THERE is nobody left to tell me how the selection for the 1972 Olympics ended up at the Double Diamond Club in Caerphilly.
It makes very little sense, and what went on in the weeks and months before the 1972 team came together reads like a very dark comedy of endless errors. The survivors are few, the stories have been lost in time, but here is a taster of the chaos at the very heart of the selection process for the British boxing team at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
In the end, nine boxers got on the plane for Munich; six were from the London championships, four had won the ABA title that year and one, Billy Knight, had won it at a different weight. The flesh trading was blatant and cruel. Five of the nine had not even reached the final.
The Alan Minter and Frankie Lucas story has been told before, but they were spared the luxury of a comical box-off at the Double Diamond. In short, Lucas stopped Minter on a cut in the London championships at middleweight and won the ABA title. Lucas was not selected; Minter was offered either middle or light-middle and opted for light-middle. That meant Larry Paul, the ABA champion at light-middle was overlooked. Knight, the ABA champion at light-heavyweight, dropped down to middleweight. It was scandal on scandal on scandal. Lucas was only 18, by the way.
Lucas and Paul were portrayed as disruptive, not part of the team. I can remember those rumours. Also, Knight and Lucas had fallen out in brutal style, which is tricky because they were separated by only a few miles in South London. Knight at the Lynn, which was situated at the back of Manor Place Baths. and Lucas at Sir Philip Game in Croydon.
The truth is that the Minter gambit worked, and he came back with a bronze, a big bronze. Lucas and Paul were innocent witnesses, but their fate is eclipsed by the true mayhem at featherweight. This is bananas.
In the ABA featherweight final in May, two quite brilliant teenagers fought to an old-fashioned standstill. They just could not throw another punch at the final bell. Vernon Sollas and Kirkland Laing were exhausted. Laing was just 17 at the time; his dream was the Olympics. He got the decision, he was going. “I think Laing himself is a bit astonished,” said Harry Carpenter on the BBC mic for the night. Laing always maintained he won and was ready for Munich. Well, no chance. The call never came and Sollas was offered a box-off with Billy Taylor, a losing finalist the year before.
In June, a month after the ABA finals, Sollas beat Taylor at the Double Diamond. It was a scrappy, hard affair. The right man won: Sollas was just 17. It seems that the shameless larceny would be easier to carry out if the location was remote; it worked, there was hardly a whisper of dissent that I could find.
Sollas was going and then he missed two training camps, and he was in trouble – it looked like Taylor would get the vote for Munich. Laing was invisible. The trading between the men in blazers with ancient agendas was shaping a team that barely resembled a national squad. These men hated each other and any alliance for the benefit of the boxers they represented was reached through gritted teeth. They were not easy men to deal with and a decade later they banned me at any hint of a critical piece on these pages.
Sollas made the final decision easy for the old men of the ABA, when a week after he was picked for Munich on July 12, he broke into a parked car, stole a few things and was arrested. He went to court; he was fined 40 quid and then there was silence. “I knew the news was coming,” he said. He got the news: He was dropped.
Taylor, meanwhile, was on holiday in Clacton-on-Sea when he got the news that he had been selected. When the blazer arrived, the name tag inside said: V.Sollas. Three boxers from Repton were selected and not one of them had won the ABA title that year. I still know, 50 years on, amateur trainers and officials who talk about “that Repton.” Time passes slowly in the old amateur game. Taylor, incidentally, was a great little fighter as were Graham Moughton and Maurice Hope, the other two Repton boxers on the plane. Hope is still at the club now, working with the babies. In qualification fights, Hope did beat the two men who reached the ABA welterweight final – Double Diamond again. As I said, time moves slowly.
There is a lost story from the lunatic 1972 team, a name that never gets checked. George Turpin, the ABA champion that year, won bronze at bantamweight, losing a tight 3-2 in the semi-final to Cuba’s Orlando Martinez, who won the gold. Martinez is the first Cuban to win an Olympic gold medal in the boxing; Turpin pushed him close. Minter also lost a tight decision in the semis, and for some reason his story is the only one we tell. Turpin, from the Golden Gloves in Liverpool, was another hero, as relevant as left-behind Laing and superstar Minter. That was some Olympic Games. If you want a feel, just watch 30 seconds of Teofilo Stevenson knocking out men for fun, his giant fists barely wrapped in his tiny gloves. It’s raw.
Most of the boxers and officials from that long summer are gone now; their story has vanished with them. Rest assured, very few of the versions are the same. Nothing really changes, the tales just get a bit taller. The Double Diamond that summer is like my Rumble.