History | Issue | Premium | Sep 19 2019

Did Sporting Clubs save boxing?

Small hall boxing might have died out without them

UNTIL about 60 years ago, all a promoter had to do when arranging a show was to ensure that he had some well-matched fighters at the top of the bill (with one preferably local), to print and distribute handbills and posters, and to hire a suitable public hall in which to stage the event. The public would then turn up to see the boxing. As long as the boxing was good enough then the same customers would turn up, show after show. Boxing halls were full of knowledgeable fans who would watch every contest and then leave en-masse once the boxing had finished. There was an abundance of small halls and most of these halls had staged boxing for many years. These days it is very different. While there is an abundance of venues holding boxing tournaments, and most bills have local talent on display, it is largely down to the boxers to sell the bulk of the tickets to their friends and admirers. A large proportion of the crowd know little about the sport and many of them only watch the contest in which the boxer they have come to see is taking part.

The small hall scene as we knew it died out in the 1960s. There were still a number of these halls about, particularly in London, with York Hall, the Manor Place Baths and Shoreditch Town Hall being good examples. In the provinces some of the old halls still struggled along. Liverpool Stadium, St James Hall in Newcastle and the Public Hall in Preston still put on the occasional show, but it was the Sporting Clubs that kept the sport alive. These have largely disappeared now, but without them the sport may very well not have survived at all. 

Increased competition from television, coupled with the growth of interest in other sports, kept the traditional boxing fan away and promoters found that the only way they could make the grass roots of the game profitable was by setting up a Sporting Club. The members paid an annual fee for the right to attend all of the shows that the club held within the year. The boxing was only part of the evening’s entertainment with a meal and perhaps a comedian or guest speaker thrown in. They usually comprised of only three or four bouts.   


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