When I turned to go and get changed, Johnny’s father, ‘Battling Sam’ Sullivan, stood in front of me. ‘Show me some moves,’ he said. As I took up various poses, ducked and weaved, Sam began jabbing me. I thought he was testing my jaw, because half-hearted taps into my face soon became explosive hard thuds. Determined to impress both Johnny and his father I took the punishment and stood my ground. ‘You will do, lad,’ Sam said. ‘Get changed. Show me what you can do in that ring.’
In the very first round of the first bout I knocked the guy I was fighting down, and there he remained. In the second round of my second bout the referee stepped in, saying I was too strong for my opponent. In the third round of my third bout I knocked a tall lad with a long reach clean out. Sam came into the dressing-room as I was getting changed and said that the fighters were complaining because they had never been hit so hard. ‘We want you to turn professional,’ he said. ‘Believe me, lad, you have what it takes. Johnny has applied for his licence to manage fighters. We will be able to get you big-money bouts in America. You can go all the way, Lew, I know it.’
When I got home, I could not wait to tell Jean what Sam had said. Visions of me winning titles and earning vast amounts of money swirled through my head. My dream could now become reality, but I would have to move nearer to Johnny’s gym in Preston so that I could train regularly. A house became vacant opposite Jean’s brother Bob’s in Blackburn. The gym was only a 20-minute journey away, so we made enquiries about it.
We were told the property was for sale rather than to rent. Jean and I had enough money saved for a small deposit, but I knew I would need a regular full-time job in the area if we were going to take on a mortgage. Jean’s brother came to our rescue. Bob said that he would be able to offer me full-time employment in the joinery and shuttering company that he owned. Three months later Jean, Glynn and I moved to Blackburn.
While I waited for Johnny to obtain his management licence, I trained exceptionally hard. The other lads who used the gym were reluctant to get in the ring with me so, in an effort to give them confidence, Johnny put on a pair of gloves himself and climbed in. ‘Come on then, Lew. Show me what you can do,’ he said. Johnny was a big man, so I kept my distance in the first round. I thought if I made him work, I could wear him down and then attack. In the second round, as he advanced towards me, I hit him so hard that he flew into the ropes. As he got to his feet, I could see that he had been shocked by the power of my punches. ‘You bastard,’ he shouted. ‘You bastard.’ Johnny took off his gloves, threw them on the floor and then climbed out of the ring.
‘Don’t call me a bastard,’ I shouted after him before getting out of the ring myself and heading towards the dressing-room. When Johnny calmed down, he began telling everybody that I was good enough to become the next Rocky Marciano. The only comparison I can draw today between myself and Marciano is the fact that his life and my boxing career ended in much the same way: unexpectedly and abruptly. Marciano died in an aeroplane crash and my hopes and dreams fell to earth when Johnny’s application for a manager’s licence was turned down. Johnny owed tax in America from his own fighting days, so the boxing board deemed him unsuitable for management.
Distraught but not deterred, I telephoned one of my old trainers, Herbie Goulding, at the Raven ABC in Warrington and asked if he could pull a few strings and get me in the ABA’s North-West Counties Championships. Herbie said that it was extremely unlikely, as applications for the current year’s finals should have already been submitted. ‘I will give it a go, though, Lew,’ he said, ‘but don’t get your hopes up.’ Three days later Herbie telephoned me and said he had managed to get me a place in the competition. I could not quite believe my luck. If I boxed well and won the competition, I still had a chance of turning professional.
