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Told he was the son of a prostitute and a rapist, Frank Grant defied his past to become British champion

Frank Grant vs. Herol Graham (Action Images)
Bradford's Frank Grant used a turbulent upbringing as the fuel to stop Herol Graham in a 1992 British middleweight title fight, writes Terry Dooley

WE are products of our environment. We can either begin an incremental process of knowing who we are, where we came from, and what that made us into or you can escape and start afresh. Former British middleweight Champion Frank Grant, 22-4 (17), opted for the second option when moving away from his native Bradford 15 years ago.

Grant now lives in a sleepy street in Yorkshire, a quiet man unobtrusively going about his life. After meeting me at the station with his beloved dog, Whit, the 54-year-old drove us to his home.

If you search for details of his life after boxing two incidents of assault come up: a domestic common assault conviction in 1996 that he strongly disputes, and a GBH with intent charge in 2001 to which he pleaded guilty and received four years for in 2002.

There was also a minor firearms charge for possession of bullets after the police raided his pub in 1998; he claimed that his former wife had found them, and they had been locked away and forgotten about.

Grant wanted to not only address his past, but also draw a line under a family mystery that had haunted him for decades.  

The former fighter took a deep breath then began a “cathartic” process.

“I want people to know the childhood I had,” he told Boxing News. “I was born in Bradford and my mother was a prostitute. My mother was one of those prostitutes who was put out there by her boyfriend, not my dad. I boxed for personal reasons. I was coming from somewhere darker than everyone else. I boxed and won the British title because my mother was a prostitute and my father was a convicted rapist.

“We lived in Greenlane in Manning and mum prostituted herself there. I went to Greenlane First School and she was prostituting herself outside it. She was living a chaotic life. Why a woman would stand outside a school and do that is something I don’t understand. We moved away from the red light area, but she carried on pretty much until she died in 1990. Everyone knew about it.”

His father, Guyana-born former professional fighter Hugh Mackie, 14-43-5 (13), had left the family home when he was five after his mother decided to move on. A comment she made to him a few times had lingered long in the memory.

“There was five of us in our family by four different fathers,” he recalled. “When I was seven, my mum turned around and said: ‘Your father is a rapist.’ You don’t understand the repercussions and ramifications of it at that age.

“My dad came to Bradford in the early-fifties then went out to those fairground boxing booths in Germany in about 1954. There were a few of them over there when this rape was committed. I didn’t know anything about that at the time because it happened 10 years before I was born.

“I’d been wondering if it was true, if my dad had jumped out of some bushes one night to attack someone. My mam never knew the ins and outs, she might have just got with him and heard about it. My sister has the same biological father as me, so maybe between having my sister and me she heard about it.

“My mum used to say ‘There is no one on your birth certificate’ — I’d never understand what she was saying. Eventually, I was 14 and said: ‘Why do you say that?’ She was shocked, as I’d usually walk away. She was always angry and frenetic when she said it. My mum wasn’t a bad person, though. If you put people into the good and bad category she wasn’t in the bad person one.

“I went back to my dad a second time when I was 14,” he added. “I lived with him until I left school. The house had one cold water tap, the gas had been cut off and there was an outside toilet. I thought: ‘I can’t live here.’ My mum said she didn’t want me, so I went to a friend who had a flat from the council. He said you had to have a parent sign for it if you were under 18. I told my mum I’d leave if she helped me get a flat and that was it. I was 16.

“I had tried rugby. It wasn’t for me, boxing was my sport, so my friend took me down to the boxing gym in Bradford in 1983. In 1984, I committed an offence — assault, it has always been assault — and I went to prison. It was a blessing in disguise because I got transferred to Liverpool, which is where I became the gym orderly — it was great.”

Grant had picked up the bug from watching his father shadowbox. He turned over post-prison and without an amateur career. A first round debut loss to Lincoln Pennant in October 1986 didn’t deter him. He rattled off nine wins before losing to Franky Moro on points over six and, later, Kid Milo (over 10), with a run of four stoppage wins in between the defeats.

