Sad passing of Frankie Young conjures up memories of a golden era for Belfast boxing
THE sad passing of Frankie Young stirs nostalgic recall of a special time when there was an abundance of exciting amateur and professional boxing talent in Belfast, writes Denis O'Hara.
The 'Swinging Sixties' had sporadic paid fight shows even though the area was awash with very capable young prospects such as Charlie Rice, Billy and Henry Turkington, Liam Broderick, Paddy Fitzsimons, Pat McCrory, Noel O'Kane, Terry and Jim Montague, Paddy Graham, Seanie McCafferty, Paddy Maguire, Jim McCourt, Barney Burns, Phil O'Keefe, Ivan Christie, Jim McAuley, Eamonn McCusker, Sean Hawkins, Alex and Hughie McGavock, Tommy Muldoon, Neil McLaughlin, Patsy McDermott, Bob Peden, Frank and Terry McCormick, Jack O'Rourke, Willie Rea, Junior Morris, Charlie Gilhooley, Paddy and Sean McAuley, Terry and Gerry Hanna, Jim McCann Jnr, and Harry Mooney. There were other notables such as Chris McAuley, Richard Campbell, Bob Espie, Paddy and Geordie Williams and Bernie Meli.
Most of the crop decided to stick with amateur action. There was precious little opportunity for paid fighters to earn a living.
Regrettably, the promising young pugilists who wished to switch from amateur to professional status mostly had to move to England and mainly reside in London.
It became a lonely life, after leaving family and home. Belfast's excellent southpaw bantamweight Sammy Vernon was a case in point. He once conceded to suffering spells of home sickness while having to live in a boarding house in London.
Frankie Young, who died aged 73 on March 19, 2020, in the Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn, county Antrim, following a lengthy battle against vascular dementia, had to forge a professional ring career away from the boxing mad family home of parents, Bob and Mary Young in Andersonstown.
After beating Galway-born Sean Hardy (trained at the Edgewicks Trades Hall Club, Coventry, by Enniskillen born Jim Treacy) in Dubllin's National Stadium on May 3, 1968, he was overlooked for Irish team selection to compete in the Mexico Olympics.
Later that year Frankie decided he'd had enough of the amateur antics, and signed with London-based manager and ex-fighter Bobby Neill.
The Irish amateur champion was joined in the Neill stable by Ulster and Irish light-middle team colleague Paddy Doherty, a horse trader from Ballyshannon. They trained in the Butchers' Arms pub gym at St Pancras.
Rugged Young soon outgrew the welterweight grade and competed for bigger purses at middleweight, when campaigning at light-middleweight might have been the better option.
A painter and decorator by trade, he never backed off from a string of high-profile challenges.
His record of 19-17-3 reveals bouts staged in Australia (boxing four times 'Down Under' - including two memorable wins over Brendan Jackson in Melbourne), three times in South Africa (one famous bout resulted in a narrow points loss to future world light-heavyweight champion Pierre Fourie in Johannesburg), France, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Denmark.
At domestic level he lost, during the early period of his globe-trotting career, in a British welterweight championship eliminator to his Commonwealth Games nemesis Bobby Arthur at Solihull.
He was involved in thrilling encounters with world level middleweights Kevin Finnegan and Alan Minter, going the distance with both.
He notched wins against Belfast-born and first British light-welter champion Des Rea and also against Dubliner Gus Farrell. His record also includes a four-battle saga with Barry Calderwood, winning three times.
The former double Ulster amateur welterweight champion (1966 and 1967 - and national champion of 1966) was a member of the Northern Ireland boxing team to contest the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica. He took home a bronze medal, after losing the semi-final to England's Bobby Arthur in Jamaica and never had the opportunity to parade his relentless punching power as a professional in an Irish ring.
During that period of the late 1960s there were no meaningful professional bills staged in Northern Ireland. Coached from juvenile level to an Irish title by the eccentric Liam 'Stack' McConnell in the old Dominic Savio gym, Andersonstown, Belfast, which McConnell co-founded in 1955 - later the club name changed to St Agnes ABC and groomed Dave 'Boy' McAuley to an Irish amateur light-fly title. Young, who often sparred fascinating rounds with Jimmy Clinton's flashy lightwelter Willie Rea in St George's on Joy Street before turning pro, was then associated with the nearby Oliver Plunkett Club in Hannahstown.
From a famous Belfast boxing mad family of 11 children (nine boys and two girls) Frankie and four of his brothers took to ring action - with southpaw light-middle Gerry Young (7-5) and welterweight Gabriel also in the paid ranks, while Terry and Jody became Irish internationals.
Gabriel (10-7-5) was first to join the professional scene, also in London and under Jack Burns. Based at Paddington he used the ring name of Young Gabriel.
Terry Young, the 1974 Irish amateur middleweight champion, remarked in my 'I nearly met Gene Tunney' boxing book: "Our Frank was a really good strong boxer, but the cards never fell in his favour. He had to travel all over the globe to make a living in the ring, and took on some of the world's best.
“After his amateur days ended he was never again able to box in front of his Belfast fans."
CARL Frampton is “one of the lucky ones” now but spare a thought for boxers who have lost sponsorship money or are living from purse to purse and may not get to fight again for months.
The Jackal's WBO super-featherweight rumble with Jamel Herring is likely to be postponed but it will happen at some stage and Frampton says he's “more than happy” as long as it goes ahead this year.
“I should be grateful for the position I'm in. I'm in a lucky-enough position, there's other boxers and other people who are being paid off. There are boxers who are living from purse-to-purse, there are boxers who have sponsors who look after them who are no longer able to pay them because they are having to pay-off staff," said Frampton.
“It's a terrible and horrible situation to be in and I'm one of the lucky ones, I can't complain too much.”
Frampton's bid to add a super-featherweight belt to the titles he won at super-bantam and featherweight was scheduled for June 13. But that looks increasingly unlikely now because of increasingly stringent measures to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“It's just putting it back until the Government say it can happen – that's the top and bottom of it,” he said.
“There will be a backlog of events having to take place with things that have been postponed.
“It's going to be pretty chaotic for the foreseeable future and there's no point in me even guessing when it happens – as long as it happens at some point this year I think I would be more than happy with that.”
He added: “You see a lot of good things happening and it's great to see the community spirit. People are coming together to help out the vulnerable here and they're doing as much as they can. The people over here are brilliant and it's always been like that – the community spirit shown in this place is always brilliant and it's coming to the forefront again.”