Boxing: A savage night of violence

Derrick Whyte gives an eye-witness account of a boxing show which ended in mayhem and tragedy
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The Independent Online
DOCTORS last night told the parents of the bantamweight James Murray that he was "clinically dead", according to the fighter's manager, Alex Morrison. He was speaking less than 24 hours after the fighter had a blood clot removed from the left side of his brain.

Late on Friday night Murray had fallen to his knees and then slumped unconscious to the bloodstained canvas with just 34 seconds remaining of the 12th and final round of his bid to win the British title from Drew Docherty at the Hospitality Inn, Glasgow. The end of the contest was the prompt for hundreds of fans in the hall to start fierce brawling among themselves.

A spokesman for Southern General hospital in Glasgow said that the condition of the 25-year-old was expected to remain critical overnight and that a further assessment would be made in the morning.

Morrison, who had emerged from the hospital to be seen sobbing at the wheel of his car, added that doctors had told Murray's family that the life support machine could not be turned off until this morning, when his body would be clear of the drugs given to him.

The fight was passionate and brutal, and the behaviour of the crowd from before the first bell suggested that there would also be fierce scenes outside the ring. The bout was part of what is known as a dinner promotion: 400 guests had paid pounds 50 each for a four-course meal and four fights. But 300 so-called fans of the boxers, who both come from the outskirts of Glasgow, had also paid pounds 20 to stand at the back of the banqueting suite and peer over the heads of the diners at the ring. It was an unhealthy cocktail.

The moment Murray collapsed exhausted, bottles were thrown and the paramedics rushing to the ring to assist the stricken fighter were hindered by those in their path. Murray was already unconscious.

The 20 hired security guards seemed inadequate. Chairs, glasses and bottles were thrown and soon blood-soaked victims were fleeing the part of the banqueting suite transformed into a fighting pit. In the ring, Docherty was inconsolable. Surrounded by his friends, he simply shook his head and cried. On the canvas, Murray's left leg twitched uncontrollably while the brawling massesgot closer to the ring.

The paramedics decided to strap Murray, a landscape gardener, to their gurney and dash for the ambulance to make the seven-minute journey to the neurological unit in Govan.

The ugly scenes in the banqueting suite continued after Murray was removed to hospital. Men stripped to the waist and smeared blood from head wounds across their chests in a grotesque imitation of the recent film set in Scotland, Braveheart. The secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, John Morris, appealed for calm and promised an inquiry into the incidents inside and outside the ropes.

Murray had appeared to be in front before his tragic collapse, but the referee, John Keane, had the boxers level. After the fight Keane, his short-sleeved shirt soaked in the dark blood from Murray's three facial wounds, stood in desperate isolation at ringside. Just 18 months ago he was the third man in the officiating team when Liverpool's Richie Wenton beat Bradley Stone at the York Hall in Bethnal Green: three days later Stone died from injuries sustained in the ring. Keane was suffering.

Eventually, Glasgow's notorious anti-violence police units arrived. On a Friday night they are parked in vans ready for disturbances. They quickly restored order but made no arrests at the time, even though five people required hospital treatment.

Murray is from Newmains, a tough area with high unemployment. The steel industry has left and now a savage culture of violence and drugs dominates. "It is a wild area and there have been murders there in recent months," said Morrison, whose attempts to quell the disturbance failed. In Glasgow, a cheap but potent tonic wine called Buckfast is fashionable; the Newmains area is referred to as Buckfast Valley.

Morris and Morrison spoke in private to various police officers, their faces were marked by disgust and disbelief. "What do the public think? They think hooliganism has got into boxing and they are right. We have to get rid of it, it is that simple," Morris said.

When Murray was passed out of the ring he was breathing without any assistance but he never regained consciousness. As he was pushed through the hotel's lobby, the victims of the night's other fights were strewn all over the place. It was chaos: the men were groaning and the women screaming. A hellish scene.

"I have been promoting here since 1979 and I've never seen anything like this. I don't want to see anything like it ever again," Morrison said. If the British Medical Association and other anti-boxing organisations have anything to do with the sport's future, Morrison will never have to contemplate another fight. Murray was fighting for his life last night; boxing may soon be doing the same.