Craigneuk, near Motherwell, has many claims to Scottish boxing fame. It was home to Tommy Milligan and Chic Calderwood – Scotland’s first winners of British middleweight and light-heayweight titles in the 20th century – but it is also where Dave Charnley, arguably Britain’s greatest lightweight boxer southpaw never to win a world crown, had deep family roots of which he was proud, despite being born in Dartford, Kent in 1935 to Scottish parents.
Ironically, while boxing for the London amateur club Fitzroy Lodge, Charnley inflicted a first-round knockout in 1953 in the British amateur championships on Dundee southpaw Dick McTaggart – an early intimation of the utter class of this diminutive, stocky, short-armed but hard-punching boxer, for in 620 amateur bouts only two other boxers beat McTaggart so decisively.
A British ABA featherweight champion in 1954 and Vancouver Empire Games semi-finalist that same year, Charnley became a professional boxer under the management of wealthy London meat merchant Arthur Boggis. In the early part of his pro career only the very best beat him, such as the future American world lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz on points in 1958 in London and the French hammer of British lightweights, Guy Gracia, who bested him twice.
However, Charnley beat another fellow southpaw Londoner, Joe Lucy, in April 1957 to become British champion and by May 1959 he had become Empire champion by reversing a previous loss to world-rated South African Willie Toweel in May 1959 in London.
Quiet-spoken and an introvert outside the ropes, his self- effacing modesty was no public relations gimmick; Charnley was merciless once ring battle commenced. Witness the five times he decked Joe Lucy and his savage 40-second destruction of David Hughes, the Welsh challenger for his British title, which remains a British record for a title fight stoppage.
Little wonder that promoter Jack Solomons, Britain’s “Mr Boxing” at that time, was a keen Charnley fan and supported the Anglo-Scottish southpaw’s first bid for a world title in Texas in 1959 against American ring great Joe “Old Bones” Brown. That challenge ended in an unsatisfactory cut-eye defeat for Charnley.
However, most boxing fans and media present at his second world title tilt against Brown in April 1961 at Wembley agreed that he should have been crowned world 9st 6lbs kingpin after outboxing his rival over 15 rounds – but the sole judge, British referee Tommy Little, gave the verdict to defending champion Brown.
Alas, when the “Dartford Destroyer” eventually beat Brown in 1963, the American was no longer world titleholder.
In the meantime, Charnley was already honing the business skills that saw him become both a property-owning millionaire and boss of a chain of ladies hair salons after his career in the ring ended.
In August 1962, Charnley lost his Commonwealth title in Jamaica against the unheralded home opponent Bunny Grant, who gave the Jamaicans an extra reason to celebrate their independence that year by beating Charnley on points.
Thereafter, Charnley’s boxing career swung between the highs of beating world-rated American fellow southpaw from Michigan Kenny Lane, but losing to the British welterweight champion Brian Curvis in a tough battle.
He was stopped by reigning world welterweight champion Emile Griffiths in December 1964 inside nine rounds after being decked three times in what proved to be Charnley’s final bout.
Charnley quit the ring with an overall record of 48 wins, 12 losses and one draw in 48 bouts. But he was never going to be one of boxing’s economic hard-luck stories given his great business acumen as he concentrated on his new role as a successful business tycoon.
However, when Ayrshire Police Inspector Jim Kirkwood sought Charnley’s help in writing a recently published biography of himself, the old “Dartford Destroyer” could not have been more helpful.
He also kept up closely with his Scottish relations in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire, until his death on March 3 after a brief illness.