Boxing: Graham back on his feet but still fighting demons

 

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The Independent Online

"The trouble with boxing," says Barry McGuigan, "is that too often it ends in sadness. Every fighter has a story that could break your heart And when the last bell sounds, some simply do not know what to do with themselves." Herol Graham knows the anguish of those withdrawal symptoms too well, slashing his wrists in a moment of deep despair.

"Bomber" Graham was driven to attempt suicide after he retired when he found himself alone in a sparsely furnished house, his marriage and other relationships wrecked, his wealth evaporated from failed business ventures, his mind in turmoil.

Graham's 54-fight, 20-year career, which saw him win the British, Commonwealth and European light-middle and middleweight championships in the Eighties, finished at 38 after three unsuccessful world title attempts. He had been one of the nation's most charismatic fighters with a smiling, laid-back style that was a mix of Muhammad Ali and former Sheffield spar-mate Naseem Hamed, plus a punch hard enough to have left one opponent requiring brain surgery.

But he could not cope with retirement, as he explains in a poignant and compelling biography which, he says "has helped me get rid of the demons that were deep, inside me". He recalls: "They were big demons, I'm telling you. It all came to a head one evening when I sat alone as I had most nights, staring at a TV which didn't always work.

"All my self-belief had gone. I was financially on my knees. Mentally I was in torment. I just wanted out. So I sharpened a knife, took a bottle of brandy and went into the bedroom, made a couple of calls and said a few prayers before beginning to slash my wrists.

"As I did, I screamed and lay down thinking I'd die in my sleep. But in the morning I woke to find the blood had congealed and dried on the sheets." He took himself to hospital but later a former girlfriend, Karen, called the police, fearing he might try it again. Two officers came and he was sectioned in a psychiatric unit.

He is back on his feet now, but still fighting one demon – the biggest of them all. As an eight-year-old he was raped "by a friendly man living across the street who used to watch me running past his house and often told me how well I was doing. One day he asked me to help with some cleaning but when I went inside I found it wasn't cleaning he wanted me to do. I was eight, and too scared to say anything.

"He's dead now, but I'm not. Either way, eight-year-olds shouldn't be fighting demons. It's the sort of thing you can never sort out in your mind. When you are an adult you think you're strong enough to talk about something like this without crying but you aren't. As I tell you this now, my eyes are filling with tears.

"Fortunately I feel much better within myself now. I have spoken to myself and found some of the answers are right here inside." Now 52, the father of six is working as a personal trainer and is back with Karen ("who has become my angel") and living in London, where he has aspirations to open his own gym and become a TV analyst. "I have a future to look forward to and for the first time in a while I'm happy, and laughing again."

'Bomber: Behind the Laughter' by Herol Graham and Stuart Wilkin, published by TH Media at £11.99

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