One of the stranger news items of 2011 was in December when Linwood in Renfrewshire, Scotland was awarded most dismal town in Scotland in the annual Carbuncle Awards. The awards were set up by a magazine (Urban Realm) to draw attention to the poor development in some of the UK’s towns.  A local Jeanette Anderson agreed with the award saying “The people of Linwood don’t deserve this – they deserve better.”

Back in May 2005 I travelled to Linwood with Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Amateur Boxing Club for a fight night. This is what I wrote at the time:

It’s hard to find beauty in places like Linwood and by this I mean no disrepect to the inhabitants of that proud town. But on a rainy Friday night in the dilapidated seventies gloom of the Tweedie Halls 10 miles south of Glasgow, even the staunchest of locals would be hard pushed to call this a handsome setting. In boxing though there are always gems, and as all prospectors in this sport know, rarely do they tumble into your lap – you’ve got to dig, sift and paw away the dirt before you get your reward. And last Friday even this corner of Renfrewshire yielded up some treasure.

Mentioning beauty and boxing in the same breath is a surefire route towards Pseuds Corner but, as those who would ban boxing are pleased to point out, with this most ancient of sports what is elegant and pleasing on the eye is often accompanied by its evil twins: pain and brutality. You don’t have to attend big boxing galas with the slick TV production, dodgy ‘managerial’ characters and presenters for whom hyperbole is a way of life to get to the core of what boxing is about. A small inter-club match showcasing raw novice talent, crackly tanoid systems, woeful raffle prizes (1st prize a bottle of ‘voddy’ – always a staple of the Scottish amateur Boxing scene) and a supportive local crowd easily exceeds the debateable worth of a zillion pitiful Tyson comebacks.

Walking through the mass of smokers lingering outside the entrance (Tweedie was mercifully smoke-free that night) I accompanied three of the lads from Meadowbank ABC to the room allocated for weigh-ins and medicals. As we stood next to a covered-up snooker table and a grey-haired ref changing into his shirt and tie banter was flowing and signs of nerves were few. Dave showed us a personalised towel he’d got for a few quid off eBay with “Dave ‘Too Cute’ Cowan” stitched into the bottom left corner alongside the figure of a boxer. Gary Collins, also of Meadowbank, had ‘PUGILIST’ tattooed on the back of his neck. I’m not qualified to comment on body art but as statements of intent go this is messaging in its purest form. Simple, direct and as congenial to amateur boxing as gold Nike trainers would be alien. The event was hosted by local club The Wallace ABC and a representative came over with a friendly word or two for Dave, the 26 year-old East coast Bantamweight facing his 9th bout. “He’s busy the guy you’re fighting. He’ll never knock anyone out but he is busy.” Dave weighed in at 57Kg and his ‘busy’ opponent that night was a chap called Parker who, at 53Kg, was giving up no small amount to the Edinburgh interloper. On any other night the weight difference combined with hearing your opponent’s punching ability called into question could be classed, if not as out-and-out encouragement, then at least in the realms of a mild boost. The thing is, ‘busy’ in amateur boxing means to hell with tactics, the boxer you’re about to face is a fighter prepared to slug it out until he drops. Fitness would tell and there seemed to be an unspoken awareness amongst the Edina contingent that Dave might be first to tire. Any thoughts of getting the bout out of way sooner rather than later however, were dashed by the programme which had ‘Too Cute’ on last. I took a seat ringside to give Meadowbank’s trainer Alex Kelly, a chance to prepare his team in peace.

Fourth on the card was a youth fight which is to say 3 x 1 ½ minute rounds with demarcation based more on age rather than weight. This system however, fails to take into account the vagaries of growth hormones coursing through those who have just recently breached their teens. From the East coast Anthony Largue of Clovenstone faced J. Ham from Glasgow – both weighing exactly 44.9Kg but with a height difference clearly a foot or so in favour of the ‘Clovie’ boy (himself barely over five foot). The few heads previously inattentive to the evening’s action turned ringside.

You can’t help but wonder what goes through a kid’s mind in a situation like that? Is even a 13 year-old aware that the next four and a half minutes will determine whether the night will be the fizzling apogee of a sporting career cut short by defeat or does he know that if he grasps the moment and performs well in front of an underdog-friendly crowd he’ll go down as a conquering warrior, at least in a small part of Dennistoun? As it happened Ham came flying out of the blocks punching necessarily upwards at angle of never less than about 30 degrees. Both fighters traded question-and-answer slug-fests without really connecting; engaging stuff nevertheless. In today’s world of strictly negotiated match-making and the over-cautious avaricious nature of professional boxing’s money-men this is the kind of oddity only seen well off the beaten track. I witnessed the first two rounds and it was fair to say what at first appeared to be a grotesque mismatch turned out to be near stalemate. Neither scored highly but the audience shared Largue’s surprise at the tenacity of the smaller man. I missed the final round but the wee fella sneaked it 7-6. I didn’t get to see his reaction but I hope it was a suitable mixture of ecstasy and relief.

After the break (again I fail to win the vodka) we were treated to a welterweight exhibition between local lad Steve Weir and Gary ‘PUGILIST’ Collins. There isn’t mean’t to be a winner or a loser in exhibitions – a glorified spar was how it was described to me – but try telling that to the screaming crowd most of whom had paid to see this bout. Collins’ implacable features as he stepped through the ropes were nothing short of heroic. Can there be anything more daunting than getting into a ring to face a near-pro boxer who has at least twenty more fights under his belt than you, a sizeable weight advantage and a baying mob for support? With the extra 4 kilos Weir could afford to showcase a little but had too much respect to enforce a full scale humiliation (and I’m not so sure he could have if he’d tried). Collins gave a good account of himself but experience, that vanquisher of many a contender’s hopes, told with Weir never out of position and occasionally executing Ronaldo-style Southpaw foot inversions which flummoxed his opponent enough to slip in a few stinging rights. After three entertaining rounds the ref raised two sets of hands as a representative from ‘John Burns Jibee Driveways’ presented the tropies. Weir came over to our corner and exhorted Collins to “stick at it”. Sure, it was clear who had been the better boxer but every trainer knows you cannot practice experience, you can only gain it and in that sense Collins is today a much better sportsman than he was prior to Friday. Let’s hope he heeds Stevie Weir’s advice.

And what of Davey ‘Too Cute’? On last and up against not just his opponent but a raucous home crowd who’d just witnessed a masterclass by one of their own and who were already looking for their next hero. Sure enough busy boy Parker came out fizzing like an angry hornet. “Make sure the guy at least knows he’s been in a fight” were Alex Kelly’s words to his charge – hinting slightly at what he thought might be the likely outcome. Dave Cowan duly obliged and was trading well from the outset. Fatigue set in however, and by the start of the 3rd and final round both fighters exhibited the drooping arms and jutting chins of the spent fighter. A fitter man would have applied the coup de grace but when you’ve both nowt left in the tank all you can do is stumble gratefully into the next clinch. The score went 22-4 to the Linwood lad. A travesty that only goes to show that when fighting far from home, as well as the puncher in front of you you’ll always have three extra opponents sitting ringside.

Linwood no more sang the Proclaimers, I’m not so sure about that. I’ve a feeling I’ll be back.


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