The forgotten Portsmouth boxer who fought some of the best

Matty George
Matty George

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Ballet shoes put on show in museum

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Unsurprisingly for a city that has for centuries sent men to war, boxing is embedded in the sporting fabric of Portsmouth.

You only have to attend a professional show to witness the enduring appeal of this hardest of sports and the popularity of local stars such as Floyd Moore, Joel McIntyre and Garry Neale.

jpns-15-01-15 rw poster USE SMALL''***USE SMALL ONLY***'A fight poster featuring Matt George

jpns-15-01-15 rw poster USE SMALL''***USE SMALL ONLY***'A fight poster featuring Matt George

Historically boxing has drawn many participants from backgrounds of withering hardship where opportunity is hard to find, providing a route to glory and riches that many aspire to but few actually attain.

Rarely was this more true than in the 1920s when the post-First World War boom faded and unemployment soared to two million.

In September 1920 one Eastney-born lad began his campaign for fame and fortune at the age of 15.

He won his professional debut at the Connaught Drill Hall in Stanhope Road, Landport, with a decision win over Jimmy Morgan, starting a career that lasted 11 years during which he boxed some of the top British fighters of his time.

He may be all but forgotten but Matty George was undoubtedly one of the best boxers Portsmouth has ever produced.

While Matty’s record appears modest – 24 wins, 33 losses and eight draws – he boxed in an era when there were 10 times the number of professionals than today and boxers could not avoid the hard matches and build padded records as many do today.

While never a champion himself, he went on to fight and in some cases defeat others who did win championship glory, along the way engaging in some local rivalries with the Goldring brothers, whom Matty beat in his second and third fights respectively, and Kid Connor to whom Matty lost in his final two fights in 1931 when he was suffering the knee problems that would end his career.

In his seventh fight Matty lost a close decision to Johnny Brown who would go on to box for the British bantamweight title in 1928, but in his next bout held at the famous Ring venue at Blackfriars, Matty soundly defeated Kid Socks of Bethnal Green, who boxed for the British flyweight title in 1926.

Matty next took a scalp that assured him of his rightful place among Portsmouth greats by taking a points decision over Ernie Jarvis of Millwall, who in 1927 challenged for the world flyweight title, and in 1929 boxed twice for the British title.

The fight took place at The Ring in Charlotte Street, Portsmouth, and The Evening News reported how Matty fought close allowing Jarvis to get on top before Matty outboxed him behind his jab.

In February 1924 Matty repeated the feat, boxing at range behind his cunning left hand but sustaining a split ear in the sixth round.

Matty’s purse for the Jarvis rematch was £75, a huge sum in 1924.

Three weeks later he was matched over 20 rounds with the great Len Harvey of Plymouth, the only fighter to have fought in every division from bantam to heavy and who would go on to win British titles at middle, light-heavy and heavyweight while also challenging unsuccessfully for the world title at middleweight and light-heavy. Matty was retired by his corner at the end of round three, but the loss did little to harm Matty’s reputation and he continued as a popular fighter until retirement in 1931.

Matty became a bus driver in Portsmouth and settled in St Faith’s Road, Landport.

Married to Elizabeth in 1939 he became brother-in-law to his old rival Kid Connor, who ran the Egremont Arms at 80–82 Crasswell Street.

Matty’s son Fred has many fond memories of the father he idolised and recalls as a gentle, lovely man, and Fred’s own son Les is also proud of his grandfather.

Matty died in 1972 and while he may not have reached the championship heights he dreamed of when he first laced up boxing gloves almost 100 years ago, he earned a place among the great boxers that our island city has produced throughout the decades, an accolade of which his family can be rightfully proud.

With thanks to Miles Templeton of boxinghistory.org.uk.