Round 9: After the bell

There’s a strange atmosphere in a crowded boxing booth: an eager, seething shouting mass. While people appreciate a good fight, the moment the blood starts to flow, they become very excited and lose all sense of fairness. They’re baying for blood – blood and snotters – and sometimes it’s yours they’re after. Maybe it’s the social conditions of the times. Maybe the people need to see someone more buffeted, more downtrodden, more humiliated than they are. And maybe that’s why the Second World War takes the heart out of the boxing booths: there are too many young men spilling too much blood across the battlefields of Europe and the Far East for full-contact fighting to have the same appeal. The British Boxing Board of Control also takes steps to regulate the booths and end the unfair fights; the unhygienic practices; the grim procession of damaged men. The financial strain of putting the shows on a more ‘professional’ footing eventually puts the booths out of business.

And me? I’m 30 by the time the war ends, my best years as a boxer behind me.But all in all, I can’t say things turn out too badly for yours truly. Maintaining my independence maybe kept me out of the big money stakes, but the harm to one’s self was topmost in my mind. I’d seen too many men – most of them just not up to the job– physically and mentally damaged in this most dangerous game. And I reach retirement age still fighting fit.

After Demob, I become a fight promoter, a gym instructor, a construction worker –even a bookie. But that’s another story. Boxing remains my abiding love and I always run a club: teaching young men the noble and manly art of self-defence, and the importance of a good straight left.


Johnny Kelly died in 1990, aged seventy-three. An obituary in the local press read:

“In a life filled with perhaps more than its fair share of personal sadness, Johnny never lost his sense of humour. Whatever cruel blow fate threw at him, he took it on the chin. And as for ducking and diving that just wasn’t his way. Even to the most final bell of all, Johnny showed the inner strength of a remarkable man. In the memories of his countless friends, Johnny will always be what he truly was: not just a boxer, but a real champ.”

Johnny Kelly with his great friend and rival, Freddie Tennant of Dundee

Johnny Kelly with his great friend and rival, Freddie Tennant of Dundee