Tales of Tancey Lee & ‘Nasher’ Ness


Posted by in September's Magazine

Boxing is synonymous with Leith. It’s at the heart of the community, they go hand in hand and they go way back. You could say boxing is to Leith what golf is to St.Andrews. So let’s start this story at the very beginning and take a look at the origins, and the history, of the area’s love for ‘the noble sport’. The year was 1919 and some of the ship builders, working on Victoria dock, wanted to put their lunch break to good use by working out and keeping fit. They started up a club, in an ex-army hut they erected on Marine Parade. And, just like that, Leith Victoria A.A.C was founded. It started out as an athletic club however one sport soon dominated. It wasn’t long before this sport took over as the local lads proved to have boxing in their blood. And so the legacy of Leith boxing club began.

A humble hut
In the 1920s British Champion Tancy Lee became Leith Victoria’s coach, recruiting well known boxers such as Curly Paterson, Jock Stevenson and ‘Nasher’ Ness. Redolent names indeed. He also coached Johnny Hill who won the British ABA Flyweight Championship in 1926, the British Title in 1927 and the Flyweight World Championship in 1928, making history along the way as the first Scot to do so.

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This success continued over the decades which followed, with many note worthy boxers passing through the doors, seeing numerous titles and accolades added to the clubs fine list of achievements. These included Jim Rolland (Scotland’s first Empire Games gold medallist), Alec Watson (seven Scottish titles and two ABA Championships), Bill Sutherley (in the Guinness book of records as the youngest boxer to win a national heavyweight title), Jackie Brown (British Empire Champion), George Smith (referee of world title fights such as Henry Cooper vs. Muhammad Ali in 1966) and more recently Alex Arthur (becoming the clubs second boxer to win a World Championship in 2008).

Over the years it has moved location numerous times, adapting and growing with the changing times and a changing community. From a humble hut the club has come far and now resides in the Bell gymnasium on Academy Street – a base which has also come far since the club moved there, back in 1988. Recently the club received a well needed, and well deserved cash injection: “Victoria Boxing Club is one of the many significant buildings which give us a glimpse into Leith’s rich and diverse past. It is wonderful that many of them will be preserved, thanks to the Townscape Heritage Initiative.” Says councillor Jim Lowrie. Thanks, in large part, to this award, the Bell gymnasium received an impressive makeover, turning what was a rundown gym into a modern, well-equipped facility and venue.

All involved with the club are delighted with the recent developments. Leith Victoria A.A.C has for many years been an important facility for young people in the community, keeping them off the street corners, and giving them discipline, ambition and drive. Take Steven Simmons for example, one of the current top class boxers in the club. He has won numerous medals throughout Europe, just missed out on a place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and is currently competing for a spot in the 2012 Games. He is dedicated and works hard towards his goals. These are clearly qualities he has acquired as a result of joining Leith Victoria A.A.C as a young lad of twelve.

It is hoped that the transformation will benefit this positive side of the club’s work in the community by attracting more youths than ever through its doors. “I think the main idea of the club in the community is that it keeps kids off the streets.” Says club treasurer and matchmaker Douglas Fraser. “Once we get them in the ring and start training them it’s amazing how they start to look after themselves and become better people for it.”

Passion and purpose
As one of Leith’s present day stars, Funda Mhura (European Championship middleweight medallist) puts it. “Life throws punches at you and boxing teaches you how to defend against those punches so it’s a good discipline for all the young people who come through here, its good life experience. We train really hard but we have fun while we’re training as well – that’s the key to Leith Victoria’s success.”

For over ninety years the club has taken the young people of Leith and instilled in them passion and purpose. It has turned them into athletes, fighters…and heroes. As the oldest boxing club in Scotland, Leith Victoria A.A.C has an admirable history, a prestigious present and a very bright future! By Jo Power

Info: www.leith-victoria-aac.com

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