Manager John Celebanski was unable to secure Grant the fights he craved. The aggressive southpaw had been over for some sparring at the Champs Camp gym in Moss Side. He liked what he saw so saw out his contract with Celebanski before joining Phil Martin’s growing stable.

“I’d seen Ossie Maddix and Ensley fight on Fight Night and they were good little fighters. I saw the gym, thought ‘This is a good little workhouse’, and with Manchester only being an hour away it made sense for me to move on. My mum died. Ironically it was a blessing for me when it came to boxing because I’d been working, but she had got the house paid for so I could pack the job in and give boxing my undivided attention. I joined Champs Camp then fought Alan Richards [w rsf 5 in 1991].”

Herol Graham
Grant would have to defeat the formidable Herol Graham (left) to become British champion (Action Images)

Opportunity came knocking courtesy of the offer of a short-notice challenge against British titlist Herol Graham in 1990 only for it to coincide with an irregular routine brain scan result, which was later proven to be an error. As abruptly as the offer verbal had come it was withdrawn, leaving the young fighter distraught.

The British Boxing Board of Control promised Grant a crack at the belt. In 1992 that promise passed into reality — he was all set to challenge Graham at Leeds United’s Elland Road. Life had been piling up on Grant for a while, his frenetic pre-fight preparation was not ideal, and he was still battling the memories of his past.

“I’m bringing loads of baggage from the scan,” Grant explained, thinking back. “I’m angry. I’ve been told I’m the son of a rapist, something that had always been in my mind, but I had never been able to talk about with my father. The reason I won that title was because of my history, my mental history, and the fact I was sat in the dressing room thinking: ‘I’ve got to do this because who does it from where I come from?’ You use that type of thing. Boxing is all about what you haven’t had in life, what you want in life and then using all those to your advantage.”

Grant won in nine to become the first and only British fighter to hold a victory over Graham. It should have been the beginning. Sadly, it was the beginning of the end of his time in boxing. Cracks in his relationship with Martin had widened to the point where Grant took him before the Board for what he alleged was money owed after losing the title to Neville Brown in his second defence (L rsf 7 in 1993). When the Board ruled in his former manager and trainer’s favour, Grant decided that enough was enough; boxing was the sport for him, the business not so much.

“I thought: ‘I’m sick of this game.’ I could speak and talk well, my memory wasn’t too bad. I’d worked until 1990 and had put myself through my Heavy Goods Licence, so I could always fall back on that. I met a girl, got a pub and it all turned upside down. I got done for common domestic assault. I wasn’t guilty. I pleaded guilty because between being charged and the conviction she came back to me and said the police had made her make the statement.

“We got married, went to court and they still wouldn’t drop the charge. The only way to fight it was to tell the truth, which was that she was taking drugs and shagging a couple of people. I wasn’t prepared to sully her reputation so I thought ‘F**k it!’ — I pleaded guilty as it was the most minor of charges.

“A few weeks later, I threw some guy out of the pub for hitting his girlfriend and he said: ‘You can’t talk.’ I thought: ‘Oh my god, this is a stick that people can hit me with.’ There were one and two more instances so I asked the girl if we could go and get the conviction quashed. She left, got an injunction out on the base of that conviction and my life was absolutely upside down. The police came after me, I lost my pub and then two years after that I had problems with this doorman.”

The incident in question was probably the last time most people heard about Grant. He attacked Trevor Hoey in 2001, leaving him with bruises, fractures, and a torn ear. The judges’ verdict was damning and despite strong character witnesses a four-year sentence was handed down. Grant still strongly disputes the domestic charge, and also argues that he had been constantly goaded by Hoey over it, but he was open about his part in this one.

“This doorman just wanted to come at it with me verbally on the doors,” he said. “I said: ‘You don’t want to f**k about with me, I’ll smash your face in.’ Eventually one thing led to another and he assaulted me when I was drunk one night and all the other doormen jumped on me. I see him alone one night and go over to give him a hiding. I knocked him out. I knew I was in trouble.”

