Friday, September 26, 2008

Paddy Monaghan - street-fighting man

I think it's fair to say that I wasn't sure what to expect from our signing with Paddy Monaghan on Wednesday. When Paddy's PR guy first got in touch earlier in the Summer, my first instinct was "this really isn't our type of event". We don't stock many boxing books (Mailer's "The Fight" being one notable exception) or indeed any of the 'hard-bastard'-type autobiographies whose readers I felt this book initially might appeal to. But Paddy's entourage are nothing if not persistant, so - learning that Paddy was going to be in Abingdon on the 24th, and with our community head firmly screwed on - we suggested a book signing session linked to an ongoing fund-raising campaign by Abingdon Boxing Club.
I'm very glad that in this instance my instincts turned out to be dead wrong. Paddy Monaghan is an remarkable individual, and someone it was a privilege to welcome to the shop. Born in Co. Fermanagh in 1944, his family moved to Abingdon at a time when many Irish families travelled to England in search of work and better prospects for their family. They ended up in a tiny one-bedroomed flat in Abingdon. Paddy left school with no qualifications, unable to read or write. With few opportunities, a growing family to support, but someone who was handy with his fists, he became a legend in the sometimes brutal world of bare-knuckle (BKB) boxing. Paddy went on to be undefeated in 114 bouts - all the more remarkable for a man just over 11 stone.
(On Wednesday Paddy brought his middleweight BKB championship belt to the shop - priceless to him, it is officially worth somewhere in the region of $250,000 - and usually sits in a safe.) But it is his lifelong friendship with Muhammed Ali which is perhaps the most remarkable part of Paddy's story - that, and the fact that he taught himself to read and write. It's difficult to imagine, with Ali now one of the most revered sporting legends on the planet, that back in the late 60s he was reviled and worshipped in equal measure for his religion and avoidance of the draft (not to mention his less-than-humble attitude to his boxing prowess!). Paddy's one-man campaign in this country not only was appreciated by the great man, it is credited for coining the phrase "Ali - the people's champion", and Ali and Paddy - these two very different men - became, and still are, very close friends. When Ali used to turn up in his limo to see Paddy - in his council house in Saxton Road in the early 70s - the streets became thronged with kids, and photos surviving from that period (of Ali sparring and standing in Paddy's doorway) are amongst some of the most iconic taken of the heavyweight legend in this country. There are wonderful pictures from some of these visits in the book - and I think publisher John Blake deserve a lot of credit for the way Paddy's story has been put together. It goes without saying that I am personally very grateful for Paddy for coming along on Wednesday, being so generous with his time, and introducing me to this deep bond that Abingdon has - through Paddy - to one of the world's sporting icons. If you live in Abingdon, even if you wouldn't ordinarily read a book like this, I recommend popping into the shop and taking a look. Compelling, satisfying - and ultimately inspirational.

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