ter-qual­ity op­po­nents.

Max was straight to the point: “Sure, but don’t waste your time com­ing down if the boy can’t fight.”

“He’ll be okay. He’s got the goods in my book,” was John’s re­ply.

He was matched against Phil Slater, a taller, more ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­nent, in his first bout at Fes­ti­val Hall in July of 1969.

Half-way through the first round he was knocked down and, as he grog­gily rose to his feet at the count of eight, the words of ref­eree Terry Reilly were ring­ing in his ears: “Get up”. “If I’d stayed down, I wouldn’t have been in­vited back,” Steve says.

He re­cov­ered well, to win the three-rounder. “I think my purse was about $30, which wasn’t bad dough for a young fel­lah in those days.”

The crowd, ap­pre­ci­at­ing his coura­geous come-back, and the rip­ping con­test, show­ered the ring with coins. He and Slater shared the spoils. “They used to bring the bucket of coins into the dress­ing-rooms af­ter­wards and we would divvy it up. Of­ten you’d pick up an­other $20, which was re­ally handy.”

I asked Steve what his sched­ule en­tailed on the day of a fight.

“I would start work at about six­ish and knock off at 1pm. I didn’t have a li­cense in those days, so I’d get a ride with some­one and we’d go out to Max Pes­cud’s place. I would re­lax while Max cooked me a bit of tea and then we’d head into Fes­ti­val Hall. Of­ten, we would drive home the same night.”

” I re­mem­ber, af­ter one of my big wins, Mick Flec­k­noe and the boys were still cel­e­brat­ing at the pub when we ar­rived home. We called in and joined them.”

Steve’s mum – his keen­est fan, couldn’t bear to watch him fight. ” She’d dis­ap­pear into the kitchen when I came on the telly. I don’t think she ever saw one of my fights.”

Af­ter chalk­ing up a suc­ces­sion of good wins, he had be­came a favourite of those hard-bit­ten Fes­ti­val Hall pa­trons. They’d seen him clam­ber back into a cou­ple of con­tests af­ter an early knock­down and knew that he was made of the right stuff.

As his ca­reer pro­gressed, one of Steve’s big­gest ob­sta­cles was find­ing suit­able spar­ring part­ners. He of­ten headed across to the Beech­worth goal, as there was no short­age of in­mates who were ea­ger to take him on.

It wasn’t ideal, but these make-shift ses­sions, com­bined with plenty of road­work, kept him in good nick and en­abled him to rein in his bat­tle with ris­ing weight.

He was rated one of the lead­ing con­tenders for Chan­nel 7’s ‘Crown’ light­weight cham­pi­onship con­test in 1970 – the lure be­ing a $10,000 purse. It at­tracted the cream of the na­tion’s box­ers in the weight di­vi­sion.

He opened with a good win over Duke Row­lands and was too good for a dour south­paw scrap­per, Steve Sz­abo in the sec­ond heat.

It had been a gru­elling con­test, with Sz­abo con­tin­u­ally hold­ing in the clos­ing stages. Dale’s crisp punch­ing and his ef­forts to keep ‘mak­ing’ the fight were again ac­claimed by the crowd when ref­eree Reilly raised his hand to sig­nify a win for the coun­try lad.

Steve’s pro record was, by now, 18 wins and a draw. He knew that he would have his work cut out against his next op­po­nent – the bril­liant Kempsey abo­rig­i­nal, Hec­tor Thomp­son.

Thomp­son was just ris­ing to promi­nence and was in the early stages of an 87-fight ca­reer which was to earn him na­tional ti­tles and sub­se­quently, the right to chal­lenge World Cham­pi­ons Roberto Du­ran and An­to­nio Cer­vantes.

Steve wishes he had been fit­ter for the fight.

“I was strug­gling to make the 9 stone 9 limit and had a sauna in the morn­ing. I still had to lose a bit, so I jumped into the sauna again. It drained me of a fair bit of en­ergy, but Hec­tor proved too strong. He beat me on points in an eight-rounder. I’m not sure whether it was he, or the Ton­gan, Manny San­tos, who won the $10,000.”

But Steve reck­ons Hec­tor Thomp­son wasn’t his tough­est op­po­nent.

“I fought a bloke called Billy O’Con­nor twice in 1971. What a rugged sort of cus­tomer he was!

I was lucky enough to beat him on points in our first meet­ing. We met again at Fes­ti­val Hall a month later and he sent me home with two black eyes and cut above the eye. It was a hell of a fight and was de­clared a draw.”

Steve hung up the gloves af­ter 34 pro fights, but has main­tained his de­vo­tion to the sport. With the help of a cou­ple of mates, Kevin Gre­aly and Ger­ard Har­ring­ton, he has op­er­ated a gym at the Myrtleford Show­grounds for more than 30 years.

For a gold coin do­na­tion, which cov­ers light­ing, a steady stream of lo­cals re­ceive box­ing lessons, or just take the op­por­tu­nity to keep fit each Mon­day night. The great Gary Ablett was one who pulled on the gloves un­der the tute­lage of Steve Dale.

One of Steve and Ali­son’s sons, Damien, is in­volved in the butch­ery. The other – Si­mon – who is em­ployed at TAFE, is also a box­ing ‘nut’ and op­er­ates his own back­yard gym in Wan­garatta.

Si­mon was eight years-old and had been earn­ing a bit of pock­et­money at the shop, when his arm was caught in a min­cer.

De­spite the loss of the arm, he earned a name for him­self as a hard-work­ing ruck­man for Myrtleford in the early 2000’s.

But his dream had been to fol­low in his dad’s foot­steps. In his first bout at Al­bury’s Com­mer­cial Club, and with big-names Long John McCub­bin and Barry Michael in his cor­ner, he won eas­ily.

Be­cause of his dis­abil­ity, Si­mon had to reluc­tantly give box­ing away af­ter record­ing three straight wins. How­ever, it cer­tainly hasn’t damp­ened his en­thu­si­asm.

And there’s no short­age of that in the Dale fam­ily.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.