Premium Issue Letters

Yesterday’s Heroes: A look back at John H. Stracey’s amateur career

John H. Stracey
John H. Stracey won the WBC welterweight title in 1975 but before that picked up a host of honours in the unpaid ranks

THE ABA do not keep formal records and their medical cards, once handed in by the boxer, are routinely purged after a period of time. Much of the rich history of amateur boxing is therefore lost forever, especially since so little of it is properly reported in detail by the press. It is now impossible to compile amateur boxing records for many of our excellent ex-amateurs. Luckily BN occasionally published full amateur records of leading men, especially during the mid-to-late-1960s. The record for John H. Stracey was twice published – in 1967 and 1968. The later version provides details of his career up to his appearance in that year’s Olympic Games and, despite John being only 17 years old, it lists exactly 100 contests (83-17).

John achieved just about everything he could in the amateur game. He followed the classic route – available at the time but largely lost today – winning the National Schools, the National Association of Boys Clubs (NABCs), the London and ABA Juniors, and the London Feds. After stepping into the senior class in 1968, he twice won the London Divs, the London Championships and, finally, in 1969, the ABA title. He went out to eventual winner Ronnie Harris at lightweight at the Olympics and he represented his country more than once. If that isn’t a glittering amateur career, then I don’t know what is. I reckon he had another 10 or 12 amateur contests to add to the 100 published in 1968 and, as we all know, he went on to fame and glory as a professional. I still rank his 1975 victory over the great Jose Napoles as one of the best performances ever by a Brit competing abroad.

I think it is a great shame that the amateur game has had to be restructured in the way it has. I now find it difficult to understand the format of the modern championships and, while I accept that the amateur game is well organised and extremely healthy, and that times change for good reasons, the traditions of the amateur set-up, which worked for so long, are sadly missed by more than just me.

Unsurprisingly for a Bethnal Green fighter, John ended up at Repton, where he won most of his major honours. His big year was 1968 and he started the year with two routine victories on club shows, a week apart in early January. He then won the London Feds, beating L. Williams (West Ham). After recording his ninth straight senior win while representing London against the Southern Counties, John then entered his first senior championship, winning the North-East Divisionals at York Hall, where he beat Mickey Oates in the final. BN reported that “this spine-tingling struggle between the boxer Stracey and the fighter Oates had the capacity crowd seething with excitement.”

Victory over Terry Waller in the London finals then followed and Stracey looked like a good tip for that year’s ABAs. In the semis he was paired with a certain Jim Watt of Cardowan BC in a match worthy of being the final. It proved to be a disaster for John as Watt, himself a future world champion as a professional, caught the Londoner with a perfect left hook after only 45 seconds to end the bout. That looked to be the end of Stracey’s Olympic hopes, but Watt, who was experiencing weight troubles, pulled out of the Olympic team, leaving the door open for Stracey to replace him.

John re-established himself with a victory over Bobby Collom on a Repton dinner show at York Hall. He then beat Bristol’s Bobby Fisher in a ‘London vs The Rest’ representative match. This contest was an unofficial Olympic trial and John’s position in the team was soon confirmed. At Mexico ‘68, John won his opening bout, against Marv Harneson of Canada, despite taking a standing count in the last round. But the American, Harris, was just too good for him, although the decision was a split one, with one of the five judges voting for young Stracey.

For those of you with ancient copies of BN, go and check out issues from the late 1960s, as there are some excellent amateur records in there.  

Boxing news – Newsletter

Current Issue