I was chosen to fight Billy Aird, who was the northern counties amateur champion for three years running. The fight took place at Liverpool Stadium. I really liked fighting at that venue because it was like a proper professional fighters’ arena. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the fact the dressing-rooms were always freezing cold. I fought there several times and also watched a lot of fights there. On the night I fought Billy Aird, I was feeling confident but anxious. I knew he was no mug, so I wanted to get stuck into him early and finish the job as soon as possible. The moment the bell rang to signal the start of the first round, I laid into him, pounding his ribs and torso. I knew I was hurting him because he was trying to hold my arms, grabbing me like a crab. In the second round Billy continued holding on to me, preventing me from landing any decent punches. I began to get frustrated and decided I would have to employ one of the dirty tricks George Gilbody Snr had taught me. Billy was 6 ft 2 in. tall, a nice height for my head, so I let him feel it a couple of times. As his legs began to buckle, the referee grabbed my arm and dragged me away. I couldn’t hear what he was saying because the crowd were cheering and clapping, but when he pointed his finger and then pointed at each of the three judges, I knew I had been given a public warning. I shouted, ‘Fuck off!’ at the referee before grabbing him and throwing him across the ring. The referee staggered and stumbled before falling into the ropes. Billy stood in his corner with a look of astonishment on his face. I don’t think he knew what to say or do.
When the referee regained his composure, he stood pointing at me and began shouting, ‘Out! Out! Out!’ Despite his apparent sense of outrage he wouldn’t come anywhere near me. The crowd were on their feet, waving and cheering. They were loving it. When I got back to my corner, I noticed Joe Erskine was in the front row watching me. Joe was British heavyweight champion in 1956–7. He fought Henry Cooper on five occasions, of which he won two and lost three. Joe was an absolutely fantastic fighter. Alongside Joe was Harry Scott, a Scouse boxing legend who had fought Alan Minter, Kevin Finnegan, Chris Finnegan and Rubin Hurricane Carter twice. As I climbed out of the ring, Harry Scott looked at me, winked and then started laughing. It’s a moment I shall never forget. You can’t get much better than a nod of approval from one of boxing’s greats.
Billy Aird later turned professional. He fought four heavyweight title bouts, three of which he lost, but in September 1970 he did defeat Richard Dunn (who went on to fight Muhammad Ali) to claim the Central Area heavyweight title. As for me, my euphoria was short-lived. A rather formal letter informed me that, for assaulting the referee, I was banned from the ring for 12 months. The dream was back on hold.
They say that bad things happen in threes. I had failed to turn professional; I had then been banned from boxing; and then one afternoon at work I had an argument with my brother-in-law Bob and he sacked me. Fearing I would be unable to pay our mortgage and end up homeless, I tried hard to secure a new job. I had kept in touch with Johnny Sullivan in the hope he would one day get his management licence. When I told him that I’d been banned from boxing and had then lost my job, he suggested we meet, as he had a proposition for me. ‘Do you think you could look after this place?’ he asked, as we sat together in the Hibernian Club in Preston.
Looking around at the mainly Irish working-class clientele, I could see no reason why I wouldn’t be able to maintain order. ‘Sure, Johnny, I could do it,’ I said. ‘Is there a vacancy, then?’
Johnny explained that a group of pro-Republican Irishmen had started frequenting the club and were causing trouble. In one incident they had beaten up a customer simply because he was English. ‘There is a doorman employed here,’ he said, ‘but to be honest he is not up to much. The management want somebody to restore order, and I suggested you. The job’s there if you want it.’ Without hesitating I agreed to take the job and thanked Johnny.
The doorman I inherited at the Hibernian turned out to be an all-singing, all-dancing action hero. What he did not know or had not done was not worth knowing or not worth doing, or so he thought. In reality he was an incompetent fool, incapable of throwing himself downstairs, let alone some of the Neanderthal men we were expected to sort out. Every time a fight broke out, the hero would disappear into the toilets or go for a walk around the car park. I was not aware that we were responsible for patrolling the local neighbourhood, but the hero certainly dedicated a lot of time to doing so.
One evening I asked the three pro-Republican Irish guys if they would leave because they were becoming increasingly intoxicated and loud. ‘Fuck you, you English bastard!’ one of them shouted. Without replying, I grabbed him in a headlock and charged towards the exit door. His head smashed into the push bar and the door burst open. As he began to stumble, I released him and he fell to the floor. I walked back inside the club and asked his friends once more to leave. Somebody had either told them that I had parents or they had decided they no longer wanted trouble, because I wasn’t referred to as a bastard again. They simply drank their drinks and left.
Later that night, as the hero patrolled the neighbourhood, he saw the Irishmen kicking my car, which I had parked some distance from the club. Instead of confronting the men, the hero ran back towards me shouting, ‘Lew, Lew, they are smashing up your car!’
