Legendary coach Bobby McAllister can't wait to be back on the beat at Kronk ABC

He is a legend of the Belfast fight scene and, after some time away from boxing, Bobby McAllister will make his return when clubs open their doors again next month. He talks to Neil Loughran...

Renowned coach Bobby McAllister will return to boxing after being asked to lend a helping hand at Kronk ABC by former protege Tony Dunlop. Picture by Hugh Russell
Renowned coach Bobby McAllister will return to boxing after being asked to lend a helping hand at Kronk ABC by former protege Tony Dunlop. Picture by Hugh Russell

WHEN amateur clubs reopen at the start of next month, a legendary figure from Belfast’s illustrious boxing past will return to try and shape a part of the city’s fight future.

Over a decade after deciding to take a break from the noble art, Bobby McAllister has agreed to help out at Kronk ABC in north Belfast when boxing comes back after a four month absence.

Kronk coach Tony Dunlop sees it as a major coup for the club, and can’t wait to be reunited with a man who helped guide his own career at Holy Family back in the day.

“We’re delighted to have him,” said Dunlop.

“Bobby’s been out of the game for a long time and wanted to get back into boxing. We’ve a couple of new coaches in the gym who haven’t a lot of experience, so he’s going to show them what to do and what not to do.

“Bobby still has an awful lot to offer. He has as much experience as anybody where boxing’s concerned – he’s trained a lot of great champions in his career – so he’s as good as you’ll get.”

For the man himself, it just felt like the right time. McAllister may be 83, but after a career spanning well over half a century there is nothing he doesn’t know about the fight game.

Coming from a family of 16 (eight brothers and seven sisters) boxing was always in the blood courtesy of their father Gerry, better known as Patsy Quinn for his exploits between the ropes during the 1930s and ’40s.

Just 15 when he made his professional debut in 1933, Gerry McAllister didn’t want his mother to find out he was trading leather for pay so adopted a moniker. From then on, the only people who knew him as Gerry were his mother and his work-mates down at the docks.

“That’s where we got the interest from,” said Bobby, who got to know the likes of heavyweight great Joe Frazier through the sport.

“My brothers Patsy and Tony are still going too - Tony runs the Newington club and Patsy’s up in Oliver Plunkett. When I was young I would’ve boxed for St Joseph’s ABC in Sailortown, my father ran the club.

“And then you just grew up with the stories about his own career and everything that went with it.”

In 1944, Patsy Quinn beat feared puncher Tommy Armour on points to claim the Northern Ireland area title in the last instalment of a four fight series between the two Belfast boys.

“It was basically for the Irish title because between them they had beaten all the competition in Ireland. That fight took place at the Rialto at the bottom of the Shankill Road, and Armour had been knocking out everybody.

“They fought for 15 three minute rounds, wearing six ounce gloves. Do you what my father was paid? £27. Unbelievable. They get millions for 12 rounds now, but that’s just how things were.”

Telling that story leads Bobby straight into the dramatic next chapter of his father’s pro career, as he headed Stateside in July 1944

“The things he got up to were unbelievable; like something out of a film.

“He joined the merchant navy and jumped ship in New York, let on he had appendicitis. He regretted it, my mummy had seven children back home at the time, but there was probably a lot of people talking into his ear – ‘you can do this, do that’, and he got a wee bit carried away with himself.

“He only ended up having three fights out there, his fourth fight was to be in Madison Square Garden but one of the fellas he got to know was the head of the International Longshoremen’s Association in New York.

“This guy was going to set up a house in New Jersey for the whole family to come out but my daddy saw things that weren’t just right, so he came home.”

The man in question was Cornelius ‘Connie’ Noonan. An obituary piece in the New York Times following his death in 1964 described him as “a symbol of the tough days of the waterfront from Prohibition to the mid-1950s”.

It read: “He was an associate of such racketeers as Vincent ‘Jimmy Blue Eyes’ Alo and John ‘Cockeye’ Dunn, who were electrocuted for a waterfront murder.”

It sounds like Patsy Quinn made the right call to come home when he did, and his boxing career carried on until 1949 when he fought for the last time.

It was as a trainer, rather than a fighter, that saw Bobby earn a stellar reputation in the game. Working alongside Gerry Storey at Holy Family, McAllister played a major part in the careers of men likes Hugh Russell, Gerry Hamill, Sammy Vernon, Sam Storey and many more.

“They were great days.

“Sam Storey fought for a world title, Hugh Russell won two British titles, we had some champions through that club. Sammy Vernon, Roy Webb, Roger McKernan beat Johnny Tapia twice as an amateur in America.

“I was there from 1964 right up until around 1990 probably.”

McAllister was there when Belfast ABC originally formed, before changing its name to the Kronk, so it is a return to familiar ground in many respects – and another unexpected journey he is looking forward to.

“You see working with kids, it’s the greatest thing I ever did because you didn’t get old. You stayed on that level with them. I honestly feel very lucky because of that. They keep your mind young.

“I’m 83 now, so I suppose I better hurry up now before I’m too old.”