RICHARD BULLICK: Bringing back memories of a golden age

RICHARD BULLICK: Bringing back memories of a golden age

The late Murray Walker.

Richard Bullick

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Richard Bullick

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Sports Columnist

The deaths of Murray Walker and Marvelous Marvin Hagler last weekend sparked nostalgia for long gone golden ages of sports commentary and boxing alike.

Although Walker was 97 years old, he hadn’t faded from memories thanks to the lasting impression made during more than half a century as the soundtrack to Formula One.

Like his golfing counterpart Peter Alliss, who passed away aged 89 just before Christmas, Walker was an institution in his sport every bit as much as those he commentated on.

Rugby’s Bill McLaren, cricket’s Richie Benaud, boxing’s Harry Carpenter and horse-racing’s Peter O’Sullivan, all now deceased, were broadcasting giants in their respective sports.

Apart from their brilliance behind the microphone and big personalities, that commentary cohort came from an era of fewer channels and terrestrial TV coverage being the norm.

This columnist’s memories, however, are of a golden generation of radio commentators who painted sporting pictures for a young lad out doing jobs around the farm.

The late Peter Jones remains the greatest ever football commentator while Bryon Butler was the BBC correspondent who described that wonder goal by Maradona at Mexico 1986.

His successor Mike Ingham and our own Ulsterman Alan Green were already on the scene by then and became a great double act for many years on Radio Five Live.

Test Match Special was built around the inimitable Brian Johnston and the then BBC cricket correspondent Christopher Martin-Jenkins, both of whom are no longer with us.

The colourful Henry Blofeld finally hung up his microphone in recent years and realising the new guy Jonathan Agnew has now done three decades is a reflection of my own age!

From my earliest memories as a small boy, Jim Neilly and Ian Robertson brought rugby alive on radio so joining them on the circuit as a rugby correspondent was a pinch myself moment.

Being proposed by big Jim for membership of the Rugby Writers of Ireland as a young lad just out of university was a proud moment, and thankfully he’s still going strong.

Of course, the other great string to Neilly’s broadcasting bow has been boxing, a sport which yours truly also followed keenly as a child due to my late father’s keen interest in it.

One readily remembers the excitement of getting up in the middle of the night for big bouts from places like Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

That brief but brutal battle between Hagler and Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns has always stood out in my mind and the astonishing opening round is well worth a watch on Youtube.

From my dad’s tales and devouring the contents of a wonderfully illustrated history of boxing book, as a child I could readily reel off the names of every heavyweight champion in history.

Pouring over the editions of Ring Magazine or Boxing News my dad bought me meant also knowing who the contemporary champions were in each of the lower weight divisions.

Albeit the WBA and WBC were in existence, with the IBF just starting up, those were the good old days when undisputed champions were the norm rather than the exception.

However, in more recent times, the alphabet soup of organisations proclaiming ‘world champions’ and top fighters avoiding each other has seen boxing lose its lustre.

We still take an interest in homegrown heroes such as Carl Frampton or female trailblazer Katie Taylor and anytime a heavyweight blockbuster looms on the horizon.

There’s talk again that Tyson Fury against Anthony Joshua might actually happen, which will be exciting for those of us who remember back to Frank Bruno beating Joe Bugner.

The heavyweights were always boxing’s biggest draw but they were upstaged briefly by that thrilling four-way rivalry between Hagler, Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Those were the days before Mike Tyson brought a whiff of cordite back to a heavyweight division starting to fragment after the crown slipped from the legendary Larry Holmes.

A few years later, British boxing generated its own remarkable rivalry around the middleweight division in Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and the tragic Michael Watson.

My earliest sporting memories include Colin Jones being stopped by Don Curry, who was later dethroned by Lloyd Honeyghan, and obviously Barry McGuigan’s rise to the top.

Along with being further up the queue for the coronavirus vaccine, another consolation of being forty-something now is being old enough to remember THAT night at Loftus Road.

Clones Cyclone McGuigan upsetting the odds by beating the revered Eusebio Pedroza from Panama remains one of the most iconic occasions in the history of Irish sport.

That unforgettable year of 1985 deserves a nostalgic column all to itself sometime as there just seemed to be one high after another for this wide-eyed kid who was discovering sport.

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