I ran outside, and when I reached my vehicle, the men were still kicking it. When they saw me, they began shouting, ‘Come on, you English bastard! We will kill you!’
Two hit the pavement after I unleashed a left and right hook in quick succession. The third and loudest mouth I held against the car so I could really punish him. Blow after blow landed in his kidneys and head. He was semi-conscious and still trying to vomit when I eventually let him fall to the floor. I looked at my car and then looked at the three men lying alongside it. The red mist came down. ‘Bastard, bastard, bastard!’ I shouted as I kicked and stamped on each of them. The hero and several customers came out of the Hibernian and tried to calm me down.
A woman began screaming, ‘Stop him! For God’s sake, stop him! He will kill them.’ I think it was the sheer panic in her voice that brought me to my senses. Another, calmer, female voice was demanding that an ambulance be called. I knew that when an ambulance did attend, the police would not be far behind. I looked at the men, who were spattered with blood and lying motionless. It was time for me to go and never return. I told the hero, who was visibly shaking, to get everybody inside so they could not see which car I was going to get into.
‘An ambulance is on its way,’ the hero shouted. ‘Please can you all go inside?’
As soon as the last person entered the club, I jumped in my car, started the engine, put my thumb up to the hero and sped away.
Johnny Sullivan later told me that the three men had all suffered injuries that required hospital treatment. ‘Luckily for you, Lew, they hate the police more than they hate the English, so they refused to talk to them. Had they done so, you would be going to prison for a very long time.’
I knew Johnny was right. Losing my temper had caused me to lose my boxing licence and my job, and now I had come close to losing my liberty. I knew I had to try to control my rage. I also knew that it was not going to be easy.
WHETHER I WAS GOING TO BE BOXING IN THE RING OR BOXING ON THE DANCE
floor of a nightclub, I knew that I had to maintain my fitness. In an effort to do so, I drove 200 miles per week to get to and from St Helens ABC, where I had started training. Tony Smart, the trainer at the club, noticed how keen I was and urged me to re-apply for my boxing licence. ‘Fuck that. I am not grovelling to them,’ I said, but Tony was adamant.
‘What’s the point of putting this much effort into training if you’re never going to box again?’
Reluctantly I agreed to sit down and write a letter of apology for hurling the referee across the ring during the Billy Aird bout. I didn’t mean a word of what I wrote, but I wanted my licence back. It took a few months and three ridiculously long letters of major sucking up before my licence was finally reinstated. Lew Martindale was once more getting ready for the boxing ring. I had the required physique, I had the willpower and I had an abundance of new sparring partners: the customers at my latest place of work.
The Cavendish Club on Lords Square, Blackburn, regularly attracted 2,000 revellers when it was at its height of popularity. Trends change and inevitably numbers dwindled before the club underwent various refurbishments, name and ownership changes. The last I heard, it had regained its popularity and is again one of the north-west’s most exclusive clubs but is now called Heaven and Hell. If I had been asked to think of a name for the club when I worked there, I too would have called it Heaven and Hell, as it contained elements of both under the same roof. The Cavendish could be a joy to work in. It had a casino, a silver-service restaurant, a discotheque and a stage on which artists such as Dusty Springfield, Slade, Alan Price, Kiki Dee and The Troggs would play. The clientele were, in the main, the more affluent members of the local community. Being paid to be entertained by successful pop stars, control well-mannered non-violent people and hang around a casino looking at beautiful girls was heaven to me. It was the groups of wannabe gangsters who tried to get in every night that made it hell.
There were eight doormen employed at the Cavendish. The head doorman Ray Copeland and Big Jack Holt (who is now involved with the running of Bolton Amateur Wrestling Club) were top men, but the rest were, at best, useless. In order to get into the club, which was situated above the main shopping precinct in Blackburn, customers had to use a lift. As the doors opened and the occupants spilled out, we would soon gauge whether they were going to be trouble or not. It’s not something I can explain; it’s an instinct or skill that you develop while working on the doors, but unfortunately it’s not infallible.