EVEN the best referees will have their brushes with controversy during a long career. It’s inevitable given the subjective nature of scoring and the extreme partisanship shown by some fans. Turn back the clock 40 years to this week in 1979 and one of Britain’s finest third men was at the centre of a contentious decision that gave rise to some of the ugliest scenes ever witnessed in British boxing.
Sid Nathan was the man in charge of a British featherweight title clash between reigning champion Dave Needham of Nottingham and his Warley challenger Pat Cowdell. Both boxers were first-class: Needham a slick southpaw and Cowdell a superb box-fighter and clinically precise shot-picker. This eagerly awaited Midlands derby took place in Pat’s neck of the woods at Wolverhampton Civil Hall.
Both had been brilliant amateurs. Needham, twice an ABA champion, had won gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games. Cowdell, meanwhile, amassed four ABA titles, won Commonwealth gold and European bronze in 1974 and bronze at the ’76 Olympics. Needham (29-5-1), a former British bantamweight titlist, had been a pro for eight years and was making the first defence of the featherweight crown he’d won the previous April. Cowdell, 10-1 going into the fight and a pro for just two years, was making his first title challenge in the paid ranks.