Why boxing journo Colin picked a fight with Foreman


IT was inevitable that Colin Hart would end up immersed in the world of boxing.

His father, Nathan, used to recount stories of the great Jewish boxers such as Ted 'Kid' Lewis, Harry Mizler and Jack 'Kid' Berg.

It helped too that the Harts lived in the East End of London, undisputedly the spiritual home of boxing.

Colin, now 79, spent more than 30 years as The Sun's boxing correspondent - coinciding with the golden years of the sport.

"I have been lunged at by George Foreman, travelled across the world with Muhammad Ali and watched some of the greatest fights boxing has seen," Colin told me.

"If the world is going to last another million years, there will never be another Muhammad Ali. He transcended the sport."

Colin was there for Foreman v Ken Norton, Ali v Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard v Thomas Hearns.

But he never had any intention of becoming a sportswriter.

"I was a newsman - I joined a news agency when I was 17," he recalled. "I made the tea, swept the floor and answered the phone.

"Then I was 'let out' with a senior reporter and started doing court reporting around east London."

Colin then did his two-year national service in the Royal Air Force, where he was a wireless operator.

A year later, in 1958, he joined the Daily Herald, which had reached a circulation of two million in the 1930s, as a night news editor.

Later, Colin was offered a job in New York by the paper's bureau chief, but they wouldn't pay for his then-wife Jan to go with him.

He was close to taking a job at the Daily Express, but, as luck would have it, was offered a job on the Daily Herald's sports desk.

Colin said: "I was really annoyed at not being able to go to New York.

"I was sitting in one of the pubs I used to drink at with the sports journalist boys and John Kendrick, the deputy sports editor, came in and asked me why I was looking so miserable.

"He said I should join him on sport, so I decided to give it a whirl.

"My news editor, Doug Long, said I was making the biggest mistake of my life, as nobody gave much credence to sport in those days. How times have changed."

Colin's love of boxing kicked in and he attended local fights with boxing writer Jack Wood, who also covered golf.

"When he was away doing the golf, I would stand in for him," he recalled.

"I used to go round the gyms in east London, listening to the great trainers and managers."

Colin's mentor was boxing manager, promoter and impresario Mickey Duff - whose real name was Monek Prager, the Polish-born son of a rabbi.

He said: "Jews are impresarios by nature, we are natural showmen. Not all the promoters have been Jewish, but a lot of the main ones were.

"Mickey used to phone me when I was in America at 3am and when I told him I was sleeping, he said, 'Who wants to sleep when we can be talking boxing?'

"He was an extraordinary man with the sharpest brain I ever came across."

A life-long West Ham United fan, after the Daily Herald closed in 1964, Colin became boxing correspondent for The Sun.

In 1969 it was relaunched as a tabloid, with Colin carrying on his position.

Colin was at the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 in Zaire when Ali beat Foreman by knockout in the eighth round.

"Ali, at the time, was the most famous man in the world," Colin explained. "He was staying in a little place 30 miles outside the capital, Kinshasa.

"Somehow, the local population knew when he was going to travel to Kinshasa and thousands lined this dirt road."

Colin was also on the receiving end of Foreman's temper in Caracas, Venezuela, before his fight with Norton.

He recalled: "Foreman was a menacing character at the time, with a big afro.

"Myself and a few other UK journalists went to see him poolside at his hotel to get some quotes.

"I chain-smoked at the time and he said to me, 'Hey you - put that out'.

"I am an old-fashioned Eastender, as in I don't take any nonsense, so I said, 'Say please'. George was not happy.

"His previous fight had been against Jose Roman, who he beat up in Japan.

"George started telling us how proud he was to be champion and I asked him if he was proud at beating up Roman.

"A hand the size of shovel came at me and Bill Caplin, his manager, who was also Jewish, dived in."

Years later, Colin recalled, he was in Houston and Caplin arranged for them and Foreman to have lunch together.

"I was waiting in the hotel lobby, smoking, and suddenly I heard a voice say: 'Hey you - put that out'.

"I turned round and George was smiling ear-to-ear.

"We have been great friends ever since and he signed his autobiography for me, writing 'put that cigarette out'."

The best fight Colin has covered was Sugar Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran in Montreal in 1980.

"From a purist's point of view, it was 15 rounds of boxing perfection," Colin recalled.

"It should be shown at every boxing club in the world for the sheer courage and skill.

"The most dramatic was Rumble in the Jungle, while Ali against Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971 is right up there.

"Two men who were in the crowd died from heart-attacks because of the excitement."

Colin was also good friends with the Liverpool-born world light-heavyweight boxing champion John Conteh, as well as Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler.

"John was the best British fighter I have seen" he added.

"He and his now-wife Veronica came round for dinner and my daughter, Lara, was three-weeks- old.

"Lara kept waking up so my wife Cindy brought her down. John picked her up and helped to get her back to sleep.

"He was known for frequenting a club called Tramp and I wrote that he should concentrate more on training than on Tramp.

"He was very upset and didn't speak to me for a while."

Colin had to retire when he was 65 in 2000, but later returned to become The Sun's boxing columnist.

He now pens a fortnightly column.

"I don't have a mobile phone - they are a nuisance," Colin said. "I am an old-fashioned guy.

"I miss the smell of the newspaper office and the clamour - I loved the noise of the hot metal.

"There was nothing greater than sitting in the office and the building shaking when the presses started up.

"Fleet Street was like a village and everyone knew each other."

Married to American Cindy, Colin didn't just cover boxing - he was also an athletics correspondent and covered eight Olympic games.

He was in Munich in 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Arab terrorists.

"It wouldn't have mattered if they were Indian and Chinese, the point is they were brilliant athletes who were slaughtered in the prime of their lives," Colin explained.

"I remember being at the memorial service in the stadium, which was very moving.

"Afterwards, an Israeli journalist I knew well asked to borrow my phone as he needed to do a radio report.

"I sat next to him and he showed no emotion in his voice.

"I asked him why he had not choked up and he said what happened was a daily occurrence in Israel."

Colin was not raised in a religious home, but was barmitzvah.

His mother, Rachel, was from a well-known Dutch-Jewish family, the Schavereins, while he believes his father's family came from eastern Europe or Germany.

Colin's first wife, Jan, converted to Liberal Judaism as his father was upset at him marrying out.

"I am an atheist, but I am very proud of being Jewish and proud of my heritage - I never hide it," he said.

"In 1967, I offered my services as a wireless operator to the Israeli embassy during the Six-Day War, but when I told them I was married, they said they had enough unmarried volunteers."

Colin added he had never encountered any antisemitism in boxing, although he believes racism will never be eradicated, even by legislation.

"It is down to education," he continued.

When he was at the Daily Herald, he received dog excrement in the post after revealing he was Jewish following a piece he had written on National Front leader Colin Jordan.

The first British writer to win the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence In Boxing Journalism, Colin was also inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame three years ago.

"I was gobsmacked," he recalled. "We went to Canastota, New York, where the Hall of Fame is located and it was a weekend I will never forget."

© 2014 Jewish Telegraph