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The Fighting forebears of Dave Allen

Dave Allen's family
There's more to the story of Dave Allen than you knew

LAST year I wrote in this column about Doncaster manager and promoter Billy Bridgwater. One of the boxers that Billy will have come into regular contact with was Bernard Allen. Bernard was a pretty decent featherweight during the 1920s and he is the great-grandfather of one of the most popular heavyweights around today, Dave Allen of Conisborough. 

Much has been written and said about Dave; he is a hard man in the ring and a likeable one outside the ropes. He certainly comes from solid fighting stock. His father, also called Dave, boxed at welterweight between 1978 and 1984. As an amateur he boxed twice for Young England, stopping Robert Reichl in a 9-2 thrashing of Young Germany in 1976 and then lost against Young Ireland the following year. He became the North-East Counties champion in 1978 and was the losing finalist against Lee Hartshorn in the Northern Counties finals in the same year. He also reached the ABA junior semi-finals in 1975, being outscored by Cliff Gilpin, another excellent pro some years later.

With such solid amateur credentials, he quickly made his mark as a professional, winning most of his early contests and being described by BN as a “fine balanced fighter with good footwork” and “displaying a sharp left hook with plenty of coolness”. His final contest was at the Bramall Lane football ground, the home of Sheffield United, and he went out with a win against Wednesbury’s Granville Allen, who he stopped in five. 

His grandfather, Bernard, was usually billed from Mexborough, a short distance away from Conisborough. At the time the area was a real hotbed of boxing talent. There were plenty of pits from which to call on this talent, as coalminers often made excellent boxers. The leading venue in the area was at the Plant Hotel grounds, in Mexborough, and the photograph on the right shows another local favourite, Harry Crossley, in the ring before one of his many winning contests at the Plant in the mid-1920s. Boxing was always in the open air behind the pub, and it took place regularly on Saturday afternoon.  

Bernard had quite a few of his early bouts here. He commenced his career with an unbeaten run of seven bouts and he was then matched at the Plant against another local tough guy, Billy Brown of Barnsley. Bernard retired after six gruelling rounds. Over the next few years he had bouts all over Yorkshire, winning a few and losing a few along the way. One of his better wins came at Leeds in 1926 when he knocked out Fred Hampson, who also came from a well-known fighting family, in six rounds, after having him on the floor in the previous round. When the depression hit Britain in the late 1920s, Bernard uprooted his family to move to the Kent coalfield where work was much more obtainable. 

He settled in Aylesham, the current home of fellow historian, and my great friend, Harold Alderman. Harold is a mine of information on boxing in this area and he tells me that after arriving Bernard took his place alongside many other professionals, some of them from Yorkshire, including another fine Mexborough fighter from an earlier era, Tom Stokes, and some from Wales, including the excellent Gus Legge, who had fought at the highest level some years before.

He trained at the Greyhound pub in Aylesham.  This pub, always referred to affectionately as ‘The Dog’ had a gym at the back and it was full of fighters.   

Bernard boxed quite a few times in Kent, at Folkestone, Deal and Margate. His bout against Frenchman, Andre Callon, of Boulogne, 1929 was particularly noteworthy. A round-by-round summary of the contest was reported in the Folkestone Herald. The bout concluded in the sixth and the newspaper reports that Allen was the stronger man throughout. Poor Carron lost two teeth due to Allen’s punching power.

Dave Allen
It’s no wonder Dave Allen gives as much as he does in the ring Action Images/Adam Holt

Bernard returned to South Yorkshire with his young son, Harry, in 1938 and he no doubt took pride in his grandson’s career during the 1970s. The Allens from Conisborough were all hard men and it is no wonder that Dave gives as much as he does in the ring today, for his fighting pedigree certainly lives up to close scrutiny.

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