Ken casts his mind back 40 years to fight that got away

Ken Buchanan is not one to look over his shoulder too often '“ but it would only be human nature if this particular week Edinburgh's former undisputed world lightweight boxing champion allowed himself a backwards glance

Monday, 12th December 2016, 9:09 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:57 pm
Scottish boxers Jim Watt and Ken Buchanan after their bout at the Albany Hotel in Glasgow in January 1973. Picture: TSPL

Last Monday, we told how the fundraising campaign to build a statue in Buchanan’s honour had reached the £10,000 mark.

And then, on Thursday, it was revealed that the legend was to be given this year’s prestigious Edinburgh Award.

But, despite that acclaim, Buchanan’s mind has been on events almost 40 years ago when he travelled to Copenhagen to contest the European Lightweight title with Londonderry’s Charlie Nash.

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Boxer Charlie Nash relaxes in his hotel room before his World Lightweight match against Scot Jim Watt at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in March 1980. Picture: TSPL

With fellow Scot Jim Watt, of Glasgow, ruling the global lightweight division, the unwritten script on December 6, 1978 was clear to all with a nodding acquaintance of the ring scene.

Buchanan recalled: “I would have gone in with Jim again.”

The pair had previously met in a Glasgow Sporting Club in 1973 with Buchanan getting a points decision and a possible re-match was the talk of pubs, clubs and gymnasiums.

But Buchanan believes boxing politics denied him that opportunity.

Boxer Charlie Nash relaxes in his hotel room before his World Lightweight match against Scot Jim Watt at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in March 1980. Picture: TSPL

“The fight finished and Charlie put his arms round me and said ‘Kenny I don’t think you’ll get the decision but you beat me’, he said.

“He got the shot to fight Jim Watt instead of me.

“It wasn’t in the papers back then but the winner between Charlie and myself was to fight Jim.”

Ken never fought professionally in his native Edinburgh and while recent battles with booze have been well chronicled, would a different outcome in Copenhagen have been enough to set him on an alternative course?

“It would have been a great fight at Easter Road or Tynecastle or Murrayfield Ice Rink maybe,” he said.

“But it wasn’t to be. They just wanted somebody different.

“I think it (the points decision) would have changed me in a way. It would have changed me in a fairly good way.

“There’s every chance I could have got (promoter) Jack Solomons to come up and have it in Edinburgh.”

The awards season is also a time of nostalgia for Buchanan – especially 1971, when he saw off racing driver Jackie Stewart and athlete David Bedford to be crowned the Sports Journalists’ Association’s Sportsman of the Year.

That same organisation also recognised a Sportswoman of the Year and Ken’s counterpart was to be Princess Anne, in recognition of her eventing skills.

Tradition demanded the pair lead off the dancing at the awards ceremony and Ken went into training.

Not that someone who was voted Boxer of the Year in America – ahead of Muhammad Ali, no less – in 1970 and topped the bill at Madison Square Garden would be expected to lack confidence. Or did he?

“I went to dancing lessons when I found out I was to be dancing with Princess Anne,” he said. “I also said ‘Anne, I know a bit about dancing. My dad was a dancing instructor at the Marine Gardens ballroom where the band leader Victor Sylvester played. Dad has shown me. I’ll just take you round the room’.

“Then I just froze and Anne said ‘I thought there was dancing in your blood Kenny – well, it’s not reached your feet yet’.

“She was a lovely person though.”

Back then, Ken Buchanan might have be a shoo-in as a contender for a latter day Strictly, but comparisons with the popular Mannequin Challenge are more appropriate as the campaign to erect a statue to one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated and talented sporting sons gains momentum with £10,000 currently raised.

The target is within reach but whatever happens and Ken Buchanan, MBE, remains proud of the city where he grew up the association cemented by a long overdue Civic Reception earlier this year.

Next stop – more permanent recognition when his handprints will be immortalised in a flagstone outside the City Chambers along with those of the previous Edinburgh Award winners.

They also include fundraising war veteran Tom Gilzean, entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer and arts impresario Richard Demarco.