At the age of 12, Herol has his first competitive fight...
WE arrived in Leicester and made our way into an old civic hall and I stared wide eyed at the scene in front of me.
There was a boxing ring in the middle of the hall and about a hundred people sat around it. This was a new experience for me and it gave me an enormous buzz. You could smell the atmosphere, quite literally.
There were 12 fights on the bill, all of three rounds, which were scheduled for three minutes, two, or one and a half. Because I was one of the young ones my fight was three rounds of one and a half minutes and it was pretty early on. The organisers always put the youngest fighters on first because they didn’t want the apprehension to get to us, and the 16-year-olds could cope with that better. I did feel nervous. And as I watched the first fighters enter the ring the butterflies arrived. The first two bouts seemed to pass quickly and I physically jumped when I heard my name: “Bout three representing Leicester Boys, Nick Lee, and representing Radford Boys, Her...Herol Graham.”
As I climbed in to the ring I looked around and saw all the faces of grown ups and kids watching the fight and my heart was going ‘Boom Boom’.
I felt the part. I was wearing the club colours of white satin shorts with a big blue stripe down the sides. Other than that it was just the massive gloves and a gum shield. Although it looked big to me, it wasn’t actually such a big hall and so it was a packed house and as we were on his territory, Nick had a loud backing.
My trainers -Roy, Alan and Frank - were in my corner and that was a comfort for sure. Even though I was in a different city, where I had never been, I had all the familiarity I needed with the three guys there who I had known for four years and trusted implicitly. They were all different the way they worked and the way they looked. Roy was skinny with a keen and critical hardness, Alan was considered and insightful, and Frank was a big guy and a loud and passionate motivator.
As I sat in the corner Alan put his hands on either side of my head and quietly said: “Just go out and do what you do the best son.”
The bell went, I stood up and thankfully my legs didn’t buckle. Nick was a good fighter and backed by his local supporters came straight over to me and aimed a jab. And missed. I moved in time. That was it, I could start to do my thing now and even at that young age I wanted to show the purest of boxing.
Nick could box as well but soon I was just moving around him and jabbing and jabbing. By the end of the first round I had forgotten about the people watching and I was full of confidence, but not cocky. As the fight continued I carried on moving and moving.
I wasn’t being flash, I had my hands up, but I was moving quickly and although it was a good contest, by the end I had enjoyed the fight more than I had hoped. In the third round some people in the crowd were starting to applaud me and my corner was praising me and eventually I won by a unanimous decision. Frank gave me a big hug and one of the Leicester coaches came over to me and told me I boxed great while some guy took a photo.
So that was it.
On that 1972 night in Leicester surrounded by middle aged, sweaty blokes sporting some comb-overs, I decided for sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a boxer.
Bam, bam, bam as dad hit me for coming home late
DISCIPLINE was pretty firm growing up and I knew exactly what constituted pushing my luck. If I was supposed to be in at 9pm and I came in at 10 then that was certainly pushing my luck.
But it didn’t stop me. One Friday November evening I lost track of time and I turned up at 10. Mum and dad had already gone to bed but I didn’t know how I could get in the house if they knew I’d come home late. So I just waited and waited. And waited. I didn’t go in because I was too scared, but on the other hand I was freezing cold. It was kind of stupid, but I was still stood outside at midnight. Deep inside I knew what was going to happen when I eventually got in.
I tried to wake my brother Noel up by throwing stones up to the window and eventually he appeared at the window: “What the hell are you doing Herol? It’s after midnight!”
“Shhhh! I know, help me in.”
Noel hung out of the window and dragged me up and in, shaking his head as I quietly climbed into bed. Had I got away with it?
Less than two minutes later there was a knock on the door and I jumped out of bed in a flash. Dad walked over to me, dragged me out of the room and then BAM, BAM, BAM.
“Aaaaaagh...I’m sorry dad...I won’t do it again.”
MY parents and Lilian’s knew of each other but they weren’t friends. And now they discovered they had something of an involuntary bond.
I don’t actually know when Lilian told her parents, no doubt her mum dropped her crochet needle, but I thought better not to delay my task with mum and dad. Of course they were deeply religious people but they also knew the ways of the world. I picked my moment while the three of us were alone at our house. Mum was doing some ironing and dad was reading the newspaper.
I took a deep breath: “Erm, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.”
Dad peered over from the top of his newspaper.
“Erm, I’m going to have a baby...well Lilian is.”
Dad looked back down at the crossword and gave his considered opinion: “Oh right, hmm-hmm.”