History | Premium | Jan 05 2020

The mysterious and tragic story of Digger Stanley

Digger Stanley was a Traveller world champion a century before Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders
Digger Stanley

BY any standards his short life was unspeakably hard. The story goes that when George “Digger” Stanley was a boy his father sold him to a boxing-booth owner for a gold sovereign and a pint of beer. He was aged somewhere between 12 and 15. But no one, not even Digger himself, knew his exact age or, for that matter, where he was born. His birthplace was sometimes given as Kingston-on-Thames, but other times as Norwich, Lincoln or Reading. Stanley was a Traveller (or ‘gypsy’) and could not read or write. At the height of his fame, he wore a magnificent gold watch, but he had to ask others to tell him the time. His boxing literacy, though, was never in doubt.

He learnt his trade on a travelling boxing booth under Billy Le Neve, the booth owner his father supposedly sold him to. Tackling men of all weights and sizes, Digger not only learnt how to box but how to employ the game’s darker arts.

“He could break more rules, more artfully, than almost any other boxer of the past few decades,” said his BN obituary, but he was also “a superlatively clever boxer and ring strategist.”


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