Having got myself back into the writing groove after some time off I was able to reflect on what I would like to look back upon for RSR. One of the things I have been loving is reflecting on the past. Scotland is after all a nation with nostalgia listed as a national pastime.
I therefore took the decision that I would like to combine that passion with another wee indulgence of mine; the stories of the boxers who are not well known, the ones who make the sport mass participation but whose presence often gets overlooked. It is their narratives and their journeys that fascinate me because I never laced a glove but have often been stirred by the dedication of the little people upon whose shoulders the greats stand.
Of course, if any of the boxers have an affinity to Scotland my interest becomes that bit keener…
I took myself right back in time for this boxer who was boxing long before I was born. I will be honest and say that, until I did some digging, his was a name that was unfamiliar to me.
The Dartford Destroyer, Dave Charnley, was the British lightweight champion who many believe was the best lightweight champion, Britain has ever had. A southpaw, he had a sharp style with plenty of power that made him very popular with promoters and punters alike. Charnley was well built and carried very powerful forearms. His style was forward moving with aggression a key watchword for all that he gave. Outside the ring, he was introspective and quiet. A modest man, he was not one for the limelight, until the lights shone in the ring and there he was a ferocious fighter. He gave out sever punishment and he took it in return.
Though born in Dartford, Kent in England, Charnley was of Scottish heritage as both his parents had come down from Lanarkshire in Scotland to live in the South East of England. In 1954 he won the ABA featherweight title and in the same year was off to Vancouver to take bronze in the British Empire and Commonwealth games. His amateur career had been out of the famous Fitzroy Lodge Club in London so success, though not guaranteed, was half expected.
It was his professional career that had caught my attention because most commentators have given him a single accolade; the best British boxer NEVER to have won a world title.
It is an award few would wish though Charnley was to contest the world title twice. His first attempt in Houston in the late fifties, against Joe “Old Bones” Brown was stopped after 5 rounds because of a cut Charnley had suffered over his right eye. Charnley’s second and last world title attempt happened in Britain, in front of a then record indoor crowd of 18,000 at Earls Court in London. It was against Brown for the second time in April 1961. It was a narrow points loss which he, and most others who were there that night, believed was a wayward decision. Charnley though, was far too much of a sportsman and gentleman to speak out about the injustice he had faced.
Two years further on, in 1963 he was to knock Brown out in the 6th round of a non-title contest in Manchester in 1963 as a consolation. Without a belt to console him, I reckon it was scant use.
The professional ranks, joined when he was just 19 years of age, at the end of 1954, had not been a smooth transition though success was around the corner when he won the British lightweight title in 1957 by beating Joe Lucy on points. Charnley held onto that British title for 7 years, until he retired in 1964.
In 1959, he added the Empire title, at the second time of asking, against Willie Toweel. His victory was a 10th round knockout as he showed himself and the world that he was world level as a boxer. It was this rise that put his name on the lips of many who were sure he would make the next step with ease – into being a world champion. 1960 proved it again as he added the European title by stopping Mario Vecchiatto at Wembley.
All great boxers have at least one fight that gets mentioned with hushed voices and it was on the 20th November in 1961 that Charnley managed to defend his British lightweight title against David “Darkie” Hughes when he finished him in 40 seconds! Including the count!!!
By now, even without the world title, he was making the type of money about which many were dreaming. He had a head firmly on top of his shoulders and he began the plan for his retiral. He started with a hair salon. He then moved into the property business and before long, and after hanging up his gloves, he became financially successful. This made him, very much, a different story than the many fighters who had fought, loved and lost. It may destroy the level of romanticism we can attach to Charnley’s name but this was a guy who knew he had to be out the game at some point. He should be a poster boy for pros who are about to retire.
He was lost to us in 2012, at the age of 76 and had a career that ran professionally from 1954 to his retirement in 1964. He fought 61 times professionally with 48 wins, 27 by way of knockout, 12 losses and 1 draw. That would equate to 6 fights per year, a ring challenge every 8 weeks on average. Such industry was rewarded through his financial prudence and as an audience, people saw a true boxer fight and entertain with a very successful career. As we write the stories of others who got that world accolade I shall keep one eye on the career of a man who never got the belt but went the distance.Contact the Feature Writers