London’s former IBF light-welterweight title holder Terry Marsh (26-0-1, 10 KOs) was no stranger to controversy both during and after his boxing career. Whenever we spoke—whether over a “communal” platter of food at a deli in London, at a working man’s club in Ashton-under-Lyne or via the phone—Marsh invariably mixed boxing talk with ruminations on his testy attitude towards authority figures. This attitude was forged during a post-boxing ordeal after he was charged with the attempted murder of his former promoter Frank Warren and remanded into custody for a almost a year before being acquitted.

Prior to this Marsh had enjoyed a successful stint in boxing, title triumphs had followed one another as steadily as night follows day. A failed BBBoC medical in 1987, however, led to his premature retirement, citing epilepsy. Arguably, this enforced distance from the sport, coupled with a keen analytical mind, enables Marsh to dispassionately dissect the reasons why fighters continue to box when past their primes.

“I think, I fear, that I would never have known when I was beaten either. I could have found myself on the other end of a hiding and foolishly would not have gone down. Defeat was a genuine worry for me because the only way I would have left the ring a genuine loser was if I was carried out. If you take that to the nth degree you are talking about dying, or becoming seriously damaged, and I had that mentality to allow that to happen to me, if I had been allowed to.”

Read Part One: “You know you’ve retired when the Christmas cards stop coming” by clicking on this link.

Monetary reasons for continuing in the sport aside there is the issue of the urge to compete, the competitive nature that brings people into sports as amateurs. Marsh is a keen competitor, beating another man in hand-to-hand combat must be the greatest thrill of all; surely, then, his natural competitive drive lingered after he stopped boxing?

“It (the competitive nature) is a strength and a weakness to be honest,” he declared when speaking to me a few years ago. “The thought of losing, in any way shape or form, I find really difficult to accept—probably to the point of obsessive compulsiveness. I think that I may have a side to me that suffers because of that. When I’ve lost, and I say lost, because I’ve never been defeated in the sense of…”

At this point he trailed off, paused for thought and said: “Let me explain it to you properly. As an amateur you had fights that last three rounds, and the judges then decided who won, so from that viewpoint it is very subjective. I’ve never been defeated, I just lost on points.

“To return to the point, I think, I fear, that I would never have known when I was beaten. I could have found myself on the other end of a hiding and foolishly would not have gone down. Defeat was a genuine worry for me because the only way I would have left the ring a genuine loser was if I was carried out. If you take that to the nth degree you are talking about dying, or becoming seriously damaged, and I had that mentality to allow that to happen to me, if I had been allowed to.”

The inherent danger of boxing is something that the former firefighter discusses at great length, arguing that it would be foolish to send your children into a sport that leaves them mangled and destitute. With that said, I asked him if the danger involved had been an ever-present thought when he was boxing.

“I have to watch what I’m saying here, and answer: ‘Yes and ‘No’,” he answered. “I was always aware of the danger, but I always saw that as a test, a challenge, and as a result I always trained really hard for my fights. My main concern when getting in the ring was that I didn’t disgrace myself, as opposed to not getting hurt. That was more important to me, not making myself look bad.”

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There was that drive, again, that competitive refusal to countenance defeat—it still resonates in his voice. Marsh never had to accept that bitterest of pills, a professional loss, he claimed that his competitive urge seeped into every aspect of his boxing game.

“It was (working) on so many levels. Again there will be a slight contradiction in what I’m saying. I don’t like defeat—and I couldn’t handle defeat, I suspect,—but at the same time, yeah, if I am going to go out in a fight I want to go out on my shield, to be carried out, although I don’t really want that to happen.

“The point is that I would have to give it everything before I would be beaten. After giving it everything, I would take the consequences of that beating. The consequences being serious hurt and damage. First and foremost I was trying not to lose, and trying to do myself justice, for my integrity and honour. It was always the competitive edge for me. It was always a test, a test to myself. Every fight I had I was in it to win, even though I was also expected to lose.”

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“Boxing is a business. As a rough rule-of-thumb you assume that everyone is working for his or her own interests in professional boxing—it is not a selfless vocation. Once you realise that, everything else falls into place. As long as you aware that boxing is a business, you won’t get disillusioned.”

