With a host of champions and contenders at every level, domestically, in Europe and beyond, Liverpool’s claim as the current boxing capital of the UK is, with only Manchester able to form a comparative and capable counter-argument, a persuasive one. That the city also has a rich boxing heritage is however, beyond dispute, but earlier this week local fight fans were lamenting the loss of one of their greatest fighting sons when news broke that Harry Scott, one of the country’s top middleweights in the 1960s, had passed away after a long illness.
When the death of a past sporting great is announced, the reactions are mainly two-fold. For many of the same era it is a signal that yet another link with their past is broken, a time for reflection and gratitude that they knew, saw, or once just chatted to, a famed star of the day. For others, mainly the younger generation for whom the term ‘sporting great’ seems to apply only to those they can view on their smart phones let alone something as antiquated as a DVD, the reaction is somewhat different. If informed of the recently departed by their parents or grandparents, a few will know at least some of the esteem in which they were once held, but for many the news passes with little acknowledgement – a name to add to the list of others whose impact they will never know, and which they perceive can never stand up to so–called modern day ‘greats’. Other references may simply list achievements based on an online search – in many former boxers’ cases, a brief read of BoxRec is sometimes seen as sufficient enough research to build up a picture of former greats. It isn’t.
For Harry Scott his achievements as both a fighter and a man are worthy of far more than cursory discussion or brief concession for he is universally acknowledged as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever boxers. A fighter who was as humble outside the ring as he was hurtful inside it, Harry was a man who never boasted of his achievements – and they were many – even in the presence of fighting men for whom he was looked upon with increasing and often justifiable awe. When asked to join the Merseyside Former Boxers’ Association many years after his retirement Harry, maintaining that he thought himself unworthy of such an honour, innocently asked why? He wasn’t joking. Yet this was a man who had represented his country as an amateur at the highest level and who, as a professional, fought four men who held, or would hold, versions of the world title – all set against the backdrop of the greatest and most sustained period of social significance Liverpool has ever experienced. He was equally modest, gracious and thankful when asked to become President of the Association, and the Northern Ex-Boxers Association, some years later.
Born in 1937, originally Harry took up boxing purely as a means of keeping fit as a teenager and it was only when he turned 20 that he decided to give the sport serious attention. Fighting for the famous old Maple Leaf ABC in Bootle under the direction of renowned coach Dave Rent, Harry, despite his age, soon built up a reputation as a talented and hard hitting boxer who was more than capable of giving anyone a decent fight.
In 1959, he was chosen to represent his country at the European Championships, then dominated by the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and East Germany, in Lucerne, Switzerland, after the selectors’ first choice, ABA and Army champion Fred Elderfield, pulled out as he had turned professional. Harry had lost to Elderfield, unluckily for many, in the ABA final just a few weeks previously.
Thought to be nothing more than a learning experience for the then 22-year old, Harry performed brilliantly to win a bronze medal – a feat that only the very best domestic fighters have ever achieved – losing to Poland’s Tadeuse Walasek by the narrowest of margins (after their scores were tied the Russian judge marked the Pole as the winner) in the semi-final. Harry ranked his podium finish here as one of his greatest boxing memories (he also won a prize as the best loser) but his pride was soon chilled when he returned home to find that his extended time away had resulted in him losing his job. He turned pro soon after, winning eight of his first ten. In the next 13 years he amassed 79 contests in a career that, although not widely recognised, included three British title eliminators, a Central Area belt, and the scalps of some of the finest 160lbs fighters of the day.
Although best known for a win over Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter in April 1965 – a victory hailed by Boxing News as one of the greatest by a British boxer in the past 20 years – and which saw the Liverpudlian down for a short count in the first round, Harry also met the likes of Nino Benvenutti, Alan Minter, Sandro Mazzinghi and, in October 1965 and with only a week’s notice due to many fights being cancelled following his victory over Carter, Emile Griffith – when the Virgin Islander was reigning world middleweight champion. He more than held his own in all of these fights. Also worthy of mention are meetings with Wally Swift snr., Mick Leahy, John McCormack, Bo Hogberg – a future European champion who Harry sparked clean out in one round in Sweden in 1963 just 10 days after his first child, Yvonne, was born – Tom Bogs, Les McAteer, Bunny Sterling, Chris and Kevin Finnegan and an unlucky loss to the great Laszlo Papp, a three time Olympic gold medallist, in Vienna in 1964.
Papp was badly cut in this contest and, although the legendary Hungarian held on to win on points over 10 rounds, Harry always felt he did enough to win – a fact confirmed by esteemed boxing writer Harry Carpenter, who later said that if the fight had been held anywhere else other than continental Europe – where Papp was especially popular – then it would certainly have been stopped in the scouser’s favour.
Nicknamed ‘The Iron Man/Cast Iron’ due to both his early work as an iron moulder and his style in the ring, Harry retired in 1973 aged 35 with 39 wins and six draws from his 79 pro fights. Besides meeting the best fighters of his generation, he also sparred some top names – Joey Giardello prior to the American’s world title fight v Terry Downes in 1960, and Jack Bodell amongst them – whilst he is also fondly remembered by many former local fighters for the words of advice, on training and tactics, he gave them as they worked their way through the professional ranks. Indeed, brief discussions about Harry I have had with former fighters in the days since his death have focussed on this aspect of his character – together with phrases such as, “what a fighter he was,” and “he was a true gentleman.”
Harry tuned pro in 1960 when Liverpool FC were in the second division and the Beatles had yet to become the most famous band on the planet. By the time of his peak, Shankly’s red army were competing with Everton for every domestic honour going whilst the mop-topped four piece were the centre of the musical world. Alongside Alan Rudkin, another of the city’s most famous boxing sons, Harry’s position alongside them whenever talk turned to the city’s sporting and cultural importance at this time was entirely justified. He really was that well-known and that good.
Difficult to get hold of now, Harry was also the subject of a 45 minute Granada TV documentary prior to his fight against Uruguyan Rubin Oricco at Liverpool Stadium in 1967. Showing the dedicated family man in his element, the show is a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of a fighting man juggling home life, work and a boxing career, just so he can provide his family, as he states numerous times on camera here, a better life. The previous year Brenda had given Harry a son, Mark, and the Scott quartet can be seen visiting family and friends, as well as local parks, interspersed with Harry’s training in the gym, in the build-up to the fight. It is a touching legacy to the great man.
As equally as difficult to track down, Brenda wrote and published a short biography of Harry’s life in 2004, the same year he featured in the very first volume of Mersey Fighters. In it, Brenda describes Harry’s life both in and outside the ring in touching detail. Harry worked throughout his boxing career and held a variety of jobs, most notably at British Leyland till he was made redundant in 1978 whereupon he bought a greengrocer’s shop. He sold this in 1988 and then worked at Ashworth Hospital until he retired for good in 1995.
I was lucky enough to speak to Harry about his career on numerous occasions over the years and he always did so with not only great insight but also with a self-deprecation that belied his standing in the eyes of many. Always immaculately dressed, always gracious and always forthcoming with anecdotes and assessments of his career, Harry Scott was a true Liverpool boxing legend. He will be sadly missed.
Gary Shaw – Boxing historian and writer. Follow Gary on Twitter @garymerseybox
Harry Scott – b. 27 October 1937 d. 16 December 2015
Tuesday 29 December 12.30pm
Blessed Sacrament Church
Followed by Anfield Crematorium 1.20pm