One evening three coaches full of rugby players from Wigan arrived. We didn’t normally allow large groups of men into the club, but these appeared sober and courteous enough as they entered reception and so were welcomed. Just before closing time the door staff were called to a disturbance at the main bar. When I arrived, I saw that several of the rugby players were pushing one another and their friends were trying to intervene. I positioned myself between the two factions and told them to get out of the club. Four men dressed in smart blazers informed me that they were rugby-club officials and they were going to sort it out. ‘There’s no need for anybody to leave,’ they announced. ‘We will resolve this.’
‘I am not sure what language you speak in fucking Wigan, mate,’ I said, ‘but here in Blackburn and most other parts of the UK, get out means fucking leave.’
The officials looked at me, looked at the door and started walking towards it. The players followed meekly behind. The last three to leave were huge thickset men, and I sensed that they would want to have the last word. As they stepped outside the door, one of them said to me, ‘I will have it with you.’
By the time I reached him, he was standing on the steps that led to the multi-storey car park. ‘You’ll have it with me, will you?’ I said. I still can’t believe what happened next. The man raised his hand to his face, popped his false eye out and put it in his top pocket. Crack! I punched him in his gaping eye socket and knocked him straight out.
When his friends saw what had happened, they ran down the stairs and onto the car park screaming, ‘Kicker, Kicker, get up here quick!’
I have no idea who Kicker was because he ignored his friend’s appeals for help and remained elusive. I picked up my semi-conscious one-eyed opponent and threw him down the short flight of stairs onto the car park. I then looked to see if his friends were leaving or coming back for more, but they were doing neither. For some unknown reason they were involved in a pitched battle against one another. The police eventually arrived, herded them onto their coaches and escorted them out of town. I have no idea how the one-eyed guy got home. He was still staggering about long after his teammates had left. As I say, the instinct and skill you develop on the door concerning the likely behaviour of people unfortunately isn’t always an exact science.
I ejected an Asian guy one evening who had been involved in a minor scuffle. As he waited for the lift to take him to the street, he became abusive and threatened to assault me. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was welcome to try, but he remained where he was and continued to shout abuse. Eventually the lift arrived, he got in, the doors closed and I thought I had seen the last of him. Ten minutes later the lift doors opened and the Asian guy re-emerged. ‘You wanker! Die, you wanker!’ he screamed as he ran towards me. I stood in the door and waited for him to get within striking distance of me. With arms flailing wildly, he crashed into me. I managed to knock him back out of the door, but not before he had lunged at me with a knife and stabbed me through the right forearm. Blood poured out of the wound. I looked down at the hole in my jacket, looked down at my assailant and moved towards him. The expression on my face told him all he needed to know. Before I could grab him, he was on his feet and moving rapidly in the opposite direction to me. Instead of waiting for the lift, he jumped down the short flight of steps that led onto the multi-storey car park and ran down the exit road until he reached the ground floor. I chased him out into the street, and when he realised I was not going to give up, he sought sanctuary in a pub. I didn’t care where I caught him or who witnessed what I was going to do to him, so the fact he was in a public place meant nothing to me. The bastard was going to pay wherever he was. As I entered the pub, he stood next to the bar and picked up two glasses, one in each hand. ‘Stay back, you mad bastard!’he shouted. ‘Stay back, or I will glass you.’
I was so relieved I had caught him and so pleased he was clearly terrified that I began to laugh. ‘You’re fucked, son,’ I said. ‘Glass me. Go on, glass me, because I am going to cut you a new arsehole.’ I picked up a glass and walked slowly towards him. Before I could reach him, two police officers burst into the bar and told me to put the glass down. My assailant was crouched down trembling in the corner of the room, so they assumed I was the aggressor and arrested me. Once outside I explained that I was a doorman and the Asian guy had stabbed me for no reason. The officers looked at my wound, told me to remain where I was, then went back into the pub to arrest the man. When they brought him outside, he was struggling and shouting that he was going to ‘do the bouncer’. Being public spirited, I decided to help the officers. I grabbed the Asian by the hair with one hand and by the seat of his trousers with the other. I lifted him until he was waist high, asked the police to open the back door of their car and then launched him head first into it.
