100 years of the Noble Art


Posted by in May's Magazine

Gordon Munro on a venerable and productive Leith institution

Round 1

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In 1919 a bunch of workers at Ramage & Ferguson in Victoria Dock Leith concerned at the evils of social deprivation, high unemployment and a need to provide activities for local youth purchased an old Army hut, establishing a sports club in at Marine Parade on grounds leased from the Caledonian Railway Company. Boxing quickly became the main focus and a merger with Leith and Tolbooth Boxing Club led in mid 1919 to the creation of Leith Victoria Amateur Athletic Club – Scotland’s oldest boxing club. 

Round 2

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the British Champion – Tancy Lee.” Boxing trainer to the Irish Free State Army, Tancy was, in 1915, the Scottish, British and European flyweight champion. Stepping up two weights to featherweight he was British and Irish champion 1915-17, becoming Scotland’s first ever Lonsdale belt winner. First trainer for Leith Vic, he recruited the likes of Curly Peterson, Jock Stevenson and ‘Nasher’ Ness – whilst working as a docker! 

Round 3

Two of Tancy’s protégés took part the Antwerp Olympics of 1920, George McKenzie winning a bronze and Alex Ireland winning a silver. Another, Jim McKenzie, a future Scottish heavyweight champion, won silver at the Paris Olympics 1924 making the McKenzie brothers the first to win medals in boxing at the Olympics.  

Round 4

Trained by his Dad and Tancey, Johnny Hill From Brunswick Street made a quick impression winning the Scottish flyweight and bantamweight titles before winning the British flyweight title in 1926 at the Albert Hall and turning professional that year. He followed that with a European flyweight title and in what Sporting Life described as ‘the greatest flyweight contest this country has seen since the war, he won the World Flyweight title against Californian ‘Newsboy’ Brown in front of 50,000 people at the football ground of Clapton Orient. 

Round 5 

Ding, ding – it’s the Bell family. Alex, Eric and Marshall boxed and served the club for several decades, their significant contribution was recognised by the name change to Bell Gymnasium. 

Alex was Heavyweight champion from 1932-34 and gained renown when he dived fully clothed into the Empire Pool at Wembley to save club colleague Joe Connelly from drowning before a bout in 1934. Eric boxed at mid-welter and light heavyweight and won the Scottish Light Heavyweight title in 1949. His brother Marshall won the same title in 1951. You can also find a memorial bench on Leith Links to David Bell ‘Always a Leither’ treasurer of the club from 1949 to 1990.

Round 6

Sugar Ray Robinson had only lost one fight, to Jake La Motta, when he fought Randolph Turpin for the World Middleweight championship at Earls Court in 1951. In the ring with them was referee Eugene Henderson, a Leith Vic man and former boxer himself who was sole judge of the fight. He raised Turpin’s hand at the end to indicate he had won but controversially did not announce the score, still unknown to this day. He also wrote a book: Boxing Teaches a Boy

Round 7

One of the great old Leith photos shows Jackie Brown on the shoulders of a crowd in his home street in Leith after winning gold in the British Empire Games of 1958 at flyweight, going professional shortly after the win. He ended up a bantamweight boxer and retired in 1966.

Round 8

If you’ve seen that photo or even the film of the fight where Henry Cooper knocked an incredulous Muhammad Ali to the canvas in 1966 then take another look. Former Leith Vic boxer turned referee George Smith is the referee in that bout. George won Eastern District titles at flyweight and bantamweight 1928-30 and represented Scotland.

Round 9

Bradley Welsh started his boxing career at Leith Vic and is the last Scot to win the British lightweight title in 1993. Bradley won multiple titles at different levels and was capped for Scotland over 20 times. He now owns and runs Holyrood Boxing Gym as well as doing good deeds with ‘Helping Hands”. proving how apposite the title of Eugene Henderson’s Boxing Teaches a Boy proved to be.

Round 10

Alex Arthur MBE started off at Leith Vic winning titles at all levels culminating in Gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1998. Since turning professional he has won titles at British, Commonwealth, European and World levels. Alex did his best to wrest away the West coast monopoly of boxing by holding several fights at Meadowbank and even set up his own promotion company to try and get a platform for the sport. He retired in 2013.

Round 11

Stephen Simmons boxed 80 times for Scotland. Representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne reaching the quarterfinals. In Delhi he returned with a hard earned bronze medal. His qualities were recognised when he was asked to captain Great Britain against the USA leading by example in winning both his bouts. Stephen turned professional winning titles at Celtic cruiserweight and the WBC cruiserweight silver in 2013. 

Round 12

The current roster of boxers includes Fundo Mahura who in 2006 became the first Scot to win a European title since Scott Harrison in 1996. Fundo also went on to represent his birthplace Malawi at The Commonwealth Games in 2006. Another first for the club is Megan Reid a light welterweight who won the Scottish title and silver at British level both in 2017. In 2018 she was one of 3 women who were asked to represent Scotland in the World championships.

None of this would happen without the work of volunteers who share the same values as the founders exemplified by Douglas Fraser who is secretary, treasurer and matchmaker for Leith Victoria. Starting as a boxer with the club at 8 years of age in 1955 he has remained involved with ever since. Boxing requires dedication and support and people like Douglas are the backbone of amateur sport. 

It was Douglas along with his fellow committee members who made the case for refurbishment of their home in Academy Street, which has seen a further revamp to include a female changing room. He realised a long held ambition with the opening of a museum displaying the clubs rich history and tours can be arranged – call in or book in advance – where you can learn more about this great Leith institution. 

Attending the opening of the Museum on 7th July 2015 I was delighted to see club stalwarts Harry Craft (100 years young) and Joe Fortune (a mere 85) cutting the ribbon in recognition of their work in the past for the club. 

Boxing trainer to the Irish Free State Army, Tancy was, in 1915, the Scottish, British and European flyweight champion

Leith have closed sessions for their registered boxers but also do open fitness classes for those who may want to keep themselves fit with advice that has been refined over 100 years. They are celebrates 100 years with a boxing show, dinner and Ceilidh on 7th June. A well deserved night out after all their hard work, which has brought so much to the noble art as well as to Leith.

Attending the opening of the Museum on 7th July 2015 I was delighted to see that club stalwarts Harry Craft ( 100 years young) and Joe Fortune (75years young ) cutting the ribbon in recognition of their work in the past for the club.The club have closed sessions for their registered boxers but also do open fitness classes for those who may want to keep themselves fit with advice that has been refined over 100 years.

The club celebrates 100 years with a boxing show, dinner and Ceilidh on 7th June. They deserve their night away from their hard work for Leith which has brought so much to the noble art as well as to Leith.

One response to “100 years of the Noble Art”

  1. Faiz Ismail says:

    The article is totally the turner for a lost boxing player. Its full of motivation. The history is pretty interesting. Kickboxing Gloves Games must requires consistency and stability.

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