Sam Sexton takes the high road to title – with a bit of swearing on the way
- Credit: John Rainford/Focus Images Ltd
A week ago I was in Scotland, still delighted that Sam Sexton had brought the British heavyweight boxing title back to Norwich – and still wondering whether I really ought to take advantage of the blank receipt book the Edinburgh taxi driver had given me.
I opted against supplementing my salary with a bit of expenses fiddling (and I do hope my boss is reading this) and pondered instead the disappearance of the stereotypical Scotsman: you know the one, short arms, long pockets etc.
It's tough to pretend you are not in Scotland sometimes. In the evening I walked down to the Meadowbank Sports Centre, where Sam was due to square off against Gary Cornish, and passed the Go As You Please funeral shop, complete with a window display that included a tartan-covered coffin.
Inside the venue the first music I heard was the Proclaimers – a set of twins who are revered in Scotland, I can only assume for the way they manage to look terribly sinister without even trying.
As I waited for the big fight to begin, the crowd were busy whipping themselves into a frenzy and by the time Sexton and Cornish were ready to go, they were champing at the bit. I'm not the silent, retiring type by any means, but I thought it best to keep the accent to myself – although fair dues to Sam's dad Andy and a few others who cheered their man on in proper fashion.
The Union Flag on Sam's shorts added some spice, and volume. And then came the bagpipes... as a jazzy version of Flower of Scotland accompanied 'The Highlander' to the ring. Sam's musical choice? Papa's Got A Brand New Bag – a sure winner.
What followed was a dozen rounds of pulsating boxing as two giants went to war: it got a bit nasty at times and Sexton did well to avoid a high knee where it hurts, although it did give him a dead leg, which could have been hugely costly. A clue as to how tough heavyweight boxing, or boxing of any, sort is was to be found on Sunday morning, when Sam went back to the Norwich gym for a few media duties. On his left arm was a huge bruise – far too big to have been caused by a punch. It was where it had been twisted by his opponent – just think about that for a while and then you realise how much damage can be caused.
Anyhow, Sexton ended the night the victor and, finally, after a few moments of realisation that their war dances in the immediate minutes between the final bell and the verdict were in fact just a waste of energy, the Scottish fans were more generous. One man, who had spent the preceding three-quarters of an hour using the most industrial language a country can summon, decided it was time to explain his actions to trainer Graham Everett - while videoing the one-way conversation with a man quite rightly more interested in speaking to his boxer. Fortunately, in the after-glow of victory and the and graciousness of defeat, battle grounds are forgotten.
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Post-fight could hardly have been more convivial: Cornish, to his credit, visited the Sexton dressing room and there were laughs and congratulations: Cornish is a good man who took a painful defeat extremely well. The last time I was in a championship dressing room after a fight was when Liam Walsh lost to Gervonta Davis – I don't recall Davis doing the same thing. But then, I don't recall Davis or his mentor, Floyd Mayweather, being anywhere near as welcoming, passionate, gracious and sportsmanlike.
Where Cornish goes from here, who knows? For Sexton, there will be opportunities. At 33, the world isn't quite his oyster, but the alternative was retirement and, frankly, Sexton still has some more in the tank.
I doubt his purse from last weekend will set him up for life – a couple of thousand fans in a sports centre isn't going to do that – but he can now call a few shots in what will soon be the twilight of his career.
There are those who have denigrated the current quality of domestic heavyweights, but to those I suggest they watch the fight again, wind their necks in and understand that not everyone is a world beater, but that the best boxers take nothing out of the ring.
Boxing is a sport that, like football, has all sorts of citizen journalists commenting on it. To the gentleman who wrote 'It would be interesting to see where Sexton goes from here. He's not lost a lot from his game. He's just not someone that has a lot of talent to work with' – your neck has further to go than most.
Meanwhile, thanks, Scotland, it was great..
Sign of the times
I thought Steven Cleeve pulled off a masterstroke when he appointed Ian Culverhouse as his manager at the start of the year.
Now he has pulled another rabbit out of the hat with the signings of Grant Holt and Simon Lappin.
Both are more than capable of proving there is life in the old dogs yet – Holt, at 36, and Lappin, at 34, could still play league football.
But let's face it: both are settled in Norfolk and neither, you suspect, really wants the pain of travelling the length and breadth of the country once or twice a week. Fortunately, they're not the sort to just pick up the money without offering what they have in return. So as far as that goes, they are good deals.
Lappin is a fine player on the ball and an extremely good egg to have around: he will be able to nurture the likes of Frazer Blake-Tracey and Ryan Hawkins – two players who might just find themselves affected by his arrival. But Culverhouse won't let stature of character affect his selection: whoever is best suited to the job will get it.
Holt is a decent, honest, normal bloke, with no airs and graces. And a leader. With the raising of an eyebrow he gets something done. He was a terrific leader at Norwich and he will be a terrific leader at Lynn, without the need to be captain. And if he does get the armband, you suspect the admirable Michael Clunan is man enough himself to defer to someone who played such a massive part in one of the best periods in Norwich City's history.
I'm not a mind-reader, but I suspect Cleeve has figures in his head which make these signings financially viable. If attendances stay the same, it's a costly exercise.
But Lynn are capable of some extremely attractive football and Lappin and Holt might just be the catalyst to take that to the next level. If they do, then surely the crowds will come.
Of course, there is also the City factor: I would be very surprised if a few new fans are not acquired – obviously some turned up midweek when the new boys made cameo appearances. They won't 'steal' them when City are at home - but play good, entertaining, winning football, and nature will take its course.