Marsh’s son dipped his toes in and out of the boxing waters. Marsh, despite arguing that he would not like to see his own son turn to boxing, had mixed feelings about his child’s involvement in the sport. The most important thing was not that his son refrain from boxing, but, rather, that youngsters should go into the sport with their eyes open to its realities, to consider the bleak landscape that a fighter faces when he retires.

“It is an interesting thing,” he said. “I tell fighters to get a trade, even if it is just a little Excel spreadsheet course. You have to think about the thirteenth round, which comes when you stop fighting. No one actually prepares for that. There are fighters active at the moment that I have sat with at functions and I advise them to get vocational qualifications. There are many years left after boxing, and boxing won’t look after you when you retire.

“Boxing is a business. As a rough rule-of-thumb you assume that everyone is working for his or her own interests in professional boxing—it is not a selfless vocation. Once you realise that, everything else falls into place. As long as you aware that boxing is a business, you won’t get disillusioned. A boxing career is a temporary part of your life, and if you do well from it more power to your elbow.”

His book, Undefeated, really comes into its own when he discusses his 10-month stint on remand. He had decided to play by the rules of prison life yet when the regulations were switched on him he began to wage a war of insolence against his jailors. It culminated in a ‘clean’ protest, of sorts after Marsh smeared himself in body oil ahead of a cell removal, making him a slippery target for the prison officers.

“Invariably, and I am not saying this about all prison officers, there are a minority of prison guards who are psychopaths and thugs—they just want to throw their weight, and punches, around, and will do that at the first available opportunity.”

For Marsh it was not just disobedience for the sake of causing trouble, it was civil disobedience in the face of an unfair system, as he explained: “It happened because they were the so-called rules, or the law.

“I am not a great advocate of following the law. For example, I don’t not go out and burgle someone’s house because the law tells me burglary is illegal, I don’t burgle houses because I know it is wrong. The law does not guide me. I am guided by my own codes of conduct. However, for that particular time, being banged up as I was, for 10-months as well…”

He took a moment to think again then added another element to the perceived inconsistency. “Speaking of which, I was sent to remand by the magistrate and I think they only have the authority to sentence someone for six-months, after that time it goes to the Crown Court. There is a big anomaly right there.

“The point is that I realized that I was there because of the rules set by the law, and had to go through what I went through. I was initially quite happy to go along with that. As it turns out, I was expected to adhere to the law without struggle. When it came to the authorities living up to their part of the bargain, and their own rules, I found that they just ignored the rules completely. I automatically thought: ‘Hang on a moment, you want me to abide by your rules, so you should abide by your rules’. Any confrontations I had were all cases where they were not doing their jobs, not adhering to the rules they had laid down.”

Marsh’s struggles with authority began in the Army. If someone asked him to do 10 press-ups as a punishment he would drop down and give them 20. The prison experience saw him take on a new form of authority figure; he is unhesitating in his condemnation of some people within the penal system.

“Invariably, and I am not saying this about all prison officers, there are a minority of prison guards who are psychopaths and thugs—they just want to throw their weight, and punches, around, and will do that at the first available opportunity,” he stated.

“There is always more of them than there is of you, so you cannot actually beat them in that scenario. The worst thing you want to do is get violent with them, as they can take time off. I think that a lot of the time they provoke prisoners so they can get time off and make claims on injuries. So the worst thing you can do is hit one of them.

“At the same time you don’t want to go along with what they are doing, because they are breaking the rules and abusing their authority. You can’t call out for the police when you are in prison, you resist in the best way possible. I wasn’t aware of the history of Ghandi at the time, but I think he had it bang on with civil disobedience. That is the way I played it.”

Being a boxer in the prison environment can be a doubled-edged sword. Pat Barrett once told me that there is an element of respect from some of the older lags yet there is also the risk that an inmate, or prison guard, will want to take on the former boxer.

“When I was young and changed secondary school I felt more intimidated in the playground (on my first day) than in the prison. No one ever made a big fuss (about me being a celebrity) in fact there is a hierarchy in prison based on your charges, and everyone had me down as a hitman!”

Charged with a violent crime, Marsh had to be extra vigilant in prison; non-violent resistance was his only recourse. “That is the bottom line, I had to be non-violent,” he said. “A few times there would be the suggestion of violence, but it would come from them and not from me. One time, they told me that they didn’t want me to be violent, I said: ‘Just for the record, I want it noted that you are the one using the word ‘violent’ here’. That is the point.

