LIKE many another young man before me, I fell in love in a dance hall … but in my case the object of devotion was not a girl, but a sport, and the affair has endured more than 30 years.
I was eight years old at the time, and like most of my contemporaries in County Derry, I hero-worshipped Billy “Spider” Kelly, the Derry city stylist who held the British and Empire featherweight titles. I was growing obsessed with a sport I had never seen, nor had any realistic prospect of ever seeing, until one happy Wednesday I saw an advertisement in the local paper for an amateur show to be held that weekend in Palais de Danse, a long, low hall at the end of the promenade in my hometown, Portstewart. My pocket money at that time was 6d a week (2.5p). It bought a lot more then than it would now, but it was still a long way short of the admission charge. Until the night of the show I did not know whether or not I would be going, although I had talked of little else in the preceding days.
But that evening my father gave me half a crown (12.5p), a fortune to my eight-year-old eyes, and sent me off to watch the boxing. He cannot have guessed what he was starting. I was instantly captivated by the sport, by its atmosphere, its colour, its excitement, its humour, its passion.