Connolly’s Boxing Tent, 1906

In 1906, Blantyre was gripped by boxing enthusiasm. This was no caused by visiting promoters who set up at grounds near Craighead (which would eventually become the speedway and later the EK Expressway at Lidl)

On Monday 19th November 1906, an enormous boxing match took place which must have been of special interest to boxing enthusiasts and fans. A great tent was erected by Connollys which had previously been in Blantyre and could accommodate 3,000 people. However, that night, it was packed to capacity even more than before as an enormous crowd had also travelled from nearby towns.

There were 4 matches that night, though the crowd had come largely for the principal match. A bout between Bobby Dobbs of America the world champion, and Joe Smith of Blantyre, who happened at the time to be the Scottish Champion. This was big news and made national newspapers as well as local. Of course, a large crowd, mainly of males turned up to support Joe Smith.

The conditions of the match was that Dobbs would knock out Joe Smith in 6 rounds of 3 minutes each and failing that, if Joe Smith was still standing, he would receive £25 and the match would play on until won. (£25 then was about £3,500 in today’s money).

Joe Smith was very well known and his friends insisted to the crowds that he would last the pace and they weren’t to be disappointed. He put up an admirable resistance lasting the 6 rounds and whilst getting severely punished, he gave as good as he got. When time was called, Smith seemed as fit as when he started and his success in the match was greeted by the wildest cheers. The excitement spilled from inside to outside as word spread that Joe Smith had stood up to the American.

Joseph was born at Causeystanes on 28th August 1887 in High Blantyre, the son of John Smith and Margaret Keegans. Joe was small in stature for a heavyweight, but carried a punch that could put an opponent easily to sleep for the required 10 seconds. Even later in life, Smith had no scars or battlewounds and was described in the 1950s, as “fresh now as he was in his heyday.” The land at Niaroo where the Smith family would eventually settle was acquired from the Milheugh Estate nearby.

In his autobiography, he told of these early matches in Blantyre and how important they were to him, including his amazement and envy at how much the promoters took at the entrances. Truth be told Joe was born too soon. If he had been in the boxing business in the post WW2 years, he would have made a fortune.

The 1906 match ignited a flurry of betting as you would imagine, the bookies doing well as always. It also prompted young men all over Blantyre to put on boxing gloves in later weeks. The outdoor boxing tent stayed there for 2 months, moving on in early January 1907.

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