Tommy Miller

Boxing veteran of over 2,000 fights THE great and the good – and perhaps a few likeable rogues – of British professional boxing marked the end of an era this week when they gathered in Halifax to pay tribute to the legendary Tommy Miller. His funeral celebrated the life of the man who at 88 was Britain's oldest British Boxing Board licence holder.

Burnley-born Tommy, resident in Halifax for 60 years, at one time had the biggest pro boxing stable in Britain. He had more than 2,000 fights in his ring career, and went on to hold down every Board licence from fighter to manager.

He recalled vividly to his dying day his first "legitimate" fight 70 years ago at Nelson when he was called from the audience "to spin out the programme" after a couple of fights had finished quickly. He made his debut that night over six rounds and fought for 10 shillings (50p in today's money), going on to notch up victories in his first 39 bouts in a 200-fight pro career after his prolific "blooding" in the booths.

During the Second World War he was a physical training instructor, and with a wicked glint in his eyes once told a journalist friend: "I was often asked to promote or take part in boxing tournaments, and my active service took me all over the world from Chesterfield to Halifax."

He was a motivator par excellence, had an answer for any problem that arose in boxing and in committee his voice was listened to. No one was more dedicated.

The eclectic mix of sporting and business luminaries at his funeral who travelled from the South, Midlands, Wales, the North-East and Scotland to pay their respects was evidence of his standing. Brendan Ingle, one of his fighters who went on to become famous as a manager and coach by guiding Naseem Hamed to British, European and World titles, remembers fondly the tough routines Tommy put him through, and the conditioning often carried on far away from the gym.

Ingle remembers especially when in his day job after laying concrete flags for eight hours, he went to the gym and sparred for 10 rounds. He was then told by Miller that he was fighting that night in Great Yarmouth for a 50 purse. Ingle always remembers that day because after pushing his body to exhaustion he was dropped off by Tommy five miles from home and told: "It will be a good warm down for you."

Ingle reminisced: "He was certainly a motivator, and his wisdom about boxing, people, and life was incredible. He has always been my inspiration."

Never one to ask people to do what he had not done himself, Miller would recall how, in the "blood tub" days of the Boxing Booths, he would often have 15 fights in a week.

He turned pro as "Boy Miller" became "Young Miller" and was often billed as "a good, game fighter," and still merited that sobriquet to the day he died after over 60 years in the game that was his love and his life.

Ingle always compared Tommy and the late Nat Basso, another Central Area character, to Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, cinema's Odd Couple, who always came out on top no matter how much the odds were stacked against them.

Leeds-based circuit judge Alan Simpson, a former British Boxing Board chairman, said: "Tommy was close to championship class as a fighter, but he didn't need a title. To everybody in the game he was a champion character, and while he had a hard-bitten profile on the outside, he was really an old softie.

"He did an amazing amount of charitable work in and around Halifax, always helping efforts to provide new sporting facilities for youngsters, and did an enormous amount of unsung work for the Boxers' Benevolent Fund."

Tommy signed for his first British Boxing Board licence in 1935, paying five shillings (25p) for the privilege, and was still working diligently as a manager 69 years later.

He was proud that his life was always a kick up the backside for the anti-boxing campaigners who, as he saw it, would deny young people the right to a life they could only get through the fight game.

The lives of many sportsmen were touched by him.

A sports journalist who wrote that Tommy had had a lifetime in boxing was greeted with a sharp reprimand. No, the journalist got it all wrong, said a severe-looking Tommy. In the next instant he was grinning: "How can you say I've had a lifetime in boxing," he complained cheerfully, "when I'm still here and still working. So far I've had part of my lifetime, but yes, it's all been boxing and it's been wonderful life."

Now the last bell has sounded for him, and those in the sport he loved give thanks for the lifetime's contribution he made to it, a wonderful contribution to boxing and boxing people and for touching the lives of so many of us.

Tommy's wife Martha died eight years ago. He is survived by his sons Tom and Charlie and his daughter Betty (whose husband, Colin Roberts, is a British Boxing Board timekeeper), four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.