A century since Tom Gummer brought the British Middleweight Title back to Rotherham, DAVID BEDDOWS delves into the archives to remember a special achievement.
On a March night 100 years ago in the heart of London, a boxer from Rotherham stepped into the ring to ink his name into local sporting history.
In a contest scheduled for 20 rounds, Tom Gummer wore down his opponent, Jim Sullivan, and then stopped him late on to become the British Middleweight champion.
That night, as he secured the prized Lonsdale Belt, he achieved something no fighter from the town has managed since, although plenty have tried.
If you take a look at YouTube you'll find some rare, grainy, black and white footage of Gummer's last fight a couple of years later against Ted Kid Lewis.
Although he lost that night, his reputation was already cemented.
Born in Rotherham in 1894, Tom Gummer served as a Private (and later Corporal and Sergeant) in the British Army and had his first professional fight in 1914.
He fought 11 times that year, an astonishing figure by modern-day standards, winning all 11.
He had setbacks but continued to clock up wins until finally, in 1920, he manoeuvred himself into position to challenge for the vacant British title.
At 25, Gummer was eight years Sullivan's junior. He'd also had only 20 pro fights compared to his rival's whopping 79. Sullivan was also a former holder of the belt.
In the Advertiser's report of the time, it noted that there was not a large attendance at the weight-in and that Sullivan “looked in better condition than for some years past, his training at Oxford University undoubtedly having a good effect.”
As the “local” man from Bermondsay, south east London, we can probably assume Sullivan had most of the crowd behind him at the fight, which took place on March 29, 1920 at the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden.
We can also assume the atmosphere in the hall was a little more genteel than that at today's local venues like Magna, Barnsley Metrodome and the Doncaster Dome.
According to researchers, bouts at the National Sporting Club took place after dinner in front of about 1,300 members and guests.
“The bouts would be fought in silence as no talking was permitted during the rounds and the club built up a great tradition of sportsmanship and fair play,” they say.
The Advertiser's fight report ran to several hundred words, accompanied by a head and shoulders picture of Gummer, and was spread across narrow columns, the paper being a broadsheet in those days.
The reporter must have got through plenty of notepaper because his write-up was a detailed, blow by blow account, and so it had to be. For the people back home in Rotherham, print would probably have been the only way of finding out how the local lad had got on.
Our scribe noted that after a quiet first round, Sullivan handicapped himself by crouching.
Gummer became more content to bide his time, getting the measure of his opponent.
Our reporter included a nice little exchange in the fifth round.
Sullivan rushed forward, Gummer cleverly side-stepped out of the way and Sullivan “almost turned a somersault out of the ring”.
“The Rotherham man sportingly helped him back, only afterwards to take a number of lefts to the face.”
If those hurt, our champion in waiting didn't show it. He'd weighed in at just over 11st 3lb to Sullivan's 11st 6lbs and made “all possible use of the ring” to take the sixth round.
The details of the middle section of the fight are a little thinner. In the seventh, Sullivan landed with a fine right-hander to the ribs and although Gummer began to target the body, there was said to be little between them.
Maybe it was youth, maybe it was fitness, but by the 14th round a fresher Gummer sensed his chance.
There was a lot of wild swinging from both fighters, the telling connections came from the Rotherham man.
He had Sullivan down not once, not twice, but five times before the referee stepped in and waved the fight off.
Gummer was the new British champion. It was the high water mark of his career, a hard act to follow, and the year was far from done.
After the celebrations and time to digest the achievement, he was back in the ring eight months later when he fought out a draw with Herbert Crossley.
Then, just before Christmas, Gummer had a chance to write his name in even brighter lights.
He took on Ercole Balzac for the European Middleweight Title in Paris but was knocked out by the home favourite in the ninth round.
Despite that, another crack at the European belt surfaced in March 1921 when Tom faced Guy Platts. Gummer retired in the sixth round, losing his British belt in the process.
Even though he'd yet to turn 30, he fought just once more in the aforementioned fight against Ted Kid Lewis in February 1922 at The Dome in Brighton.
According to reports, it was intended as a fight for Lewis's British Middleweight Title but was fought as a non-title catchweight bout after Gummer failed to make the weight.
Lewis won by a first round KO.
After retiring from boxing, Gummer played football for Rotherham Eastwood in the 1920s and worked as a boxing referee between the late 1920s and the 1940s. He died in Rotherham in 1982, aged 87.
Prized gloves were kept in Canklow
NEWLY crowned British Middleweight Champion Tom Gummer had to wait a little while before getting his hands on his precious Lonsdale Belt.
After beating Jim Sullivan to win the title, the Advertiser report told its readers: “We are asked by Gummer to state that the belt is not yet ready to be handed over and that it may be a month before he receives it.
“The gloves he used in the fight are now in possession of Mr T. Bridges of the Canklow Hotel, Rotherham.”