I returned to work, but it was made clear to me that my way of dealing with unruly customers was not acceptable. Nothing was said to my face, but there were constant snide remarks made by the management about unnecessary violence and the number of customers who were complaining. It seemed as if they were looking for an excuse to get rid of me. Inevitably they found one. Like most door staff of that era, we had a fiddle going. Customers would come in, purchase a ticket from the cashier and then hand it in to the doorman at the point of entry. These tickets would then be counted by the manager at the end of the night to ensure the cashier’s till tallied up with the number of customers who had paid to get in. For instance 1,000 tickets sold at £5 each meant there should have been £5,000 in the till. I would collect the tickets, wrap an elastic band around ten or twenty of them and then drop the tickets to a friend, who would be waiting 50 ft below in the shopping precinct. This person would then sell them to people waiting to get the lift up to the club at a discounted rate. Those who had purchased a ticket would then come into the club, show the cashier the ticket and say they had been in earlier but had popped back out for something. The cashier would wave them through, and the ticket would be handed back to me. It wasn’t exactly lucrative, but it doubled my meagre wage every night.
One evening a man who regularly purchased my discounted tickets came into the reception area drunk and stuffed two or three pound notes into my top pocket in front of the assistant manager. Before I had a chance to ask the man what he was up to, the assistant manager pointed at me and said, ‘Come here, Lew.’
I had always disliked this guy. In my opinion he spoke down to the door staff. ‘Who the fuck are you talking to?’ I replied.
Without answering, he walked away in the direction of the manager Sid Stuart’s office. I did not wait to be summoned; I followed him and burst through the door just as he was grassing me to Sid. ‘Calm down, Lew,’ Sid pleaded. ‘We don’t want any trouble, but you have been caught fiddling. I am going to call the police.’
‘Really, Sid,’ I replied, ‘and how the fuck are you going to do that?’ I grabbed the two telephones that were on his desk, threw them on the floor, stamped repeatedly on them and then ripped the wires out of the wall.
The assistant manager ran shouting from the office, ‘Help, help, Paul! Lew has gone mad!’
Paul, a muscular young barman, entered the office. I told him to fuck off or he’d get it as well. He ran off without saying a word. I informed Sid that he could stick his job and walked out of the office. The assistant manager was in the corridor outside. I grabbed him by the lapels of the ridiculous-looking green velvet suit he was wearing and pulled his face close to mine. ‘If you ever dream of grassing me, I will pull your useless fucking head off. Do you understand?’ He wasn’t listening; he was trembling with fear and pleading with me to let him go. ‘Do you fucking understand?’ I shouted.
‘Yes, yes,’ he replied. ‘I understand.’ With a lapel in each hand I stretched my arms out. As the velvet cloth tore, he was lowered to the floor. When I walked away, he was on his knees clutching his shredded suit and sobbing uncontrollably.
Jean was happy when I told her that I was no longer going to be employed on the door. I had been working six nights a week, which meant we rarely had an opportunity to go out together. The violence I encountered at the club and the endless stream of threats I received down the phone while at home worried Jean. ‘Get a normal job, Lew,’ she begged. ‘We have a young son to think about now. We don’t need all of the aggravation.’
The trouble with women is they are usually bloody right, so, with a heavy heart, I agreed. I started work at the Lion Brewery in Coniston Road, Blackburn. I was employed in the keg room, stacking and cleaning out aluminium beer barrels. It was mundane work, but I enjoyed it – not only because the pay and working conditions were good, but also because I was able to train throughout the day using the full beer barrels as weights.
My boxing career had undoubtedly been hampered by my marriage to Jean and the nomadic life we had led. Including junior and schoolboy bouts I had, to date, fought more than 40 opponents in the ring. I had been disqualified five or six times for head-butting, biting or some similar violation of the rules, been beaten on points approximately eight times and had won the remainder. Had I boxed at one gym with the same trainer, which would have helped me to focus exclusively on developing my craft, I am confident I could have fought and defeated any British heavyweight. Ifs, buts and maybes: I accept that everybody’s life is tainted by those phrases, but I know I had the ability, and a lot of respected people in boxing think I had it too.
