Obituary: Charlie Hill, boxer

British featherweight champion boxer who inspired many Lanarkshire youths

Born: 20 June, 1930, in Flemington, Lanarkshire.

Died: 4 July, 2010, in Brisbane, Australia, aged 80.

When top Scottish boxing coach and 1962 Commonwealth Games featherweight gold medal winner, John McDermott, received the MBE for services to Scottish boxing in 2006 he dedicated the honour to fellow Flemington native and former British pro featherweight champion, Charlie Hill, who died at his adopted home in Brisbane, Australia on 4 July.

McDermott and Hill's Flemington birthplace is a small hamlet near Cambuslang but it was a hotbed for producing Scottish sports stars - among them 1960s Old Firm footballers, Davie Wilson of Rangers and Celtic goalkeeper John Fallon - as well as both McDermott and his ring mentor Charlie Hill.

Hill was born in the Depression year of 1930. His father was a steel worker in the nearby Hallside Steelworks, where he toiled to support his wife and family while encouraging his son to take up sport.

Hill - after obtaining an apprenticeship as an shipyard electrician aged just 14 at Glasgow's Harland & Wolf yard on the Clyde - channelled the natural athletic abilities he had discovered at school into amateur boxing as a bantamweight and featherweight with Cambuslang's Halfway Miners club and, more significantly, with the Bridgeton-based Scottish National club.

There, in Glasgow's East End, Hill established his outstanding ring credentials as a simon- pure boxer, grabbing West and Scottish titles while beating outstanding ring contemporaries such as Bertie Scott and Jim Murie of the Glasgow Transport club. In this connection, John McDermott - who had followed his mentor Hill to the Scottish National club - commented: "Hill was a tremendous body puncher and had a great left jab and crushing right cross."

Given that Bridgeton's Scottish national club was also the power base of both Jim Gilmour and his son Tommy Gilmour senior, it was no surprise when Hill turned pro under the latter and celebrated his paid debut by outpointing one Art Belec at Glasgow's Firhill Park in June 1953.

Thereafter, dapper dresser Hill became famous for his Tony Curtis hairstyle, his stylish suits and the alacrity with which he defeated top-class contenders between 1953 and 1955 in places like the Kelvin Hall, Newcastle and Edinburgh - a sequence studded with stoppage wins courtesy of Hill's ferocious body punching.

In this period Hill annexed the Scottish featherweight title by outpointing Clydebank's Chic Brogan in December 1954 but, as John McDermott said: "Charlie was also great teacher of boxing and I learned the skills that won me my Commonwealth gold medal in Perth, Western Australia in 1962 from Hill."

Added McDermott: "Charlie Hill was as happy-go-lucky outside the ring as he was intensively competitive within the ropes.

BRIAN DONALD

"He idolised Afro-American singer Billy Eckstine who had a popular BBC radio show in the 1950s, but even when he got married he couldn't escape his boxing destiny as he wed Margaret Stevenson, whose Dad, Jim, was a celebrated boxing coach with the Glasgow Dennistoun club."

Again, the dawning of 1956 saw Hill matched in Belfast in January with Irish champion, Billy "Spider" Kelly in the intimidating emotional cauldron of the Northern Irish capital's King's Hall for the British featherweight title and Lonsdale Belt.

When Hill was judged to have outscored Irish hometowner Kelly all hell broke loose and one of Britain's worst 20th-century ringside riots ensued. Hill escaped harm and returned as Scotland's fourth British featherweight Lonsdale Belt winner.

1956 was to end as traumatically as it had begun for Hill, having beaten Arthur Donnachie and Irishman Jimmy Brown, both of whom would defeat his December 1956 non-title fight opponent from Edinburgh, Bobby Neill. Hill felt confident that the odds would be in his favour against Edinburgh bookie's son, Neill. Instead, the blistering power punching of Neill saw Hill beaten in the first round.

But despite a lean spell following the Neill stoppage Hill impressively re-established his championship credentials by beating erstwhile conqueror, Neill's Belfast nemesis, Jimmy Brown.

A 1958 British title win over former rival from Clydebank, Chic Brogan, saw Hill make the Lonsdale Belt his own property but his old Edinburgh rival Bobby Neill was banging on the championship door and eventually Hill agreed to met Neill for the British title in April 1959 at Nottingham Ice Rink.

Hill not only lost his British title and Lonsdale Belt to Neill but was knocked to the canvas nine times before the bout was halted in Neill's favour.

Hill's former protege, John McDermott, opined that Hill had been suffering with weight-making problems which saw him enter the ring in a weakened state.

Nevertheless, it proved to be Charlie Hill's last fight and after the birth of his son Charles junior, he and his family went south for a time to work in Rugby, Warwickshire, before finally emigrating to Queensland's Gold Coast where Hill, his wife, son and daughter, who survive him, lived from the 1970s onwards.

With a record of 31 wins in 36 paid bouts, Cambuslang's Charlie Hill deserves to be remembered for that and also for being a highly popular model for the Lanarkshire youths.

BRIAN DONALD