IF BOXER Lewis Benson takes home a medal from the Commonwealth Games in which he will represent Scotland in the welterweight division, he will be very grateful to Sheriff Gordon Liddle.
For it was the Edinburgh sheriff who last year accepted Benson’s plea of guilty to a charge of assault. He then took pity on the 22-year-old, merely admonishing him instead of handing down a sentence that would have given the current Scottish and former British champion a criminal record – almost automatically ruling him out of Team Scotland.
Sheriff Liddle accepted that racist taunts had caused Benson to retaliate and flatten his tormentor with a single punch in Edinburgh city centre. After hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that the offence was completely out of character, and by giving him simply a warning as to his future conduct, the sheriff effectively saved Benson’s bid to be at Glasgow 2014.
“I actually knew the boy, and it was a one-off by him,” said Benson yesterday, “because I had gained respect among my friends through my boxing.
“I should not have done what I did, but the fact was that I had had enough of it.
“I was lucky. The sheriff gave me a chance and I have taken that chance.
“Before the court case I was really upset because I thought I had messed up my boxing career, but the sheriff gave me a chance and my coach and the whole Boxing Scotland organisation stood by me – they believe in me and they know I’m not like that.”
In a very real sense, racism led Benson – the son of a Scottish woman and Nigerian father – to the boxing ring.
For as the only mixed-race child in Edinburgh’s Clermiston Primary School, Benson suffered racist taunts throughout his younger years, until his fists began to do the talking for him.
“It happened at primary school,” explained Benson. “It turned me into a bit of an angry guy – I thought the world was against me sometimes.
“It was really bad when I was in Primary five and it was then that I started hitting out – no one liked that, to be honest.
“They [his teachers] would say ‘look what he’s done again’ not realising what was being said to me.
“It just kept on happening to me, and the school didn’t think it was a big problem. They would just say ‘he’s having a bad day’ and things like that. It kept on into Primary seven, but it started happening less because I was hitting out, which they didn’t like.”
After leaving Clermiston Primary, Benson went to the capital’s Royal High School, and realising that he needed to channel his aggression, he began boxing aged 13 at the Meadowbank ABC. His sister Lana, a professional dancer, helped his movement and despite her initial reservations, mum Angie has become a stalwart supporter.
Benson credits his dad Bobby as being the biggest influence: “He has been massive, always there.”
Now with Terry McCormack’s Lochend ABC, last year Benson moved up from light-welterweight and has not looked back since. He had been both Scottish and British champion at his earlier weight, but is now much happier boxing at 69kgs and has been temporarily able to concentrate solely on boxing rather than his trade as an electrician.
He is unbeaten in eight contests this year, including a unique box-off bout between himself and rival Connor Lewis of Glenrothes, the man he defeated to win the Scottish Championship in March.
“I have not had it easy,” said Benson. “I have always been classed as the underdog, as when I won the Scottish championship.
“No one expected me to beat Connor but I did so without too much of a problem. But because he was ranked higher than me in the selection points system and the coaches thought he might have had an off day, we had to have the box-off.”
That took place in front of coaches and judges only, and again Benson prevailed on points, making him the choice for Scotland at welterweight.
“It’s not good for me not to have a crowd,” said Benson.”I definitely like to box in front of a crowd, and I can’t wait until Friday when I will have a big crowd at the SECC with a lot of people coming through from Edinburgh to see me.”
Benson is hoping for a good draw so that he can avoid the two men he sees as the real dangers in the division – Olympic silver medallist and current favourite Fred Evans of Wales and Australia’s youth champion Daniel Lewis.
“I won’t mind fighting them later in the tournament,” said Benson, “and what I’m really hoping for is to face Evans in the final. They are all tough boys in this division, but I think that I am as good as anyone and I have a real chance of a medal.”
Benson has a classic boxing style rather than being an out and out brawler: “I might not be the most exciting fighter but I’m not going to stand there and take punches if I don’t have to.
“I look at Floyd Mayweather and James DeGale and my hero Prince Naseem – they are all boxers and that’s what I want to be.”
If he boxes his way to a gold medal in Glasgow then Benson can name his price if he decides to take the step up to the professional ranks, something he is adamant he will only think about after the Games are over, and not before.
If he does gain a medal, Scotland will have a new hero, and it will be thanks to Sheriff Gordon Liddle’s decision to give Benson his chance.