DAVE HARRIS, the founder of Ringside Charitable Trust, loves Christmas.
As soon as November is in full flow, Harris – embracing the child inside – joyfully decorates the inside and outside of his home, set in beautiful sprawling countryside just north of Hastings, with lights, signs, trees, and inflatables.
It’s a dark sky area, so everyone in the village knows when it’s time to gear up for Santa’s visit. “We loved your decorations this year, Dave,” one of his neighbours tells him as we meet up in his local pub one recent afternoon in late January.
At least four times a year, Harris and I will meet to discuss the progress of Ringside Charitable Trust, the registered charity designed purely to help ex-boxers in need. Regular readers will know that the aim is to open a high-tech residential home to which those who need help of any kind can retreat, without the shame of making their plight public. The solace such a home would provide is long overdue.
Harris’ phone rings several times during the afternoon. And every time, the same ringtone plays. “It was Christmas Eve, babe,” Shane McGowan crackles from the phone’s speaker as the unmistakable Fairytale In New York begins.
“For years I had Slade, so I thought it was time for a change,” Harris chuckles. I immediately remember past meetings, some in the height of summer, when “Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall?” would momentarily interrupt our conversation.
In all the years I’ve known him, Harris seems to be universally adored. It’s never been hard to understand why. His whole life has been dedicated to helping others, which is something of a cliché unless of course it’s true. Whether that’s been rescuing local amateur boxing clubs from financial ruin, setting up shelters for those struggling with substance abuse or his incomparable work for the ex-boxer community, Harris has always spent more time thinking about other people than himself.
He will tell stories about Johnny Clark, the former British and European bantamweight champion who died in 2020. By then, he’d all but lost his mind. Harris thought the world of Clark and would regularly visit him in his care home and find a miserable and confused old man. After Harris had taken him out for the day, talking about his career and taking him down several memory lanes, the smile would return to Clark’s face. Clark is one of far too many fallen heroes that Harris has encountered.
There are other stories too, ones that for now can’t be shared. Sad tales of old fighters, some very well known, in desperate need of help. Tears form in Harris’ eyes more than once. So too, thankfully, does mischief and fun. The bright side is never far from his mind. Though he’s now in his seventies, it’s not difficult to imagine Harris as a young amateur boxer. He went on to train, manage and promote very good fighters, anchor himself in the EBA community, before setting up the British Boxing Hall of Fame in an effort to ensure those who deserved recognition received it. All he wants now is the care home to be in place before it’s too late.
It’s striking every time I meet up with Dave what a wonderful man he is. A mystery, too, why the industry won’t unite and push the charity forward. Promises of help feel empty, he says. My own faith in the industry, or at least in those at the top and those who can really make a difference, continues to dwindle.
But don’t expect Harris to give up. Nor should he. Though it’s easy – too easy – to blame the powerbrokers and elite fighters for being slow to recognise the importance of RCT, there remains a sense that it could all change very quickly. Large chunks of the fight fraternity remain behind RCT and the help the charity gives to those in need should not be understated. Harris has already made ginormous strides. The charity will live on, regardless.
Later, Harris texts to explain who was calling him earlier that day. It was the kind of call he often gets, one that makes it easy to understand why Christmas songs are used to numb the misery.
It was about the death of former British welterweight title challenger Trevor Smith. Smith stopped Ian John-Lewis in a thriller in 1989 to win the Southern Area title before knocking out Mickey Hughes to secure a shot at domestic king, Kirkland Laing. Smith would be halted in six rounds and go onto lose two of his last three before retiring in 1991 with a 15-3 (10) record.
Just over 32 years later, Smith was found dead in his home in Harlow. He’d been suffering from depression.
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