AS Tommy Gilmour wryly observed yesterday, anyone who has completed 27 years in an institution deserves some respite.
The St Andrew’s Sporting Club, which has become an indelible and hugely significant landmark on the Scottish boxing landscape, is under new ownership after Gilmour sold it to businessman Iain Wilson and trainer Colin Bellshaw.
The new proprietors have ensured Gilmour will retain an influential link with the Glasgow-based club, installing him as the first president in its 41-year history.
Launched in January 1973 with the epic British lightweight title fight between Scottish ring icons Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt, the monthly wine-and-dine shows at the St Andrew’s Sporting Club have become the lynchpin of the sport in Scotland.
Gilmour, who was paid £3 for holding Watt’s spit bucket between rounds on that opening night, has become synonymous with the club since he bought it from English promoter Les Roberts, one of its founders, in the summer of 1987.
Now 62, Gilmour has been seeking to scale back his involvement for some time and is thrilled with the deal he announced at the club’s current home, the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow, yesterday.
“It’s not a decision I made overnight,” said Gilmour, who has retired as a promoter but will continue as a manager to see out the contracts of his current stable of boxers. “I’ve been thinking about it for a few years. I had to find the right people – not just someone with money, but also with passion and enthusiasm.
“The St Andrew’s Sporting Club has become more like a member of the family than a business to me over the past 27 years. So it was a case of trying to find new parents for it and I believe I’ve found the perfect partnership in Iain and Colin.
“I affectionately refer to them as a pair of anoraks when it comes to boxing. They both love the sport and are committed to bringing further success to the club. It’s a new beginning but I’m very grateful they have asked me to stick around in the role of president.”
Just as significantly, Gilmour’s daughter Stephanie will remain on board as events manager for the new era which Wilson hopes will see innovation complement the traditions which have given the club its unique reputation.
“I’ve been attending the club’s shows for 15 years, so to be standing here as its new owner is slightly surreal,” said 35-year-old Wilson. “It’s a very good feeling, though, and we are looking forward to the future.
“We will be looking to promote it more through social media, something Tommy happily admits he doesn’t do as he’s a bit of a technophobe! He has set very high standards and we want to maintain them.”
Bellshaw has trained several of Gilmour’s boxers for many years and, in conjunction with Wilson, recently began promoting public shows through his Saltire Boxing company. “It’s a proud day for me,” said Bellshaw. “One of the boxers I trained to win the British title, Kevin McIntyre, always said his biggest regret was that he never appeared at the St Andrew’s Sporting Club. That tells me what it means in Scottish boxing terms.
“It is a vehicle for lads to launch their careers, but we also want major title fights back at the club on a regular basis. Boxing is going through a transitional phase in Scotland right now. We have a lot of good fighters coming through, but it will maybe be another five or six years before we get someone else operating a world level again. We want to make sure the club continues to play an important part in that development.”
Former world lightweight champion Watt was happy to lend his continued support to the club which he credits with saving his career and setting him on the road to the huge success he ultimately enjoyed.
“Most people remember the fight I lost to Ken Buchanan at the club in ‘73, which is fair enough,” he said. “But the club came to my rescue four years later when it staged my European title fight against Andre Holyk, who had been given a terrible decision in his favour against me in France.
“It was the middle of summer, when the club didn’t normally run shows, but for my benefit they put on the rematch. So they did me a real service. I beat Holyk and getting the European title was a major step along the way to me becoming world champion. The rest is history, as they say.
“We kicked it off at a really high level with that fight between Kenny and myself. It was a tough act to follow, but they’ve done pretty well down the years. It’s the most important institution Scottish boxing has ever had. I’ve always admired the way Tommy has made sure it not only survived, but thrived.
“Tommy is steeped in boxing. There are a lot of boxing promoters who just play at it – they are business men who maybe put a few quid in, stage a couple of shows and then disappear from the scene.
“But Tommy has given his life to boxing and boxers. The way he treats his fighters is important. He builds relationships with them and does the best he can for them.
“He’s been a promoter as well as a manager, which is not easy because while you want to put on good fights, you also want your guys to win. But Tommy has managed to be a success in both spheres.
“He would find it difficult just to ride off into the sunset. It’s important he hangs around for a wee while in a different role, which will help the new owners succeed going forward.”