A former ABA title winner at light middleweight, Errol Christie also captained England as an amateur, his unpaid career culminated in a European title win in 1981. All told, Errol had walked into Coventry’s Standard Triumph gym as an eight-year-old boy and had then gone onto to become one of Britain’s most gifted, and successful, amateur boxers, taking a title at every level in the British ranks. However, he was unable to convert amateur brilliance into consistent professional success—a British Mark Breland, if you will. Still, Christie has fond memories of his amateur days, and he was happy to share them with me.

“The best thing about the amateurs was all the traveling,” Christie explained. “Going around the world and meeting nice, good people. Everyone was nice and people were united by the boxing all the time. Not like today’s society, where everything seems to have gone pear shaped.

“I was lucky to see different places in the world. At that time [the 1970’s/1980’s] there was nothing in Coventry for a young lad. One thing that got me into training and sports at that time was the Workingmen’s clubs. They would have events and they would get everyone from the community together. You don’t seem to have that anymore.

“I could go and train there for almost nothing in the Workingmen’s clubs. I thank god that I did find a place like that, and boxing, because boxing got rid of my anger. I was a very angry man.”

There was a deep resonance in Errol’s voice when talking about the Workingmen’s clubs. One could reasonably assume that a Workingman’s Club would be the last port of call for a black youth growing up in Britain during the 1970’s. Then I thought again.

“My anger came about because it was a very volatile time for me. It was a very violent time and more racist than it is today. I would have people chasing me down the street. Those were the days of the skinheads and the National Front so I was always running as a kid. I like to think that they helped me with my stamina.”

As Errol said, the Clubs gave young men of all colours and creeds a chance to go somewhere and train, later in the week, or maybe on the same night, the club would host a comedian peddling fairly typical ‘A joke or two, one racist and the other a blue’ fare. For Christie, though, the clubs themselves presented young men with the opportunity to partake in sports; it was the streets outside the clubs that fuelled his anger.

“My anger came about because it was a very volatile time for me,” he declared. “It was a very violent time and more racist than it is today. I would have people chasing me down the street. Those were the days of the skinheads and the National Front [Writer’s note: the ultra-racist, and ultra-stupid, fascist movement of the 1980’s] so I was always running as a kid. I like to think that they helped me with my stamina.

“At that time I was fighting as a British boxer [in the amateur ranks] and here I was as a black guy being told to get back to my own country. Getting served last, or not at all, when I went into certain shops, but I was fighting for Queen and country all over the world.”

“You found that there was a lot of it [racism] in society because it was a very small-minded time and you would be called things to your face back then. You have to learn to look after yourself pretty fast as a kid. It was the way things were I suppose.”

Christie had to undergo the dichotomy of representing his country as a boxer whilst, also, having impromptu travel advice shouted to him on the street.

“At that time I was fighting as a British boxer [in the amateur ranks] and here I was as a black guy being told to get back to my own country,” he sighed. “Getting served last, or not at all, when I went into certain shops, but I was fighting for Queen and country all over the world.

“I fought for England against Wales, Scotland and Ireland and would then fought for England at the European Championships [where Errol won Gold as a middleweight]—taking on people from Germany and France. I was representing the country. Yet I was told to get back to ‘My own country’.”

He continued: “As far as I was concerned I was fighting for my country, even though my parents had a really bad time when they came to this country—they would tell me bad stories as a kid. Then you go and find out what they talked about was really true, that you may have to be careful as a kid when you go out, and careful about where you go to. If it wasn’t for boxing I think I would have been dangerous. I would have been a bad man. I would have been ready to attack anybody. It is not the case that there is bad in all people, though. There is bad and good in every race.”

In the ring, however, Christie found a place where colour does not, or should not, matter one jot. “My first gym was a great gym,” he recalled. “It was right on my doorstep; otherwise I may have never have gotten into boxing. It was the great days of the Workingmen’s Clubs. You could go there and play football or rugby. You could join the boxing club; they would get sponsors so that if you didn’t have any kit they could give you gloves and sort you out with skipping ropes.

