Glove affair ends as boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour retires

Boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour, pictured at iconic Glasgow boxing venue the Kelvin Hall, is set to step away from the ringside. Picture: John Devlin
Boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour, pictured at iconic Glasgow boxing venue the Kelvin Hall, is set to step away from the ringside. Picture: John Devlin
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Tommy Gilmour says he feared no-one and respected everybody during a career dedicated to the promotion of boxing.

It was the way he approached a professional lifetime outside the ropes. But there was one adversary Gilmour paid attention to more than any other – his own mortality.

He was the Godfather of Scottish boxing. The capo di tutti capi at ringside. Tom Corleone. But tonight the bell for the final round will sound inside the St Andrew’s Sporting Club in Glasgow which he built into the cradle of the fight game in this country.

Gilmour is getting out because boxing was his life and he’s taking heed of the warnings he was given to make sure that he got a life once he had voluntarily stepped away from the limelight.

It was the journey from a ringside collapse to a bedside conversation in hospital which initially forced Tommy to bring his favoured destination into view.

The man who has no equal when it comes to continuous involvement in boxing in Britain, it being 47 years since he first obtained a licence to act as a second in the corner before subsequently moving on to promotion and management, was always characterised by one dominant feature.

The creator of seven world champions in his time, beginning with flyweight title holder Pat Clinton a quarter of a century ago, always showed the kind of flair for publicity that would have made the late and wonderfully gregarious Hearts’ owner Wallace Mercer blush.

But on the night when Tommy was informed that newsmen and photographers had gathered outside the hospital he had entered after taking unwell at ringside there came a previously un-discovered need for privacy. He said: “After being told the press had started to congregate it was pointed out to me that it would only be natural if my death made news.”

With the relaxed air of a man who can discuss mortality without any trace of morbidity, he added: “Boxing was my life but I knew then it wasn’t going to be the death of me. I knew it was time to start planning when I would ride off into the sunset.

“I had wanted to go when I was 55 but my friend and fellow promoter, Barry Hearn, had told me I would stagnate if I did that. Now I’m 65 it’s the opportune moment for me.”

Tonight, at the club he sold three years ago preparatory to his retirement, Gilmour will start to withdraw from view so far as boxing is concerned.

“The first time I collapsed at ringside I was told by a doctor that I had problems with high blood pressure,” he says. “My reply to him was, ‘But this is what I do.’

“Now I don’t want to do boxing 24/7 any more.”

He deserves the rest.

The St Andrews, as the club is known, was purchased from Englishman Les Roberts in 1987. Tommy gave himself five years to repay the loan he had taken out to fund his dream. He did it in three.

But now it’s time to repay a debt of another kind.

“When I bought the club it was partly at the insistence of my wife, Veronica, that I go into boxing on a full-time basis and give up working as an engineer.

“That meant Veronica had to go back to work as well as being mother to our two children, Christopher and Stephanie. It’s time to repay her for the support she gave me.

“When we get up in the morning we’ll decide what we’re doing to suit ourselves from now on. I won’t miss anything because there are too many memories and I’ll always remember the laughter.”

Chief among the memories will be the night Clinton defeated the Mexican, Isidro Perez, at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall to become world champion. A 12-round epic which will never be eclipsed in Tommy’s mind or my own. It was the first time I had ever seen Tommy cry.

Five years after we had first met to do a piece for 
The Scotsman, which he then kindly framed and placed on his office wall, Tommy was about to do an exclusive, post-fight interview when he broke down and wept over the enormity of what had been achieved.

It was never the case that those words were so memorable that they deserved to be 
preserved for posterity.

Tommy was always as good a storyteller as he was an architect of champions. He was also an entrepreneur, an impresario, and you can throw in bon viveur and raconteur for good measure because he was all of that and more.

“I broke down because I was always the madman in the corner, the main cheerleader for my fighters,” he says.

“I’ve been named Promoter of the Year, Manager of the Year and received the MBE for services to boxing and the community, but Clinton helped me do what I had always wanted to do.

“I wanted England to be drawn to Scotland so far as boxing was concerned, and not the other way round.

“I could have been Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign manager because of my insistence that England should properly recognise us here in Scotland.”

The difference now is that Tommy believes it is time for the baton to be passed on to others.

“When I sold the St Andrews to Ian Wilson in 2014 I knew the place needed a fresh spirit,” he says. “I was that man in 1987, but it’s someone else’s turn now.”

Tragedy has periodically pock-marked Tommy’s time in boxing.

One of his fighters, Drew Docherty, was the opponent when his fellow Scot, James Murray, died as the consequence of injuries sustained in the ring on the night they met in Glasgow.

Mike Towell, a Dundonian managed by Tommy, had his life support machine switched off days after fighting Welshman Dale Evans at the 
St Andrews.

“Moments like that have a profound effect on you, of course they do,” says Tommy. “They can never be forgotten, but they have to be dealt with privately. I have no doubt boxing will continue and the boxing authorities will ensure the sport is as safe as medical science allows.

“If there’s no boxing then there’s no television coverage and therefore no money. That’s why the sport will never be driven underground.”

Those concerns are other people’s business now because Gilmour has reached the reflective time of life.

“I took over a boxing club that was near to closure,” he recalls. “I was the boss at the age of 27 and no-one was left in any doubt about that. I wasn’t the easiest person to get on with, but everyone knew they could trust me.

“Everybody always got paid on time.

“My mother was the biggest influence on my life because she taught me to count. But she didn’t live long enough to become an old age pensioner and neither did my brother or sister, and they were both younger than me. It’s time to re-adjust my life.”

Tonight we’ll meet up again for old time’s sake. It’s an everyday, throwaway expression, except it’ll feel like more than that on this occasion.