THERE’S a topic that gets discussed on social media and net message forums with predictable regularity. Who was the greatest British boxer never to win a world title? Answers tend to focus on fighters from the 1980s onwards, and there are lots of worthy nominees from earlier periods who get overlooked – mainly, I think, because they aren’t well known to modern fans. One name that often gets missed but should be quickly thrust into any such debate is that of Dave Charnley. Known as “The Dartford Destroyer”, southpaw Charnley was undefeated in British and European lightweight title fights, but lost his two world title bids to American Joe Brown, being stopped on a cut the first time and on the wrong end of a debatable decision in the return. Back in 1970 – six years after Dave’s retirement – BN sat down with the former champ to get the inside track on his career.
How did it all begin?
I joined the Dartford Boys’ Club, where we were living, at an early age and at 15 won a Junior ABA title. Then I moved to Fitzroy Lodge. I was sorry to leave my hometown club, but I realised that to make any real progress I would have to be more in the middle of things. Dartford couldn’t put on many shows and I wanted plenty of experience.
Who was the toughest amateur you faced?
Tommy Nicholls was a bit useful. We had a hard one at Manor Place Baths. I thought I’d won but it went the other way. Later Tommy won a European gold and an Olympic silver. He had a lot of skills.
There was a bit of a queue for you when it was known you were going pro.
Our telephone was ringing a few hundred times a day, but I was advised to go with Arthur Boggis. Arthur and I had our minor ups and downs but were, I think, a good partnership.
It took you a long time to win your Lonsdale Belt outright.
Over six years. I beat Joe Lucy in ‘57, Darkie Hughes in ‘61 and Maurice Cullen in ‘63.
That win over Hughes was the quickest ever in a British title fight.
I think so. The timekeeper had 40 seconds on the watch when he was counted out. Benny Jacobs [Hughes’ manager] came in my dressing room to congratulate me and quipped: ‘Mind, Darkie was ahead on points at the finish.’
Which was your hardest fight?
All of them. You have to make the same preparation for every job. And the hard work is punishing the body to get to peak. Of actual fights, I would say I worked the hardest in the second Joe Brown fight. And the ending was very bitter.
A lot of good judges thought you’d won that one.
Apparently the only person who thought I got licked was Tommy Little, the referee. Unluckily for me, his was the only opinion that counted. I was choked.
What are you doing now?
I’m a spec builder. I buy a plot of freehold land, get building permission, put up the houses, sell them and move on. I also have a maintenance company. We do everything from laying foundations, laying bricks, doing the plastering, plumbing and roofing.
How many houses have you built since you started five years ago?
Any thoughts about the game?
Boxing was very good to me. I’ve always made my money work. I’ve never needed to apply for financial backing, which can kill any business. I worked at boxing as I work at anything. If a thing is worth doing, only the best should be good enough.
Charnley’s property development business and other enterprises would continue to flourish, making his life a success story in and out of the ring. He died in 2012, aged 76.