Carl Froch v George Groves comment: Harvey, Ali, Cooper and Benn v Eubank II filled stadiums with history and bravery


It is claimed that the final fight in the Len Harvey and Jock McAvoy quartet was played out against a backdrop of fear and exultation at the threat of impending war inside the White City Stadium one night in July 1939.

There is no doubting the pandemonium in the streets surrounding the stadium, which was already starting to show signs of decay, on the day of the fight when, for a variety of unexplained reasons, gridlock meant that hundreds of people abandoned their cars and taxis and walked to the turnstiles. The police attempted to keep order but there were several surges on the gates, some successful, and that is why the final attendance figures are impossible to verify.

This Saturday the accountants will return precise numbers on paid, attended and all forms of complimentary ticketing for Carl Froch against George Groves at Wembley Stadium; statistics were meaningless the night Harvey beat McAvoy over 15 rounds to lead 3-1 in their series. There are reports that more than 200,000 filled the sloping stands of the venue at one point and most experts insist that 90,000, the paid-attendance record Harvey had set at the same venue in 1934, had been shattered.

White City Stadium, incidentally, was being demolished in 1985 and stood under a canopy of cranes when Barry McGuigan beat Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road in June of that year. The rotting shell of the Olympic stadium was only about 200 feet away from the turf where McGuigan won in front of about 40,000 – that is the official figure but I have never met an Irishman who was not there on the night.

The third fight between Harvey and McAvoy had been the previous year across London at Harringay Arena, another demolished landmark on the boxing map of Britain, and on that night an early form of pay-per-view was tried on a limited number of homes. It was pay television well in front of any curves and it vanished until a night in 1966, when a new pay TV initiative was introduced for the outdoor spectacle at Highbury. On that night, under a threatening sky, Muhammad Ali cut Henry Cooper’s face in a display of savagery often overlooked in Ali praise. At Arsenal 41,000 paid, which was a modern high until the Theatre of Dreams hosted Chris Eubank against Nigel Benn in a rematch of hate that ended in a draw in front of 42,000 in 1993.

The Ali fight was a real boxing moment in history, the Harvey fights were events, often accompanied by royal approval, and the Benn and Eubank rematch remains a bigger fight than the one between Carl Froch and George Groves this weekend. Froch and Groves will make more money than any two boxers ever shared in a British ring, but I would argue that had Benn and Eubank met in a rematch after their November 1990 brawl the attendance would have been much, much higher.

The way the sport was covered in 1993 was, in fairness, not very different to the way that the sport was reported when Harvey and Ali flexed their muscles outdoors in London. The fights were big because they dominated the national newspapers in a way that has been in decline for about 20 years: I had a story, or two or three, in the paper every day for a week before Benn and Eubank II and I was camped in Manchester for six nights.

Joe Calzaghe attracted 50,150 paying souls to witness his masterclass against Mikkel Kessler in Cardiff in 2007 and Ricky Hatton floated through 12 delightful rounds against Juan Lazcano in front of 57,000 at the Etihad, as it is now known, in 2008; in Germany the Klitschko brothers have sold as many as 70,000 for their stadium fights and, like the Hatton and Calzaghe fights, they prove that the old sport can still reach impressive heights.

This Saturday as many as 80,000 will become part of history inside the stadium, illuminated by the stars and beneath the ring lights. They will raise their lighters as the air-raid sirens sound and the giant beams sweep the terraces and they will know, for just that few seconds, that the financial sacrifices were all worth it; a few seconds later Groves and Froch will follow Harvey, Cooper, Eubank, Benn, Calzaghe, McGuigan, Ali and Hatton and all the other outdoor idols who have braved wind, rain and punches to fight under the night sky.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Contact Centre Advisor

£19500 - £21500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading children's chariti...

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor