The Story of the “Real McCoy”

 

Writing Tom Sharkey’s biography meant we got to “meet” many of the great characters of old-time boxing.

Sharkey wasn’t the only wild character among them.

One of our favourites was “Kid” McCoy – real name Norman Selby – who faced Sharkey in January 1899 as a boyish-looking 26-year-old and had fast become one of the most notorious figures ever to step in the ring; a talented fighter, yes, but a trickster too.

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According to Patrick Myler: “The numerous stories told about his trickery, mostly apocryphal, are a treasured part of boxing folklore.”

He was said to have once filled his mouth with loose teeth and spat them out during a bout, horrifying his opponent and delivering a knockout punch on his unguarded chin.

He also scattered thumb-tacks on the canvas when he took on a fighter who fought in bare feet.

One particularly dirty trick involved Peter Maher. McCoy sent him a fake telegram, shortly before they were due to fight, saying there been a sudden death in the Irishman’s family.

As another writer, Graeme Kent, has noted: “McCoy was a brilliant boxer and an extremely shrewd operator who had sailed close to the wind on a number of occasions.”

His name lives on with us to today as a way of describing the genuine article. Myler reckons this relates to confusion with a lesser-known fighter named Peter McCoy, who was also known as “Kid”. He says a newspaper once ran the headline, ‘Choynski is Beaten by the Real McCoy’ and the phrase stuck. Kent prefers a story more in keeping with ‘Kid’ McCoy’s trickster image. He says that McCoy, trading on the drawing power of his name, sometimes booked himself to appear in different places at the same time and sent along ringers.

“Promoters had grown wise to this ploy and had insisted on the Kid being less generous with his doppelgangers,” notes Kent. “To reinforce this point they had taken to billing the boxer as ‘the real McCoy’, a phrase which later entered the lexicon.”

I FOUGHT THEM ALL IS AVAILABLE IN HARDBACK HERE

Photographing the film-makers

A big shout-out to photographer Susy Fernandes who is following the production of our short film This Is Not A Poem.

I’ve worked on dozens of productions but have never had someone taking photos during the process.

Being behind the camera one feels quite anonymous. Susy’s photos are putting the camera operator Paul Roberts and myself under her own kind of spotlight.

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We chose Susy because she can immediately connect with our subjects of internationalism, understanding and tolerance.

She was born in Mozambique in 1974 in the year of The Carnation Revolution (Revolucao dos Cravos), to Portuguese parents.

To escape the riots her parents moved the family to South Africa. She lived there until she was 12 and then the family moved back to Portugal.

In 2005, she and her own young family left Portugal and went to England to work. They later moved to Wales.

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In Wales, she decided to continue her studies at Cardiff and Vale College and joined a BTEC course in Fashion and Clothing. She is now studying a Foundation Degree in Photography with the USW at CAVC.

She says: “I believe that we are never too old to study and to dream. I’m doing all this so that my four boys can see me as a role model who, despite suffering from a chronic condition (Fibromyalgia), still has hope for a better future.”

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We have engaged Susy to document our filming days.

The only thing we haven’t managed to do yet is get a photo of Susy herself!

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Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule

Coming soon from Dutton Caliber in the US (published April 2019):Defying Hitler cover USAn enthralling work of popular history that vividly resurrects the web of everyday Germans who resisted Nazi rule

Nazi Germany is remembered as a nation of willing fanatics. But beneath the surface, countless ordinary, everyday Germans actively resisted Hitler. Some passed industrial secrets to Allied spies. Some forged passports to help Jews escape the Reich. For others, resistance was as simple as writing a letter denouncing the rigidity of Nazi law. No matter how small the act, the danger was the same–any display of defiance was met with arrest, interrogation, torture, and even death.

Defying Hitler follows the underground network of Germans who believed standing against the Fuhrer to be more important than their own survival. Their bravery is astonishing–a schoolgirl beheaded by the Gestapo for distributing anti-Nazi fliers; a German American teacher who smuggled military intel to Soviet agents, becoming the only American woman executed by the Nazis; a pacifist philosopher murdered for his role in a plot against Hitler; a young idealist who joined the SS to document their crimes, only to end up, to his horror, an accomplice to the Holocaust. This remarkable account illuminates their struggles, yielding an accessible narrative history with the pace and excitement of a thriller.

Praise for Defying Hitler:

“The question was often asked amid the ruins of the Third Reich: why did the Germans fight on for so long when all was lost? Those liberated from concentration camps knew the answer. Terror, mass murder, ruthless and barbaric persecution—all opposition had been mercilessly quashed. In Defying Hitler, Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis show in chilling and vivid detail just how courageous were those who dared to defy Hitler. A terrifying and timely account of resistance in the face of the greatest of evils.”—Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris

“This carefully researched book challenges the myth that the German people were virtually unanimous in support of Hitler… Defying Hitler is filled with almost unbearable suspense and drama.”Booklist (starred review) 

“A deeply researched work that passionately challenges the popular myth that ‘the German people followed Hitler as if as one mass, mesmerized like the children of Hamelin by the Pied Piper.'”Kirkus 

Happy Twickenham Memories Before War Intervened

Just found a wonderful memory of Cardiff’s historic win at the Twickenham Sevens in the spring of 1939 in an article from Wales Online.

The team featured Les Spence and Wilf Wooller who three years later would be captured by the Japanese in Java.

