I’VE heard ex-footballers on the radio like Robbie Savage criticising the recent crowd trouble and saying how boxing is such a dangerous sport to attend. They were absolutely slaughtering boxing, saying they’ve been to shows and it’s so intimidating and I thought ‘hang on, you’re going over the top’. These recent incidents are absolutely terrible, but I’ve been promoting 25 years and I’ve probably had three incidents in all that time, and thankfully nothing too serious. I think there’s usually a football element when there’s been crowd trouble in the past, and these recent situations are extreme examples but you can’t label all shows the same. Of course I’m desperately sorry about what’s happened to the young lad in Walsall. Those situations have obviously got desperately out of control, but I don’t think fighting at shows is the norm.
How many shows are there every weekend and how often is there trouble? Then you look at football and how many arrests there are. At the football they have much more funding and are able to physically segregate fans, whereas in boxing we have to work with the venues available. Maybe crowd trouble is on the rise at boxing, it’s not on the rise at any promotion I’m in, but I think we live in a more violent society these days. It annoys me these ex-footballers jumping on the bandwagon. Robbie Savage was saying it’s intimidating going to a boxing show, well it’s intimidating going to some football matches, much more than boxing. Usually in boxing, the opponent always gets a round of applause but that doesn’t happen in football. I went to the football last weekend with my pal Asif Vali, he’s a Bolton fan and I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan, and the fans were shouting all sorts of obscenities.
Some promoters do link their boxers with football teams, of course. Our promotion on Friday night was slightly linked with the two Sheffield teams. Liam Cameron is Sheffield United, I’m a big Wednesday fan, Sam Sheedy is a Wednesday fan. Now, we had them both on the pitch before the show happened, but there was no hint of any trouble at the show itself, which shows it can work. Ricky Hatton attached himself to Manchester City, but he still had United fans coming to watch him. Crowd trouble is usually a few mindless idiots who wouldn’t have the bottle to get in the ring on their own. Have a good night, behave yourselves, have a drink and something to eat, and just support your boxer.
Reports of crowd trouble will definitely put people off coming to boxing shows, of course. When I was younger I always wanted to go to America but I used to watch the television and think ‘everybody’s shooting each other!’. But if you go to America it can be much more laid back than it is over here, and they’ve got a gun culture. We need to say these recent incidents are absolutely shocking but they are isolated incidents, and we’re always trying to stamp out any kind of hooliganism that’s creeping into boxing. I wouldn’t ban alcohol at shows, and anyway half the time these people have probably got substances on them that sets them off. Of course, some people might drink too much and that’s why we have security. I think we have to continue to plan shows the right way, and also communicate with fans and say ‘these fighters are trying to change their lives, please don’t spoil it for them, and let’s all go on the journey together.’