June 1986 was not a good time for me. I was 21 years old, had finished my degree at the University of Glasgow and found myself sleeping on someone’s couch. I was working in a bar in the downtown Partick area of Glasgow and Sharon Flood, with whom I worked, had taken pity on me and offered to put me up.
I still had pretensions towards a political career and was trying to work out how my next step would appear from my stupor. I was due to start on my teaching qualification in the September, having got into the College down where I lived back in Ayr, some 35 miles from my current “abode”.
Sharon was a great friend and of all the time she put up with me there was hardly a day that went by without me finding it ending at the bottom of a bottle. Working in a bar meant it was very handy as a pastime.
I cannot tell you where I was in January, February, March or April. May went by in a blur although my 21st birthday was memorable; at least I think so. What I can remember is the 23rd June 1986.
Once more I had found myself thirsty by late afternoon and had taken to quenching all of my thirst in the quickest time period possible; usually it then lasted well into the evening.
For some strange reason, I was keen to get home and crawl into my sofa bed early. But this night, my erstwhile flatmate had other ideas. As I settled down to my nightly self-pity, the front door burst open, a drunker than me Sharon appeared and the living room was all lit up as she fiddled with the radio to tune into the big fight.
My connection to boxing by this time had become the nodding acquaintance of anyone who thought they were once an expert and I was willingly trying to ignore how important this fight was to the people around me; lest they asked questions to which I knew not the answer.
The west coast of Scotland has always been Northern Ireland in miniature. The Troubles of that province has always been a step, a skip and a hop from the Troubles of religious bigotry ingrained into our very own DNA.
On the 23rd June 1986, such intolerance was again put to one side as we all hoped and prayed that a symbol of unity, “The Clones Cyclone”, would nip across the pond, defend his title and come back in one piece to continue his good work; after all who the hell was Steve Cruz? If we did not know before, we were going to find out now as he took apart our hope and scattered it into the cyclone of despair. Over 15 rounds in the Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Barry McGuigan, a man who had united Protestant and Catholic alike in Belfast lost on points, both his WBA and lineal featherweight titles.
We were all to mourn as Barry ended up in hospital from dehydration – it reached 50C out there. We had listened intently as he had begun brightly, leading half way through but then being floored in round 10 and then again in round 15 meant his titles were gone and we were without the fairy tale of Las Vegas; even though like most Celts he lost his dream fight in a car park…
20 Million viewers on the BBC had seen him win the world title in London, but 2 Scottish fans, from the two sides of that religious divide, were left heartbroken in that flat in Glasgow when he lost it in the wee small hours.
This lows had been significant because of the lack of political sting McGuigan represented. He refused to be partisan and as a Catholic who was married to a Protestant he found love was all around him. A few years ago, in an interview with British newspaper, The Guardian he reflected on his lack of religious symbolism, “The fact that I wouldn’t wear green, white and gold or put on a sign that said this is who I represent was powerful. It was a very mature and dangerous thing to do. I wouldn’t choose sides. People appreciated that. Even now there’s still tension; but people on the Protestant side of town like me just as much as the Catholic guys. So the politics made it unique. I was a political mishmash, coming from the south, going north, winning a world title in London. Looking back, I see it was special.”
When he won the world title, according to that interview with the Guardian, which was published when he brought out his autobiography, his ability to recruit the Scots coupled with the ability to tenderly touch our emotions was evident, as he recalled that night in London when he won the WBA belt. “Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, was lost in the crowd that wild night. He has since written about the response of his father, a Scottish hardman. Irvine Welsh went with his dad to the fight and, just before the first bell, he turned around to look at his father. In the ring my dad was singing Danny Boy and Irvine was amazed to see his own father crying. He’d never seen his dad cry before.”
Some years later, from a car park in Las Vegas, the significance of that loss brought one wee Scottish softie to his feet, a Catholic host and a Protestant lodger sought to end the night in a toast for the future. I know, that as Carl Frampton is scaling the same heights, McGuigan shall have two things close to his mind; the role of father figure he now holds as he guides and advises, and the life of Young Ali, the Nigerian fighter that died after their fight to remind him of why his counsel is needed. Peace has almost come to Northern Ireland. It is fairly quiet there just now – half the population are in Las Vegas…Contact the Feature Writers