Les kept a secret diary (of which a lot more here: https://greglewisinfo.wordpress.com/tag/from-java-to-nagasaki/) in the camp and on April 25, 1942 he wrote:

“No working party today. Very hot. Played chess and bridge most of the day. Passed a very pleasant hour with Wilf reminiscing on our past exploits. Three years ago today we were playing 7s at Twickenham.” (‘From Java To Nagasaki’, Magic Rat Books)

In the Wales Online article from 2011, 91-year-old Graham Hale recalled how Cardiff were the only Welsh-based club to lift the trophy.

“Only our captain, Wilf Wooller, had ever played in Sevens before as it was not played in Wales and it appears he was in the Sale side that had won in 1936,” said Graham. “I was a centre then and with Wilf at outside-half, we had Gwyn Porter outside me and Willie Davies, the brother of the Wales prop Cliff, playing scrum-half, though he was really an outside-half.

“Willie was a splendid player but turned professional soon afterwards. In the forwards were Selby Davies, Evan Jones and Les Spence, while Wilf dropped the Wales forward ‘Wendy’ Davis, as Wilf said he was too slow.

“Selby, ‘Wendy’ and I had all been at Cardiff High School.

“We had a small practice and the next day (April 22, 1939) we caught the train to Twickenham.

“We had never seen a Sevens match and watched the first one from the grandstand, the ground was full.

“We opened against the good St Mary’s Hospital side and the referee said we had two minutes left and we were losing 6-0.

“We ran down field and I was clear, but for some reason I stopped and dropped a goal.

“It was four points then and a try was three.

“It was the only drop goal I ever attempted!

“From the kick-off we got the ball and when I received it, I was again clear and scored to make it 7-6. I don’t think we attempted the conversion.”

Cardiff then beat the Met Police 5-3 and Birkenhead Park 8-5 in the semi-final.

The BBC broadcast had broken down and those in the Cardiff club were resigned to the team losing.

However, Cardiff met London Scottish in the final.

“Wilf was always loud off the pitch, but quiet on it,” added Mr Hale.

“He sat with me watching the Scotland fly-half Logie Bruce Lockhart run rings round their opponents.

“He said that if I got Lockhart low, he would take him and the ball high.

“We did and won 11-6.

“We caught the train home with Wilf running down the platform as it was going.

“We got in the club that night and nobody knew we had won the splendid Kinross Arber Trophy.

“It was a great day to remember.”

Like Les and Wilf, Graham joined the army during the war and became a POW in North Africa.

Boxing Biography Makes a Comeback as an E-book

Irishman Tom Sharkey was the never-say-die fighter who bridged the gap between old and new.

Sharkey arrived in the United States in the 1890s as the fight game was changing. The prize-fighters and bare-knuckle brawlers were disappearing as the new “scientific” boxers emerged to fight under the Marquis of Queensberry rules.

After quickly making his name as a mean brawler, Sharkey went on to battle all the top boxers of his day: his hero John L Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons and the man who would become not only his greatest foe but his best friend, Jim Jeffries.

Their 25-round world title fight at Coney Island was one of the most gruelling and compelling encounters ever seen inside a ring.

And, despite the viciousness of their ring battles, they went on to enjoy a 50-year friendship which only ended when they died weeks apart.

The award-winning biography I Fought Them All prints the fact and the legend, and is chocked full of the rich characters who dominated the sport and politics of the period, from Wild West gunman Wyatt Earp to Tim “Dry Dollar” Sullivan of New York’s Tammany Hall.

It is the story of an Irish immigrant, a sporting celebrity who won and lost a fortune, and of a man described by the New York Times as a “ring immortal”.

Originally released as a limited edition hardback, I Fought Them All is now available as an e-book on Kindle US and Kindle UK.

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REVIEWS:

“Hugely entertaining and exquisitely researched, I Fought Them All shines a penetrating and long-overdue spotlight on one of the most fascinating figures in boxing history. Revelations about Sharkey’s private life are eye-popping, and the book is especially thorough in covering the Earp controversy. ‘Sailor’ Tom himself would growl his approval, and his massive chest would swell even larger. It’s a great contribution to ring history.”

Pete Ehrmann, boxing writer, contributor to The Ring

I Fought Them All is an excellent read. It’s well-researched and is good news for boxing fans everywhere. ‘Sailor’ Tom Sharkey was an aggressive, relentless and powerful heavyweight who ranks among the greatest who ever entered the ring. He was an earlier version of the splendid fighter, Rocky Marciano. Tom had the misfortune of fighting when boxing legends Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons were at their best. Had he fought at any other time in history, he very likely would have been heavyweight champion of the world.”

Tracy Callis, boxing historian

”The book features an array of characters including Wild West gunman Wyatt Earp and boxing legends such as John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. At its heart is the astonishing 50-year rivalry and friendship between Sharkey and Jim Jeffries, which started after their 25-round world title fight at Coney Island and lasted until the two men died a few weeks apart in 1953.”

Boxing Ireland

“…it emits quality from the first opening crack of the hardcover until its final satisfying closing.”

Marty Mulcahey, Max Boxing

“…A fascinating story… Very well-researched piece of work with many anecdotal gems… I Fought Them All is a tale of one man who travelled from his homeland and ended up inAmericato swap blows with arguably the toughest pugilists to have ever fought in the ring. Along the way we are introduced to ‘injuns’, gun-slingers, shipwrecks, tragic love stories, gambling, acts of heroism and, of course, gruelling fights. I thoroughly recommend this book.”

Glenn Wilson