George Griffiths of Wednesfield has spent much of his life in boxing, from amateur fighting, through refereeing to matchmaker and collector of fistic memorabilia. In recent years he has been documenting the history of the local scene, and here he pays tribute to a number of local greats; in particular to a man he saw fight when a youngster. George writes:
"In a 1934 boxing bill a boxer from St Helens was referred to as a Fighter from Fightville. This could also have applied to Val Povey of Heath Town, Wolverhampton, which had a great claim to the Fightville name.
"Heath Town in the twenties and thirties had a number of fighters; hard men, boxing for very little reward. Times were hard with unemployment and not much money about. One of the early Heath Town boxers was Bonny Evans, who had many contests. He eventually went blind; I remember seeing him around with his white stick. The there were fighters like Jack Darkie Watkins, a top fighter who earned his nickname from his jet black hair. At a lesser level I think his brother Charlie boxed. Then there was Sam Nicholls, who I think was the father of Johnny Nicholls of West Bromwich Albion fame.
"Other fighters of the time were Wilf Wright, Charlie Bradley, 'Cyclone Gough, heavyweight Harold Wright, and Bert Adey, who fought the last 20 round contest in this area. He later became a promoter, and a publican at the Pear Tree in Cannock. He promoted boxing at the Drill Hall in Wednesfield, and boxing and wrestling in the open air at the grounds behind the Pear Tree. He was proud of the fact that he once KOd an opponent with a straight left.
"There was a top class boxer from Leicester called 'Tiger' Bert Ison. Whether the name influenced Fred Smith from Heath Town, a terrific puncher with either hand, I dont know, but he initially boxed as Tiger Ison to preserve his anonymity, until some kind (?) person reported him. From then he boxed under his own name.
"Heath Town could also boast the RAF and Imperial Services Lightweight Champion Issy Butler. Then of course we had the little dynamite Val Povey; decorator, fighter and gentleman, who would always stop and talk if you met him in the street. As a schoolboy Val was a talented footballer who was chosen to play for Wolverhampton, as was Bert Adey. I am not sure if they were in the same team, but Bert eventually promoted some of Vals fights. Val was a walk-forward two-handed fighter, a real action man who never took a backward step. Bert Adey could always see a potentially good contest, so he matched Heath Twon rivals Val and Fred Smith to box each other at the open air Pear Tree grounds. It was a terrific contest, very even until Val received a very bad cut from near his left eye almost to his chin. The referee immediately stopped it. I was only a boy, but this was the worst cut I have ever seen. Typically, Val prostested and wanted to fight on, but there was no way he could be allowed to with such a bad cut. That was the spirit of the man.
"The last time I saw Val box was a win against Alf Dutton. A friend of mine, the late Ernie Hubball, said to Val, 'You arent the old Val now, you must be thinking about retiring.'
'I dunno,' Val replied, 'I like a fight.'
"A year or two ago I promised Vals son Vic that I would write a piece on Val, but due to illness it took me some time to get around to it. Sorry Vic. I dont know of any photographs of Val Povey in action, but if Vic reads this, perhaps one will come to light."