“Boxing was the only way for me because I couldn’t play football or anything like that, we couldn’t afford the rugby or football boots. My mum had eight children to look after and my parents did menial jobs, and those jobs don’t pay much money. So I found that boxing was my real saviour.”

It would only be natural if Errol’s parents had taken great joy in their son’s boxing career; however, his ABA title win came during a staggeringly successful run, to his parents his ABA final win over Cameron Lithgow was just another victory.

“They were glad for me when I won my ABA title,” he said. “They weren’t the sort of parents to get overexcited about things, to them it was just another fight. I was always fighting. I was going to shows all the time. I fought in nearly every town in England. Back then I was always on the road going to fights. For my parents it was just another title.”

With so many amateur fights, and wins, under his belt, I asked Christie if he could sift out a single memorable fight. His choice was fairly telling, a tough win over Joey Frost.

“I was in the sport I loved. Boxing was really me. Boxing was a saviour. It taught me how to respect people. When you fight people in the boxing ring you learn how to respect them and obey the rules. You trained hard—I was very disciplined—and that keeps me going today. I still try to live that life. I try not to go to bed late unless something really big is happening. I retained a lot of the discipline.”

“I had a big fight with a guy called Joey Frost. That one really stands out. He was captain of England at the time. I was 17. He was a big man and I was the small boy, but I was a classed as a senior, and when you are a senior you have to fight all the big boys.”

“He was the biggest and the best in the ABA,” he continued. “He was put down, then I was put down, then he was put down—we were knocking bells out of each other but the third time he went down he never got back up. He was out. I won that and soon after I was the captain of England. I was about 17. I was ABA Champion and the captain of England.”

Turning professional in 1982 must have been a daunting task for Christie; the pressure must have been intense. For Christie, however, it was all part of the plan. “The expectations never bothered me,” he explained.

“I was in the sport I loved. Boxing was really me. Boxing was a saviour. It taught me how to respect people. When you fight people in the boxing ring you learn how to respect them and obey the rules. You trained hard—I was very disciplined—and that keeps me going today. I still try to live that life. I try not to go to bed late unless something really big is happening. I retained a lot of the discipline.

“I was looking around and seeing a lot of people the same age as me and they were fighting in discos and nightclubs and they were always bringing pressure onto the police, you have to remember that the West Midlands police services had a reputation for being racist at that time.

“For a black guy, being arrested by a policeman was too easy and there was no way I was letting that happen to me. Those were troubled times. I have escaped those times and when I turned pro I could leave things behind and move to London to start again. I had been living amongst murderers and thieves. Living in slums and being called names. I went to a new life in London.”

“Tommy Hearns was the top man. He was about six-foot two and he lived for fighting. They all did. The whole gym was very exciting. I trained with Tommy. I once trained with Sugar Ray [Leonard]. I had a move around with Roberto Duran. I trained with Mike McCallum. Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson—all the local boys together. I messed with a few of the big boys. We were all just mates doing our thing.”

Christie has stayed on in London; Errol feels comfortable with life in the capital. “My life in London is all right,” he claimed. “I can do what I want and people don’t really notice me. Unless I walk into a local shop or something. You get the odd look from a boxing fan but that is the way it goes.”

In short, Christie’s pro career was a let-down. Despite the lack of titles won Christie could still look back fondly on the chances his amateur stardom provide. Errol was given a pair of Kronk shorts after impressing in a stint at the famous gym. Christie revealed that he was also given an unofficial draw when sparring with one of The Kronk’s most famous sons.

“Being given the Kronk gold was a big honour,” he exclaimed. “I was training with Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and the likes of [Mike] McCallum, and the guy who knocked out Colin Jones [Milton McCrory] [Writer’s note: Milton actually defeated Colin on a split-decision after a drawn first fight]. There was a lot of talent at the Kronk.