Grant looked down for a second before taking the story up again. “My mental state couldn’t have been lower because I looked at him down on the floor and thought: ‘F**k it, I’m going to bite his ear off.’ So I bit part of it off. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Anger had built up in me for years.

“I got mentioned again one last time when the guy killed himself. They mentioned me beating him up 10 years before that. Today’s news used to be tomorrow’s chip shop paper. Now we have a digital history that can be traced on phones. This guy had mental issues — that must be why he was starting it up with me — but I suppose we all have mental issues.

“I did my time then had to get out of Bradford. Time heals everything. Sometimes you have to accept things. You have to be philosophical, philosophy gets you through a lot of things and I read a lot of books. I don’t go to pubs or clubs. I work nights and on my nights off I’ll have a bottle of wine with my fantastic girl, Donna. I’m doing alright. I just had to get out of Bradford because it wasn’t conducive to my mental health.”

Frank Grant and his dog, Whit

We are now bang up-to-date with Grant’s story. Or at least you think we are. The long shadow of his father’s conviction for rape had always haunted and puzzled him. “That’s him up there,” he said, pointing to an urn on a bookcase.

“People throw the ashes away, don’t they, but I didn’t — do you want to take a look?” he asked before taking it down. “That’s my dad in there, man — a great person who I loved so much. He was lovely, beautiful and kind, and he’d never been abusive — my mum had verbally abused me with the things she had said.

“In 2010, a guy called George Melgram got someone to phone me up. He said he’d been in Germany after my dad’s arrest. I’m wondering what this is about. He is 80 by now this guy so I got his number. He told me that all these boxers were over there. One of the girlfriends was up for having sex with some of the boxers, some of them were black.

“That is what happened. It caused a bit of an uproar, you have to remember that this was the 1950s in Germany. The boxer and his girlfriend were white so after a brouhaha my dad got two-years. I finally knew what he said had happened.”

His mother’s taunt of “There is no one on your birth certificate” had also frequently popped into his head over the years. Grant produced an immaculately ordered folder of paper work. “In 2016, I had to apply for a job and get my full birth certificate. I’ll get it out for you. I bet you know what it is going to show you, don’t you?”

The full certificate listed his mother’s details. However, a line had been struck through where his father’s details should have been as his mother had not wanted him to be on there. It had taken years yet Grant finally knew what she had meant.

“Me and my sister have the same father. She has his name on her certificate and my mum chose not to have his name on mine,” he revealed. “She mocked me about it instead and she’d got me from the grave. It is a funny old world, isn’t it? My dad is my dad, he was always in my life.

“He was lovely, my dad. He’d just tell me to look after myself and not to let people knock me about. He died in 2014 and towards the end he had dementia. He had perfection retention of some old memories, but he couldn’t remember stuff from forty seconds ago. I felt close to him because I could finally ask him stuff about his career, as he never talked about it before that. A boxing historian called Miles Templeton recently got me his ring record and old write ups from Boxing News. He boxed all over England, Scotland and Ireland — even fighting Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly, too. My dad did good.”

And that really was that. That is Frank Grant for you, warts and all and bang up-to-date.

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  • It’s a great story, but the stream of consciousness dialogue without much editorial control by the writer makes it hard to read. The Gomez article is a terrific example of how it can be done, but it’s terrific to hear these kind of stories about these kind of characters

    • I get you, it just ended up working out better that way. I had lots of questions, but got into Frank’s personal story so went with it. I cut my bits in the final edit to let his story of personal redemption flow and to make it more about his family dynamic. We’ve about 2000 of his words on the Graham fight and Champs Camp so I’ll use my own research and have more of my bits in that ine as I can do it online and be more expansive. Cheers, Terry

  • Great article about one of British boxings forgotten characters, glad to hear he’s doing well. Thank you.

    • Tough fighter I saw box few times late 80s. Tragic story of franks early years, great to see him settled .

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