Clinton rolls with past punches

IF Pat Clinton needs reminding of a boxing career that leaves him regarded as the last truly great Scottish fighter in the eyes of the wider sporting public, he need not rake out the baubles and mementoes associated with the capturing of British, European and world flyweight crowns.

Last night’s Scott Harrison title fight has stirred memories over the exploits of Clinton, who, as he takes a cigarette from its packet, can recall them by surveying the splintered hands that fractured four times and required him to take a series of painful cortisone injections. Indeed, the nicotine habit he cannot shake is a legacy of suppressing his appetite to keep his weight down to eight stones - he has now shot up to 12 stones - to fight in his chosen division.

This, and the chemicals the Croy man was forced to pump into his body, may or may not have played a part in the minor heart attack the 38-year-old suffered in March of this year; almost exactly 10 years on from being crowned WBO flyweight champion after defeating Mexican Isidro Perez in an unforgettable night in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, which seems stamped into the consciousness of the entire nation.

The rings that Clinton now cannot escape are not those into which he climbed to box during a six-year professional career that ended in 1994. They are the ones he constantly hears in his ears.

The batterings Clinton suffered round the head have left him with tinnitus, the consequence of perforated eardrums that are slowly sending him deaf. Only pride prevents him wearing a hearing aid. Yet the notion of Clinton as a broken man is one with which he will have no truck. "I feel I was fortunate," he says. "I still have all my faculties and do not slur my speech, which is more than many boxers can say in their retirement. Heart problems run in my family and mine was caused by a small clogging in my arteries which has now been cleared, so I feel all right."

Neither does the doughty fighter admired for his courage have to wrestle with the demons that have consumed so many of the boxing greats this country has produced.

Clinton is content to consider himself an ordinary guy doing an ordinary job who just so happened to have achieved something extraordinary in a past life. Now a salesman with British Gas, he considers he has "a good post with a good company", pointing out the value of their pension provisions.

Yet, to the uninitiated, there is a mistaken belief that boxing ought to have set up Clinton for life. The feeling is that surely he made a covenant with a sport that destroys physically in order to cater for his physical well-being when it became fragile further down the line. This takes no account of the fact that, even a decade ago, the financial rewards to be garnered from boxing were relatively meagre in comparison to what is on offer today.

Clinton, though, is remarkably free of bitterness that his time in the ring has given way to a series of unglamorous commissions. He initially sought employment as a boxing trainer before becoming a joiner, then paid his bills as a taxi driver ahead of finding his vocation as a salesman, first with Telewest.

"I love working in a job that allows me to gab to people, that is where I am at my best," Clinton says of his sales career with British Gas. "Boxing for me was just another job, one I was good at. I had talent that I made the most of. Everyone dreams of being among the elite in their field. Few can achieve that, but I did. And for my name to rank alongside the likes of Walter McGowan, Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt and Paul Weir is a source of satisfaction to me."

Ahead of this weekend, Weir was the last Scottish boxer to hold a world title, but his feats are not remembered with the affection reserved for those of Clinton. Promoter Tommy Gilmour describes the night Clinton became WBO world flyweight champion as the sweetest of his time in the sport.

By virtue of this success, Clinton achieved a level of celebrity that made his face as instantly recognisable as the players of Celtic, the club he is an ardent supporter of and where he trained daily in preparation for fights. "I sometimes miss being in the limelight, but there were aspects associated with this I did not enjoy," he insists. "I didn’t like having my every move watched because I never felt I was anything special."

Clinton says he remained rooted throughout the glory days, perhaps a consequence of being brought up as one of 10 children in the close-knit mining community of Croy. Boxing was in the Clinton blood. His father, Billy, was a Scottish professional champion and his uncle, Jim, twice an amateur champion.

When his father died in 1980, Clinton took up the fight game as a 16-year-old. But it took a switch to London five years later before he began to make ripples in the sport. After winning the Lonsdale belt he returned north, his big break coming when he became the first Scottish boxer in 66 years to capture the European flyweight crown. Italian Salvatore Fanni was his vanquished opponent, Clinton giving what he considers to be his best performance in front of a partisan crowd. "I was 26 then and at the top of my game," he recalls. "The unfortunate thing was that after this win I had to wait the best part of two years for a crack at the world title.

"By the time I beat Perez I had peaked and was travelling down the other side of the mountain. At 5ft 4ins I found it difficult to keep my weight down to the eight stone required and I was having severe problems with my hands, even breaking a bone in the Perez fight."

Clinton held the WBO title only for the best part of 18 months. After being knocked out by South African fighter Baby Jake Matlala in Glasgow in late 1993 he decided to retire, only to attempt a comeback a year later when he stepped up two weight divisions from flyweight to super bantam. His lack of resistance to Adey Benton’s blows on his return to the ring that lasted only one round convinced him he should bow out with a professional record of 24 fights and three defeats.

"The Benton bout was a half-hearted attempt on my part to go out on a high," he says. "I wasn’t in the right condition to fight at 8st 12lbs and found it difficult to push myself in training every day after 13 years of devoting my life to the sport.

"Benton wasn’t a great fighter. When I lost to him I was forced to consider that if an average boxer could hurt me a good one might inflict serious damage. So I called it quits. I was lucky in that I hadn’t taken many blows in my career and did not want to start doing so at 30."

The fact remains, though, that the blows he took up till that point will reverberate within him for the rest of his days.