May 19, 2021

Alan Salter only lived a short life, but he lived it to the full

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ONE of the biggest ticket-sellers to come out of London back in the 1970s was Alan Salter of Peckham. He was an exciting fighter and, although his record of 13 wins from 32 contests does not look much good on paper, he was rated as high as third in the British light-welterweight (now super-lightweight) class and he also boxed for the British title at that weight. Born in 1950, Alan died just nine days after his 35th birthday, having lain in a coma for the seven years before that following a tragic accident in 1978.

Alan had around 30 or 40 amateur contests while boxing for Dog Kennel Hill BC and South Norwood BC. He achieved little as an amateur as he didn’t train properly and he liked to go out drinking with his mates. Because he needed the money, he tried the pro game, figuring it would be better suited to his style. Initially he signed with Dickie Waterhouse, but his continued indiscipline with alcohol led to him winning only seven out of his first 16 contests. In a 1975 BN article he described his roadwork: “I’d come home in the early hours, drunk as a sack, and go for a run. I must be the only fighter ever to be drunk in charge of a tracksuit”.

On February 25, 1974, Salter fought Dennis Harbon of Bradford at Manor Place Baths on a bill topped by his mate, Pat McCormack. The photograph that accompanies this article shows the outcome, with Alan standing over Harbon, prior to finishing him off in three rounds. I think this is an excellent image – a testimony to that wonderful photographer, Derek Rowe, who rarely missed a fight at that time. It perfectly captures the atmosphere of small hall London boxing in the dying days of the old-school venues, the swimming baths and town halls that had sustained the sport for the preceding 30 or 40 years. Alan boxed at most of these – at the town halls of Shoreditch and Battersea, at York Hall and six times at Manor Place Baths, the most local to him and where he was a big favourite.

After switching to Phil Coren’s stable in 1974, and with Kenny Lynas as his trainer, Alan became more dedicated and slowly turned his career around. He started out with a fine win over the previously unbeaten Tommy Dunn. After withstanding some early punishment, Alan powered through to overwhelm the Reading fighter in four rounds in what BN referred to as a “stunning upset”. After being unbeaten in three further contests, Alan was matched with Joey Singleton, the British champion, in a non-title 10-rounder at the Royal Albert Hall on the night Johnny Frankham outpointed Chris Finnegan in their first fight. Alan gave Singleton a real going over for most of the fight and when referee Roland Dakin raised Singleton’s hand at the end the place was in uproar.

Alan had finally arrived, and for the promoters a ready-made British title fight just needed to be arranged. It took place four months later, after Singleton had recovered from hand damage sustained in the first contest. This time things were different. Singleton was a very classy fighter, and he took the Salter challenge seriously. The bout was one-sided, with Salter’s gameness being no match for the skills he had to face, and he was stopped in nine rounds. In his next contest, against Des Morrison, Joey won the belt outright, and he well deserved it.

Salter’s career petered out after his title challenge and he reverted to window cleaning, having built up a successful round on the streets where he was so well loved. Three years later he was involved in a terrible accident when he was thrown through the sliding door of his van. He never recovered from the appalling damage to his brain, remaining in a coma until he died of pneumonia in 1985. He only lived a short life, but he lived it to the full.

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