“Tommy Hearns was the top man. He was about six-foot two and he lived for fighting. They all did. The whole gym was very exciting. I trained with Tommy. I once trained with Sugar Ray [Leonard]. I had a move around with Roberto Duran. I trained with Mike McCallum. Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson—all the local boys together. I messed with a few of the big boys. We were all just mates doing our thing.”

“I would say Tommy Hearns is the best person I ever sparred or worked with,” he said after giving it a moment’s thought. “I could do both—fight and box—and Tommy Hearns could bang really hard but he was also fast and really snappy at the time. He was one of the greatest spars I ever had.

“Tommy was The Man at the time in that gym. He didn’t think anyone in the world was better than him, and he liked to show it. We had a real good toe-to-toe. Emmanuel [Steward] said that if it were a real fight he would have put it down as a draw. That was one of the first times anyone had ever stood up to Tommy in the gym, he was always beating everyone up. I gave as good as I got with ‘The Hitman’.”

“Yes, I am very bitter about the fact that I never achieved what I set out to do in the first place. They talk about me today and the fact I never become a world Champion but you’ve got all these guys walking about today with dubious belts. My main aim from a young age was to be a world Champion. I never reached that level of achievement so, yeah, I’ve got a lot of regrets.

Talk of working with world Champions gave me the chance to ask the question that Errol must be faced with all the time: did he regret not reaching the world title level so many expected him to attain?

“The whole point of going professional was to become world Champion but you have to remember that there is a saying: ‘Better the devil you know’,” he said. “Yes, I am very bitter about the fact that I never achieved what I set out to do in the first place. They talk about me today and the fact I never become a world Champion but you’ve got all these guys walking about today with dubious belts. My main aim from a young age was to be a world Champion. I never reached that level of achievement so, yeah, I’ve got a lot of regrets.

“Nowadays you have too many world titles about, there is about four isn’t there? [Writer’s note: If only] In my day it was the WBA or the WBA and they were the world championships to go for. With the WBC being the main one. Now you can pull a world title belt out of a hat. You get a title just for getting into the ring these days.”

“All these belts and politics have really cut boxing down,” he said, with a hint of sadness. “I wanted to be WBC world champion. My saying was always ‘No retreat, no surrender’ and I had to surrender that dream.

“Today’s fighters have got guys who sort out their PA stuff, their weight, their conditioning; you have a lot of people around you doing certain things. When I turned pro I had a manger and back then your manager could be a promoter or was tied-up with a promoter of the day. Those two people should have separate roles, and that makes me very bitter.”

Christie took apart Frenchman Joel Bonnetaz in three one-sided rounds early into his career. Bonnetaz had slipped a long way from the form that had seen him grab a win, contentiously, over former great Emile Griffith, yet there was a certain edge to the way Christie dismantled his man using left hooks to the body and head.

Christie also showed some beautiful work with the left when marmalising Doug James in four rounds. Christie, though, was keen to point out that he had more to his armoury than a left hook.

“I liked to think that I had a lot more than my left hook, it was probably was my best punch but I was a combination puncher. My downfall really, in my whole career, is that I was a hardworking street boy, I worked too hard and peaked too early,” he revealed.

“What I mean by that is I wanted it so much I would always train very hard and then would fight very hard. Everything was always a fight for me but there is only so much fight you can give. Your body starts tearing apart. Especially when you are trying to do the weight. By the end of my career I was at the end of my game and I had problems with my arms. I had so many disabilities, even when I first came to London, problems with my arms and legs from so much boxing.”

Ostensibly billed as a middleweight, Christie was often a few lbs over the weight limit of 160lb; he maintains that struggles with his weight had a big effect on his career. “My thing was that Super middleweight came at the end of my career,” he lamented. “We only had middleweight before that and I was too small for light-heavyweight. I had to keep my weight down and it was a very hard thing.

“I was too big for middleweight and too small for light-heavyweight. When super-middleweight came it was already too late for me to go for a title or get things together, by the time the division came into life the fight had already gone from me.”

In Part Two we will explore Errol’s comeback from his own first professional defeat before talking about the fight that he will always be remembered for.

Originally published on www.boxingscene.com.