A month after I started work at the brewery, Jean announced that she was pregnant with our second child. Both of us were excited and extremely happy about the prospect of another addition to our family. Nine months later our daughter Joanne was born. After all of the numerous ups and downs we had endured since we first met, stability and normality appeared to have finally arrived in the Martindale home. Jean saw an advertisement in the local newspaper regarding a hairdressing salon that was for sale. Owning her own business had been a long-term ambition of Jean’s, so I told her to ring the number. I had been chasing my dream with little success since we had first met, so I felt it was only right that Jean should be given the opportunity to pursue hers. The salon was situated in Colne Road, Burnley. Above it was a spacious flat, which was to be included in the sale. Jean fell in love with the salon and the flat as soon as she saw them. ‘We have to take it, Lew,’ she said. ‘It’s too good an opportunity to miss.’
Within a few weeks we had sold our home, purchased the salon and flat and moved in, to begin our business venture. J.L. (Jean and Lew’s) Hairdressing Salon soon attracted enough custom for us to employ two other stylists – not that I was involved in any way in the shop; my job was looking after our two children and doing chores around the flat. When the children were old enough to attend nursery, Jean took care of them and the shop, and I went back to work as a builder. These were years that I remember with great affection; life was simple but rewarding.
In late 1972 Jean fell pregnant with our third child. I’m not sure if it was her hormones playing up or her intuition, but Jean was convinced that if she allowed anybody to manage the salon for us he or she would be dishonest. Jean was equally adamant that nobody could be trusted to babysit our as yet unborn child when it arrived, so the salon was put on the market and we went in search of a new larger home. In July 1973 Jean gave birth to our son Billy. Life for the Martindale family just seemed to be getting better and better. Having disposed of the shop and flat, we purchased a house amongst the hills in the beautiful Rossendale Valley, which is just outside Burnley. The views from our windows were breathtaking. It was certainly the ideal location to bring up three small children. I was working on a construction site at a place called Mellor in Blackburn around this time doing paving and tiling. The money wasn’t great, but work in the building industry was becoming increasingly difficult to come by.
One of the guys on site was a painter who fancied himself as a bit of a kung-fu expert. He would talk to people like shit, strut around whooping like Bruce Lee and kick piles of bricks. I hated the bastard and knew it wouldn’t be long before we fell out. Everybody else on the site feared him, as they considered him to be a bit of a nutter, but I could see through his charade. One day I was sitting having lunch in a bathroom I had been tiling when he entered. I was having a laugh and a joke with a couple of other builders when Blackburn’s answer to Bruce Lee shouted out, ‘Oi, Bluto, keep the fucking noise down.’ I didn’t reply. I just got to my feet and smashed my fist into his sneering mouth. He flew across the room before ending up on the floor in a crumpled heap. ‘My head, my head,’ he moaned. When he looked up at me, I saw that he had plenty to moan about. His face had ballooned so much that his features had become distorted, and it was continuing to swell. To be honest, I became quite concerned, as a huge lump appeared to be growing out of his cheek under the eye. It looked as if his head was going to explode. Bruce Lee sensed he was in trouble too. He got to his feet while clutching his oversized head and ran from the room screaming, ‘Help me, help me!’
When the site manager saw the state the man was in, he immediately called an ambulance. ‘Fuck this, lads,’ I said to my workmates. ‘I’m going, and if anybody asks, you haven’t seen me.’ I jumped into my van and sped away from the site, never to return. I later learnt that Bruce Lee had suffered a burst blood vessel when I had punched him. He was kept in hospital overnight for observation but released the following day when the swelling had subsided.
Finding employment was becoming almost impossible in the north-west of England at this time. Even if you did manage to find a job, your days were spent on strike rather than working. It is difficult to comprehend today how much power union barons wielded in those days. There were endless strikes afflicting the Post Office, the steel industry, the construction industry, the ferries and much more. In 1977 a staggering 49 per cent of self-employed people in the construction industry went bankrupt. Throughout the 1970s industrial disputes alone cost the country between six million and ten million lost working days a year. The introduction of the three-day week and the arrival of ‘stagflation’ (the combination of inflation and recession – an economy that begins to shrink while prices still continue to rise) brought the country to its knees.