AS we slowly move out of a whole series of lockdowns and professional boxing, both indoor and outdoor, starts to pick up again it is not at all surprising to find our small-hall promoters clamouring to stage shows once again. September already looks like it is going to be a very busy month, and this is great news for the hordes of young lads, ticket-sellers and journeymen, whose careers have been largely put on hold for the last 18 months.
Over the course of the last 40 years or so the number of promotions taking place throughout the UK has tended to fluctuate between 200 and about 280 per year. The last year in which there were over 300 professional tournaments was as long ago as 1955, and throughout the entire period between 1961 and 1976 there were less than 200 shows each year. Throughout the entire period of the second world war, there were never less than 400 shows and in two of the years, 1940 and 1942, well over 500. After the war, a boom took place and it was not uncommon for there to be over 1,000 events held annually within the UK. This ended with the introduction of entertainment tax in 1953, when promoters had to pay as much as a third of their profit to the Government, who were struggling to repair a crippled post-war economy, and small hall boxing never really recovered.
For truly astronomic numbers one must go back to the 1930s and, in particular, the years between 1930 and 1934. Over the course of this five-year period there were never less than 4,000 shows per year and, in both 1931 and 1933, over 5,000. It was possible to see two, or even three professional tournaments held on the same day in towns and cities such as Preston, Sheffield, Leeds and Barnsley. In much smaller places, such as Royton and Colne in Lancashire, there were rival promoters regularly staging shows on the same evening to large and enthusiastic audiences. Professional boxing could be seen all over the UK, often in in places that have been starved of the sport for the last 70 or so years; Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria, where little of note happens these days, were all hotbeds, with hundreds of young lads fighting on licensed tournaments in places such as Penzance, Truro, Camborne, Newton Abbot, Diss, Spalding, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Whitehaven, Workington and Penrith. In the larger industrial areas, such as South Wales and the North-East, there were hundreds of tournaments each year and in Newcastle, at the St James Hall, one could watch professional boxing six nights a week throughout 1933 and 1934.
The world-wide economic depression, which commenced in 1929 and lasted throughout the 1930s, was responsible for this boom in the sport in Britain. I used to talk to many fighters from that period and while most of them enjoyed their ring careers, they nearly all told me that they boxed because they had to as times were so hard. The purses they fought for, often less than £1, at least helped to put food on the table and this period was not called the ‘Hungry Thirties’ for nothing. Nowhere was as hard hit at South Wales, where most of the coal mines were struggling to remain economically viable, and with tens of thousands of miners repeatedly being laid off, professional boxing provided some sort of income to the many young lads who laced up the gloves, even if there weren’t that many people around who could afford to come and watch them.
Now that the pandemic is at last receding, it would be marvellous to see boxing undergo another mini-boom and for that magic total of 300 shows to be finally breached again, and so let’s all get behind our small-hall promoters to help make this happen, for they need our support.