“ALAN MINTER will be there.” Five words that could trigger all manner of feelings. It just depended on when in Minter’s life they were uttered.
In the late Sixties, if a young amateur heard those five words after asking who was going to be in the opposite corner, the emotion they stirred was one of fear. Back then Minter’s reputation was burgeoning fast. Naturally quiet outside the ring but a feisty southpaw within it, a teenage Minter had already made a name for himself in his native Crawley and beyond. A few years later, the whole town welcomed him back from the 1972 Olympics to cheer his achievements.
If en route to a function at the height of Minter’s beer-swilling days, then a feeling of dread often met the announcement that “Alan Minter will be there.” Just ask the queen of boxing PR, Geraldine Davies, who had the misfortune of trying to keep Minter and fellow former world middleweight king Terry Downes in check on a long-haul flight to America in the mid-eighties. The pilot got so tired of the shenanigans he threatened to land the plane in the ocean.
The first time I heard those five words was approximately four years ago when I’d decided not to go to the monthly Ex-Boxers meeting in Brighton. I called to let them know I couldn’t make it when I was told, “Alan Minter will be there.” Immediately I felt excitement. Alan “Boom Boom” Minter will be there. I couldn’t possibly miss that.
By then Minter had kicked his booze habit and was charming and shy in equal measure. His face wore souvenirs from his life of fighting and excess. His nose – which had been spread all over his face by Tony Sibson in Minter’s final fight in 1981 – was swollen and puffy. There were other scars that told a tale on his notorious bleeding habit; barely a fight went by without Minter getting cut.
“That used to drive me mad and I went to see the doctor about it,” Alan told me in July this year. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it apart from not get hit in the first place and in boxing that’s not easy! It would always be at the back of your mind when you were in a fight. ‘Don’t get cut, don’t get cut.’ But I had to get used to it. It really was as simple as if I got caught with a punch, I got cut.”
But those striking blue eyes still dominated that handsome and increasingly rugged face. Even though he remained in the corner of the room and declined the offer to take the mic and say a few words, Minter – always happy to be recognised and delighted to talk one-on-one – exuded a sense of royalty like only the best boxers can.
The last time I heard those five words was last September. Minter was a staunch supporter of the Ex-Boxers Associations and would always attend functions when he could. At Brighton’s EBA, Minter was the life Vice-President – a position that will now be filled by his son, Ross. Alan talked warmly about the work that Ringside Rest and Care were undertaking, the charity set up by Dave Harris to fund a residential home for ex-boxers. Minter was keen to donate items from his personal collection to raise money to help those in need. “We have to do all we can to get this going,” he said.
It wasn’t long afterwards when we first heard whispers that Alan was in poor health himself. But you would never hear Minter admit that. He was too proud and most certainly didn’t want any sympathy. It was a wish that everyone who stayed in contact with him honoured.
When I spoke with Alan for the last time, we talked of the EBAs and of the upcoming meeting. “I’ll be there,” he said. Yet on this occasion, he wasn’t. Not in person at least. Minter passed away from cancer three days before last Sunday’s meeting. But as it all began with a minute’s silence in his honour and was followed by countless more where those in attendance reminisced about the great British fighter, it became clear the opposite was true. Alan Minter will always be there.