In the last few years so many people I know have died that I seem to be in a constant state of shock. Friends, colleagues and family: they’ve all been dropping like flies. Heart attacks, cancer, Motor Neurone Disease – fate, it seems, has no trouble in coming up with different ways of killing us all. And none of them are pleasant.
This week yet another friend of mine died. His name was Glyn Leach. He was only fifty-four-years-of-age and best known to the world of boxing as the long-standing editor of Boxing Monthly. I hadn’t actually seen him in person since 22 November 1990. I remember that date because it was the day that Margaret Thatcher resigned from government. It was also the day that I was sacked as editor of the magazine’s sister publication Boxing Weekly.
But what I’m about to write is not about me. It’s about Glyn, and Bola, and Jon, and Anna, and my father. And other people who shall remain nameless. People who have in some way touched me, been important to me. And Glyn was one of them.
Let me take you back to 1989. The dark, dusty, internet free days of 1989. It’s seems impossible to me that I’m talking about a quarter of a century ago. Not because it really does seem like yesterday but because I can still smell and taste that decade on my fingers and toes. I’d just walked out on a job as boxing reporter for the Sunday Sport and been invited to come and work for the company that published Boxing Monthly. Although the magazine was still in its first year the publishers were full of confidence and ambition. They were in the process of launching a weekly edition. They wanted me to edit it.
The operation was run from a suite of rooms above a newsagents in Notting Hill. Glamorous it was not. The place smelled of piss. The one solitary toilet was a health hazard, as was the owner of the company who operated a revolving door policy. Staff were in and out of the building on a daily basis. New faces replaced old with alarming regularity. It was sometimes difficult to remember the names of the people you were supposed to be working with.
Masterminding the chaos was Edward Crawshaw, a charming ex-public school rogue who was an accountant turned art dealer. At his side was Barry Hugman, a boxing statistician and editor of the British Boxing Yearbook (who one ex-Boxing Monthly editor – now Eurosport commentator – once cruelly observed ‘put the chin in Hitching’).
I turned up on my first morning in the job to find that I was the only one there. There were no other staff members. It transpired that there had been an argument a day earlier and all the staff had walked out. To better things, I might add. Eventually Crawshaw and Hugman appeared and brought with them some new staff members. There was Chris, a university graduate from up north, and Lee, a recent school leaver (who still happens to be one of the funniest people I have ever met). Neither of them had any experience of running a weekly paper. Neither of them had ever had a solitary word published – not even in the school magazine let alone the national press. And I was only a child myself – not yet twenty-five. It was clear that difficult times were ahead for us all.
A couple of weeks later Glyn joined the cast. From what I remember he had been regularly corresponding with Barry Hugman in the hope of getting a start in boxing journalism. Hugman had apparently invited him to his house and given him a subbing test, which Glyn had passed. What sealed the deal was Glyn’s offer to work for free.
I don’t much recall Glyn’s entrance: Boxing Weekly was only days away from launch and we were all too busy to welcome a new arrival with any pomp and ceremony. Glyn just rolled up his sleeves and helped out where he could. Even then it was clear that Glyn was a grafter. He was prepared to live in the Boxing Weekly offices if that’s what it took. And he frequently did.
I may be wrong but I think that I had the privilege of editing the very first piece that Glyn offered to Boxing Weekly. If I recall correctly it was about Frank Bruno. It was a little rough around the edges but Glyn quickly and quietly improved, becoming an accomplished writer and commentator on boxing.
I spent a year at Boxing Weekly and it was most definitely the hardest year of my life. Unless you have ever been in this situation it is difficult to understand just how tough it is to run a weekly paper. It really is like being on a treadmill. After the euphoria and relief of completing the paper in the early hours of a Saturday morning it was back to the grindstone: the planning meeting on Monday morning, the allocation of tasks to staff members and freelancers, the continual worry that the pages might not be filled, that photographs might not turn up. The constant threat of legal action from managers, promoters and boxers.
And when the day’s work was over, more work. This time spent attending the fights that would be reported in next week’s issue. Attending them to such a degree that I personally began to resent the sport of boxing for the demands it was placing upon me. The scrambling to achieve deadlines, the constant worry.
What made things harder for Boxing Weekly was the paucity of funds that were provided for the editorial team. We really did live from hand to mouth. On too many occasions contributors and suppliers would not be paid and instead of working on the paper I would find myself engaged in lengthy telephone conversations attempting to placate creditors. Even worse, staff members would often not be paid, myself included. It was the ultimate slap in the face for all the work that we had been putting in.
Of course there were laughs. Sometimes episodes of manic laughter when all of us would get drunk and offload the strain that we had been going through. Our habit of calling everyone ‘matey’ for no apparent reason. The time Lee called up Paul McCartney in the middle of the night and swore at him. The time all the computers were removed from the office by men in crash helmets as we worked. The time a drunken Kirkland Laing crashed the offices knocking over everything in his way.
Yes, there were laughs. But those laughs were mainly overshadowed by the constant grind. Grind like nothing else on earth.
The reason I talk about all this is because Glyn experienced this grind for over a quarter of a century. I lasted a year before I was burned out but Glyn, being the grafter that he was, carried on and carried on. And carried on.
He carried on when he arrived into work one morning to find all the computers gone and along with them all the staff. He carried on when the magazine went bust, obtaining a bank loan and purchasing half of the magazine outright. He carried on when the internet arrived and everyone in the world was suddenly a published writer. He carried on when paper was superseded by pixels. He just carried on. And for the succeeding generations of boxers and boxing fans it was as if he had always been there and would be forever.
A few years ago Glyn and I got back in touch. We became FB friends and began exchanging messages and emails. We planned to meet up and have a few beers. But it never happened. In one of our very last FB exchanges Glyn told me that he was arranging a lunch with another former Boxing Monthly editor, the kind and knowledgable George Zeleny. But now that, too, will never happen.
Now twenty years older, Glyn and I had other things in common. I was on the verge of having a hip replacement and he had just had one himself. I wanted his advice. Earlier this year Glyn surprised me by telling me that he had suffered a seizure, in which he had collapsed but made a full recovery. Except for the fact that he found it difficult to concentrate when he was working. In retrospect, alarm bells should have been ringing then and perhaps they were. In the March issue of Boxing Monthly Glyn confessed at length to feeling the strain of that continual grind in an editorial that was completely out of character for him.
The outpouring of grief and sadness on Twitter and on the many boxing sites that now proliferate has been genuinely moving for me and those who knew Glyn. And this is my own way of saying goodbye, of tipping my hat to someone who always commanded respect. You made a difference, Glyn, and although you’d no doubt be laughing at the the sentimentality of that last statement, an awful lot of people are already missing you far too much.
Ian Probert 2014