Barry McGuigan’s rocky road — April 2014
IT was one the greatest nights Irish sport has ever seen.
And it is one that has also been commemorated in modern literature.
Irvine Welsh, the author of ‘Trainspotting’, set part of his novel ‘Glue’ at Loftus Road on June 8, 1985 — the night that Barry McGuigan dethroned Eusebio Pedroza to become world featherweight champion.
“McGuigan even had the white peace flag, cause eh wisnae intae aw that tricolour or rid hand ay Ulster crap. Tae me though, it seemed like an act ay surrender before eh’d even flung a punch,’’ wrote Welsh.
“Then this auld boy came intae the ring, later oan we found out it wis McGuigan’s faither, and eh started singing Danny Boy.
“The whole crowd joined in, aw they Belfast Catholics and Protestants thegither, and ah looked ower at ma faither n it wis the first and only time ah ever saw tears in ehs eyes.”
Nearly 30 years on, McGuigan confirms that the fictional passage was rooted in fact.
“I had dinner with Irvine just before Christmas and he told me about it,’’ he said.
“He was 17 years old and down in London, doing a bit of writing and in a punk rock band.
“He told me he had a fairly fractious relationship with his father.
“His Dad came down from Edinburgh and bought two tickets for the fight and brought him along.
“When my Dad was singing ‘Danny Boy’, Irvine turned around and his father was crying.
“He said he’d never seen his father crying before and it had a profound effect on him and on their relationship.”
Irvine Welsh was part of a motley crew at Loftus Road. When McGuigan’s hand was held aloft in victory, Pat Jennings and Fr Brian D’Arcy danced a jig of delight together.
George Best, Alex Higgins, Willie John McBride, Dennis Taylor, JP McManus…even renowned artist Lucien Freud was there.
But McGuigan has always struggled to watch video clips of that night, due to the death of his father, Pat, just two years later.
“After my father passed away, I found it hard to watch the footage of him singing in the ring,’’ he said.
“The passage of time softens things a bit so I’ve accepted that.”
If you wanted to explain Ireland in the 1980s to a stranger, then a good start would be McGuigan/Pedroza.
So much went into the mix. The backdrop of the Troubles, the rampant emigration, the despair at home.
McGuigan, though from Clones in Monaghan, had been British champion. He also fought under a Peace flag and ‘Danny Boy’ rather than ‘Amhran na bhFiann’ was his anthem.
That led to him being dubbed ‘Barry the Brit’ by some and he received a death threat that was taken so seriously that McGuigan was advised to get hold of a weapon for protection.
“The police told me to carry a gun. I was told that the threat was proper red flag stuff,’’ he said.
“I had to be taught how to shoot. I was in training camp in Bangor and went to one of the shooting ranges to learn how to fire a gun.
“It was a time when people were being kidnapped. The time when Shergar was kidnapped.
“When I moved to England, I kept the gun in a metal box in the attic and had to have a special licence for it.
“Eventually, I was told the threat was no longer a threat and could get rid of it.
“I often think about the decision I made to not wear green, white and gold, to not play the Soldier’s Song.
“I made that consciously because I knew that everywhere you went, you were either one side of town or the other.
“People could come and watch me fight and I wasn’t going to make them feel ill at ease or threatened.
“There was so little to celebrate at the time.
“When you look back at that time, there was no-one offering olive branches then.”
McGuigan had some glorious highs in and out of the ring, but there were plenty of dark days too.
Young Ali, a Nigeria fighter, died after going into a coma following a fight with McGuigan in 1982.
McGuigan’s brother, Dermot, took his own life 20 years ago and his daughter, Danika, battled leukemia.
McGuigan believes his faith was a support.
“It definitely helped me through those times. I would still be very spiritual,’’ he said.
“It tested my faith at the time, but look at the life I’ve had. I’ve been blessed.
“There have been tough things to deal with but many people have to do that.
“A wee girl contacted me on Twitter, a wee lassie from Newtownbutler in Fermanagh.
“She had leukaemia, like my daughter Danika had.
“Her dad had died and her brother had committed suicide a month later.
“I just thought ‘that’s not a lot different to me’. Exactly those things have happened to me in my life.
“The only difference is I’m Barry McGuigan and people know who I am.
“I was trying to help her create a bit of publicity — she’s going to write a book about her struggle to recover from leukaemia.
“I’m not a devout Catholic anymore, but I’m still a Catholic.
“But, as I get older, I’m still a spiritual person and pray as I’ve always prayed.”
Boxing is still McGuigan’s life and it’s a family business with sons Shane, Blain and Jake all involved in Cyclone Promotions.
And his eyes light up when he talks of Carl Frampton, the Belfast dynamo who he manages, and who takes on Mexico’s Hugo Cazarez at a sold-out Odyssey Arena in a WBC world super-bantamweight title final eliminator tonight.
“This kid is an Irish star, not just a Northern Irish star,’’ he said.
“He boxed for the Irish team for five years.
“It was brilliant to get him on The Late Late Show last week and he was great on it. He’s such a sweet kid.
“Have a look at this.”
McGuigan flicks through his phone for a photo of Frampton at a weigh-in.
“Look at that. Isn’t that incredible? Two per cent body fat, just two per cent.
“Body composition experts would tell you that’s physically impossible.
“He just jumped off the page when I first saw him. Didn’t know who he was.
“He’s very strong, very powerful. Carl is phenomenal.”