Stroll along the prom of the sleepy Lincolnshire seaside resort and you'll come across a placard which proclaims: "Cleethorpes – twinned with Konigswinter." In view of certain recent events, Chicago might seem a more appropriate pairing than a little town in Germany.
Cleethorpes is within sniffing distance of Grimsby, and there's something distinctly fishy going on in boxing's most north-easterly outpost, where words like sabotage, vendetta and mafia are flying around thicker than left hooks.
The Winter Gardens, where professional boxing occasionally takes place, hardly bears comparison to Madison Square Garden and the local promoter, garage proprietor Joe Frater, is not exactly Don King. But somebody up there doesn't like him.
Frater is Britain's only black promoter. His sell-out show in Cleethorpes on Monday night was the first since last October, when punters emerged from the Winter Gardens to find that their car tyres had been slashed. Some 47 vehicles in all were vandalised and a number of unsuspecting drivers had motorway blow-outs on their way home.
This followed a campaign of abuse against Frater and his family, some of it racial but mostly of an intimidatory nature including bomb scares at his garage, poison pen letters and threatening phone calls.
Frater has been promoting in the area for 15 years but he says the hassle began three years ago when the office was broken into. All that was stolen was a book containing the contact details of Britain's leading boxing figures, some of whom later received anonymous letters saying the Fraters were "filth and had to be got rid of". Racist leaflets were dumped on his forecourt and Frater abandoned his promotions "to let things cool down", resuming in October, when the tyre-slashing occurred.
"They're trying to kill me off," he says. "But they never will." So who are they? Frater reckons he knows, and so do the police, but they can't prove anything. They say the file is still open and Frater's offered reward of £1,000 for information remains unclaimed. "There are one or two people up here who think they're the mafia because they have been walking around with the likes of 'Mad' Frankie Fraser. We can do without gangsters in a little town like this. But they don't scare me. It will take a lot more than this to put Joe Frater down."
After the October tournament, the British Boxing Board of Control suspended all promotions in the region until they were satisfied that adequate security arrangements were in place. The Board's secretary, Simon Block, who was present, wrote to Frater and other local promoters informing them of the decision. Subsequently, a letter from one of them, Mrs Christine Dalton of KO Promotions in Grimsby, appeared in Boxing News in which she vehemently denied that her organisation had anything to do with the incident, claiming she had suffered similar treatment at her own shows.
"I resent the allegations which appear to be directed at me," she wrote. "Mr Frater believes the terrible incident in the Winter Gardens car park relates to boxing but we are all aware that disagreements arise throughout business and he being in the motor trade is no exception. Before he points the blame towards any rival promoter maybe he should look a little closer to home." But Frater insists: "There has been a vendetta against me as a promoter because I am too successful, too popular. What has been happening is hateful."
If the plan was to scare fans from attending Frater's promotions, it hasn't worked. A bigger crowd than before attended Monday's event, some 550 paying £35 a head for four bouts, a three-course meal, a comedian and an ensemble playing Glenn Miller numbers to put them in the mood. It passed off peacefully.
The Winter Gardens car park, under heavy CCTV surveillance, was patrolled by police and security men with guard dogs, plus a number of local ex-boxers who had volunteered to form an unofficial vigilante group. Locals say you'd be hard pressed to find a more decent bloke than Frater. No ordinary Joe, he was born in Kingston, Jamaica 63 years ago, came to Britain penniless, didn't like London so he caught a train to Grimsby where his cousin had trained as a doctor. Already a qualified motor mechanic he checked in at the YMCA, got a job at five bob a week in a local garage and three and a half years later opened his own motor repair business. It is now one of the best-known on Humberside.
Frater boxed as an amateur in Jamaica and one of his four sons, Trevor, has been a professional. With his Jamaican wife Lynn, Frater now lives comfortably in a five-bedroomed country house on an acre of land in Louth. "I've been here for over 40 years and I've never seen the inside of a social security office.
"Right from the start I've been engulfed by friendliness. This part of Lincolnshire is a little piece of heaven so I can't believe this has anything to do with racism. I have several English people working for me, one for 19 years. All my customers are white. No-one has ever said a racist word to me. Not a Jesus soul."
The warm greetings and backslapping at the Winter Gardens evidenced the flamboyant Frater's popularity. As he looked around him his distinctive Caribbean lilt conveyed an unequivocal message to his foes, whoever they may be: "These are my people. This is my town. I am here to stay."Reuse content