“When I put the stories in the book I wanted to send the message out to other prisoners. To show them how they should deal with things. There is a lot of humility and humanity (in prison). Prisoners help each other out and there is a lot of cooperation. I never felt any intimidation or anything like that.

“When I was young and changed secondary school I felt more intimidated in the playground (on my first day) than in the prison. No one ever made a big fuss (about me being a celebrity) in fact there is a hierarchy in prison based on your charges, and everyone had me down as a hitman!

“There was one incident where I was on segregation and I was about to go through the blocks. They (the guards) escort you everywhere. I had to go to the breakfast queue and instead of waiting they escorted me right to the front, someone shouted that it was because I was a bloody celebrity!”

Prison’s biggest culture shock is the sense of isolation, when the lights go out you truly become the lonely man in a crowd of people all trapped in a moonlight monadic existence. For Marsh, though, a career in boxing had given him the ideal mind-set to overcome a prison stay.

“Isolation has never been a problem for me. It is interesting because it takes us back to the boxing. You get up at six in the morning for your run. You have the self-drive and motivate yourself to do that running. Boxing was about getting on with things and as a fighter you get that feeling of isolation from that doubt you get before a fight. I get on with my own company, so prison wasn’t really a problem. It got me into reading and that helped me avoid wasting the time I now had on my hands.”

One thing that had always puzzled me about Marsh is the fact that his stance is generally anti-authority, or perhaps anti-abuses of authority, yet he had always seemed to gravitate towards hierarchical systems: the army, the fire service and boxing to name three. I asked him if his experiences in the army, and in boxing, had helped him fight back in the face of insurmountable authoritarian forces.

“Absolutely,” he declared. “Having seen them from within enabled me to understand the structure and culture of those kinds of systems. When I was on the receiving end (of that authority) I could recognise the Achilles heel they have. I say Achilles heel not of the systems, but of the individuals within the systems, those who are at the sharp end carry out the decisions made by the policy makers, who are further up the line. It is about how fairly they then carry out these decisions. In my opinion people lower down the authority chain often abuse their power.”

Still, the question has always persisted in my mind of just why Marsh gravitates towards organisations with such rigid hierarchies. I had often wondered if, in joining these organisations, he was looking for a macro environment for his micro beliefs, a place where he could somehow have the best of both worlds: freedom, change and structure. He thought for a second and then laughed.

“I must admit that I’m not that clever, although when you analyse it like that…” he trailed off then answered in the negative. “Nah, each one came around because of circumstance. There was no agenda, none of it was a conscious decision—it was a means to an end. Each one was an end in themselves as well.”

For Marsh, as it must for all fighters, boxing had to end. Unlike most fight figures, though, Terry chose to walk away from the sport completely.

“Occasionally I find myself in boxing company and I do enjoy the company and the nostalgia of it all, but it is something that is just there—it is not part of my life. I don’t enjoy or endure it (boxing).”

At the time of writing, there has not been foray into training, no dabbling in promoting—it was a clean break. “It ain’t about distance, or enjoyment, or just doing it (walking away from boxing),” he recalled. “You just have to get on. You do something (boxing) and then move onto the next situation and what you have to do there.

“Occasionally I find myself in boxing company and I do enjoy the company and the nostalgia of it all, but it is something that is just there—it is not part of my life. I don’t enjoy or endure it (boxing).”

As stated, the Christmas cards stopped coming once he retired. The former world title holder’s most recent legal fights were not as widely reported as his former claim to infamy yet one of them still gives us an indication of that rebellious nature. That refusal to lie down and take it.

Marsh was in the news in 1997 after removing a wheel clamp from a car. I presume that it was Terry’s car, but you can never tell with the guy so he took up the story. “If you are going to be taken to court for something then taking a removal clamp is like a badge of honour, and it was actually removal and theft of a wheel clamp,” he laughed.

“Again that was something that happened. I was charged it with and I successfully defended myself. It wasn’t a direct challenge to authority, although subsequently there was the odd challenge.”

One challenge that is closed is that of renewed success in the boxing world, then again the likes of Azumah Nelson and Jeff Fenech made recent comebacks. As Marsh talked about his current fitness regime I, again, asked if the old boxing urge still burned somewhere deep inside him: “Maybe, if Hector Camacho Sr. still fancies it,” he said, referring to the fight that got away.

Terry talks about the psychology of boxing, weaknesses and strengths, and more in part three.

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