I FIRST met Al Hamilton MBE after one of my fights, way back in 1991. I had just defended my Commonwealth title with a second round knockout of Jimmy Thunder. With the jubilation of knowing that my ‘punch perfect’ victory had made a significant statement to my closest rival at the time, Lennox Lewis who was ringside, I exited the boxing ring.

Hamilton, who I simply call Al, was also sitting ringside. We had never met before, but I was especially happy to see him and invited him backstage with my family and a few friends.

I had been away in the USA where I trained for the Thunder fight at Gallagher’s, ‘No Guts, No Glory,’ boxing gym in Queen’s, New York. While there, I planned to contact Al on my return to London. I knew about him through all the events that he had been hosting in the community and in the sports arena. So, seeing him at the fight was a bonus.

Al and I formed a friendship that has been solid for over 30 years. He has arranged appearances for me as a special guest and as a keynote speaker at many events.

Al is a boxing historian and the author of two successful football books. One a best seller, Black Pearls of Soccer, and Black Pearls Shine On!, and his latest book, Frostbites on Fingertips, which covers his life’s journey.

He’s the founder of The Commonwealth Sports Awards, which has been in existence for over 40 years and honours the achievements of athletes and officials who have excelled or made recognised contributions to their sport during the year.

We have journeyed around the world together. During our travels, I came to appreciate why he has been such a positive influence on so many people. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for him, particularly in the 1970s and 80s.

It is an uncomfortable topic, but Britain was a far different landscape to what it is today. Racism was rampant and far more open. Opportunities for black and brown people to strive in most fields was a challenge. At times, it was a closed door.

During those times, four men essentially governed the sport: Jarvis Astaire, Mike Barrett, Micky Duff and Terry Lawless. Their promotional company was National Promotions, based in London’s fast-paced West End. One Sunday newspaper called them ‘The Cartel’ and I remember them all. Well-groomed men in the finest, tailored suits. I was managed by Mike Barrett and promoted by National Promotions. I know the respect that they commanded in Britain and around the world.

But Al had always been one who stood up for his rights. I know of a few differences that he had with National Promotions.

As one of only a few black journalists in boxing at the time, Al was the sports editor for The Caribbean Times which was a prominent newspaper, established across the country and well-read in communities with large black and brown populations.

Following the usual protocol, Al applied to National Promotions for a press pass which would allow him to sit in the press section at one of their shows. When his pass did not arrive, he contacted their press officer, who informed him that a press pass would not be granted to him. Apparently, Micky Duff had blocked the issuing of the pass because he did not think that the Caribbean Times was worthy.

On hearing that his request was denied, Al informed the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and, a few hours later, a press pass was issued. There were other obstacles that had to be conquered, but Al had a great love of boxing and remained involved.

One of his first personal connections in the sport was with middleweight, Frankie Lucas. They both arrived in England from the Caribbean in 1962; Frankie from St Vincent and the Grenadines and Al from Jamaica.

Frankie boxed out of Sir Phillip Game amateur boxing club in Croydon. He was successful there, and he went on to win the national boxing championships.

The British amateur boxing selectors overlooked Frankie when they were selecting the team for the Commonwealth games in New Zealand in 1974. They chose Carl Speare as their representative. Frankie had already beaten Speare in the ABA finals. So, as the reigning ABA champion, he was naturally expecting to be the British choice. It was not to be.

Al was good friends with Frankie, so as part of a small team lead by policeman Ken Remington, with the high commissioner, they arranged for Frankie to box for St Vincent and the Grenadines. He won a gold medal.

Al is also the man partly behind Frank Bruno’s transition from being a statistic as an amateur boxing champion to one of Britain’s most loved boxers.

Bruno was from the Wandsworth area of London, but Al introduced him to the reputed Sir Philip Game boxing club, where Lucas  and the McKenzie brothers trained.

After Frank won the ABA title, Al decided to find the best promotional team for him. They met with Terry Lawless to explore the idea of a young Frank Bruno signing a professional contract. Al was Frank’s acting agent and attempted to get the best deal for him. Eventually, the whole arrangement was settled but they omitted Al.

The agreement that was negotiated with National Promotions was not honored. Al Hamilton was coldly left out and had no further involvement with Frank Bruno’s career. It did not end there. What transpired next seemed like a scene from a blockbuster movie which highlighted the injustice towards Al.

While preparing for a fight at the Royal Albert Hall, I was training at the ‘The Ring Boxing gym,’ in Blackfriars. George Francis was there training Lloyd Honeyghan at the time and was surprised when Al walked in to see me. I was standing beside Al when George respectfully approached him and apologised. He was referring to what he had said in a court case to support Lawless and Duff. It was not correct, but George worked closely with National Promotions and was loyal to them.

Al had been in court to formally address the way in which they had influenced Bruno into joining their promotional outfit. They had not honoured the payment to Al who had advised Frank to sign with National Promotions.

The behind-the-scenes issues continued. Al was involved with Michael Watson’s case at the high court, where the British Boxing Board of Control was sued for negligence, following the brain damage which Michael sustained in his second fight with Chris Eubank.

Al was contacted by Michael’s mother, Joan. She was aware that Al had connections in a lot of areas, so she asked him to help, however he thought best. Al reached out to the law firm Myers Fletcher who then represented Michael. They won a significant amount for Michael.

Al Hamilton MBE is not a holder of a British Boxing Board licence, but he is a recognized face and voice of boxing. He has been invited by former British boxing board general secretary, Simon Block to sit at the top table of the Commonwealth Boxing Council when important decisions have been made.

Al remains an avid fan of boxing and is still ready to offer support for any boxer or anyone in the field of boxing.

My times talking to Al are always important because not only are we friends, after all our years of travelling together, he has always got some pearl of knowledge to offer.