Round 5: Bobby Dodds

The booth begins travelling and I share the trailer with a real colourful character. He’s over six feet tall, but he can’t weigh more than 10 stone. When he sleeps, his feet stick out of the trailer window, waiting to be tickled by passers-by. His skin may be black, but he’s the whitest man I ever meet. Bobby Dobbs becomes my instructor, and for the first time I feel there’s someone in my corner who really knows what he’s talking about. He’s a most gifted boxer, graced with a body that tapers in all the right places. In the ring, he has a deceptive way of gliding round, letting opponents think there is nothing to be afraid of. He makes their punches miss by a fraction, then unleashes a devastating volley of punches from all angles. Under other circumstances, I’m sure, he would have reached the top.

Old style boxing boots, from Perth Railway Amateur Boxing Club

Old style boxing boots, from Perth Railway Amateur Boxing Club

I’m more like novice material: strong shoulders, a good left hook, a straight left still to be developed and a right hand fit only for wiping my nose; but still the makings of a half-decent fighting man.Bobby highlights two related weaknesses in my boxing. The first is my inability to evade punches, as witnessed by the fact that my face is beginning to spread a bit. The second is that I’m not using the ring properly. To avoid blows, the natural tendency is to get well out of harm’s way. But this careless use of energy means I’m burning myself out before a contest is half-finished, and a tired man is an easier target.In his own boxing, Bobby never moves a foot to avoid a punch when an inch will do, and he tells me the story of the great World Champion Matt Griffo. He says this man could stand on an ordinary handkerchief and, swaying from the hips, defy any man to hit him. If Griffo is the model for Bobby Dobbs, that’s good enough for me. In my next contest, a challenger from the crowd catches the gloves: 10 shillings if he goes three rounds. He’s a big fellow, and straight away he tries to take me out with  agreat big swinging right. On Bobby’s advice, I simply step in with a tidy left hook. Down he goes, K.O.d with my first punch. Mighty pleased, but slightly surprised, I ask Bobby what happened. He explains that my opponent knocked himself out: when a mug throws all his body weight forward, all you have to do is hit the target.

Bobby isn’t just generous with his advice. When we visit my village, the kids have never seen a coloured man before and start throwing small stones at him. He laughs, takesout all the change in his pockets and tosses it among them. After the ensuing scramble,he’s their hero, and rightly so.One time in Edinburgh, Dobbsy boxes the Scottish Middleweight Champion Jackie McLeod. He wins on points, then corners me to a points victory over a local lad. At theend of the night, we’re paid out in silver and then it’s a long slog home by ferry, bus and shank’s pony. It’s 3am when we get there, but it seems half the village is waiting up to hear how we got on. The fights are re-fought in the telling, then, boy, do the boyos sleep soundly that night.In the morning, Dobbsy places his bag of silver on the kitchen table and says to my mother, “This is for you, Mum.” And he’s not kidding. It’s the winter of 1934 and these are hard times all round. Back in the ring, there are plenty of good boys waiting to do battle with the likes of us.But this ‘catching the gloves’ is catching on. Now there’s a host of would-bees – and a heap of never-will-bees – hoping to scrape a few bob by standing toe-to-toe for a few rounds with professional fighting men.

Round 6: Catching the gloves