Joseph, a man of many colours - part one
- Credit: Roger Mann
Boxing had never been a sport which I embraced with much enthusiasm, but, from the age of 13, I was sent to a boarding school where it was compulsory.
In the 1950s, the school aimed to produce 'leaders for the battlefield, or from the pulpit', and boxing was part of the 'Muscular Christianity' which it was proud to teach.
We were encouraged to batter each other, shake hands, and then take a cold shower!
As I grew older and stronger, I enjoyed the science of boxing much more, and we had a wonderfully charismatic coach in Gordon Hazell.
Gordon had been a top professional boxer, and, by the time I left the school, boxing was fun.
During the summer of 1959, a friend of mine, Dave Challice, and I, followed the fair, and I had a couple of bouts in McKeown’s booth, but that was the last time I ever boxed.
However, although I was finished with boxing, boxing was not finished with me!
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I hope you enjoy this amazing story... please be patient, as, this week, it all begins with football!
I left school at 17, thinking I knew almost everything, and entered a world about which I knew almost nothing. I was stroppy, argumentative and self-willed!
My father wanted me to join the family business, and I wanted to be a teacher. We argued constantly until, one day, he asked me: “Are you ever going to get a job?”
“Yes!” I replied “But only if it’s a million miles away from you!” and stomped out.
A few days later, he called me into the kitchen, and told me that he had found me a job as an accountant, through a friend of his.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Just where you wanted it!” he replied “A million miles away from me! In the jungle in West Africa, but, I don’t suppose, for a minute, that you’ve got the guts to take it!”
My mum begged me not to go, but the die was cast, there was no backing down!
In January 1960, I found myself working for Crop Culture, in a small village called Victoria, built around an airstrip, in the jungle of British Cameroons.
I shared a house with an aircraft engineer, and two pilots, which was about a mile from the airstrip.
Each day, we had to travel, to and from the airstrip, by a canoe, paddled by two African lads called Amos and Joseph. We got to know them well.
They were both employed by the Cameroons Development Corporation (CDC), who owned and operated the local banana plantations, and Joseph was sport mad!
After a few weeks in Africa, I told Joseph that I was missing my football, and he introduced me to the local boys, who kicked around on an area of sun baked mud in the centre of the village.
We had just one goalpost, and no nets, but it was great to be kicking a ball again.
After every session, the boys would sit in a circle around me, in the middle of the pitch, and I would tell them about Stanley Matthews, or recent FA Cup finals.
Because they had only one goalpost, none of them had ever played in an actual match, but just loved kicking or heading a football!
Anxious to harness their enthusiasm, I approached the welfare officer at CDC, and their carpenters made us another goalpost.
I was the world’s most popular man!
More boys joined the group, and, before long, they were begging me to arrange matches with neighbouring villages like Tiko, and Kumba.
After our next kick around, I explained that, one day, I would be going home, so they must form a club themselves.
I told them that they would need a secretary, a chairman, and a captain... but that I would accept a less important post if they invited me, officially, to do so. They stayed there, sat talking, for another two hours.
Some months later, Victoria Rangers was formed, and I received my invitation.
I have treasured it ever since, and it still brings tears to my eyes.
That little club celebrated its 60th birthday last year, and now has its own enclosed grass pitch, on the very same mud patch that spawned it back in 1960.
But what has all this got to do with boxing?
Next week, Joseph proves he is a man of many colours!