NORMAN GILLER bids a sad farewell to his big brother and an old friend, but sends his congratulations to former press box colleague Jeff Powell
And then there was one.
Excuse this being a hugely personal column, but I lost my big brother, George, this week and cannot possibly put words together without him dominating my thoughts. There used to be four Giller brothers. I am the last one standing.
To get a semblance of sport into my ramblings, let me tell you the circumstances of how I heard of my brother’s death, aged 78.
The news had just broken of the departure after a long illness of my old mate Mickey Duff, who had been a friend since the 1950s. In those days he was scrambling a living manufacturing duffel coats in an East End sweatshop. In his spare time he was working as a boxing matchmaker.
He, of course, went on to become one of the most powerful forces in world boxing. I hung on to his coattails and worked as a PR for him and his partners Harry Levene, Jarvis Astaire and Mike Barrett, and also with my best pal Terry Lawless in our corner.
Mickey will always be one of my most Unforgettable Characters. His last 10 years were lost in a fog of dementia because he had several fights too many when, in his own words, “I was there to take the money but not the punches.”
In his peak years he had one of the sharpest brains I have ever encountered, and a quip with every quote. Just a few examples:
“If you want loyalty, get a dog.”
“My grandmother’s got more balls than him.”
“Joe Bugner has the physique of a Greek statue but, unfortunately, is less mobile.”
“He is a bastard, but he’s my bastard” (talking of a world champion who was giving him problems over a contract).
“Ali’s fists are so fast he could knit a scarf while dazzling his opponent.”
“Jack Bodell is such a plodder he could make Ursula Andress look bad.”
“He’s so out of shape that when he shadow boxes, the shadow wins.”
We were together in a hotel restaurant in Munich before the Ali-Richard Dunn world title fight when he ordered a glass of water. The waiter asked: “Mit gas?”
“You’ve gotta be joking,” said Mickey, who had lost half his family to the Holocaust.
He was being given a late-night lift after a show in Germany by a Berlin promoter, who said in conversation: “Mickey, please let me assure you that all the talk of the Holocaust is exaggerated to make we Germans seem inhuman. We did not kill six million Jews. No more than three million, tops.”
Duff said: “Stop the car. Now!” He got out in the middle of nowhere and found his own way back to his hotel.
Back in the 1960s I helped with the PR when Mickey launched the Anglo-American Sporting Club, based at the London Hilton. The Krays applied for membership, and Mickey turned them down.
His then wife, Marie, rang me at the office one morning to say: “Mickey’s on his way in. Tell him I’ve just been sent a dead rat in a flower box.”
Mickey had already heard, and said: “That can only be the Krays. I’ll send them a telegram that says: ‘No rats allowed’.”
The following week the twins were arrested and eventually locked up following an investigation by Leonard “Nipper” Read. The Scotland Yard detective was Mickey’s mate and later became chairman of the British Boxing Board of Control.
All these thoughts about Mickey were flying around my head as I prepared to pick up the phone to reminisce about him with Terry Lawless’s widow, Sylvia, who lives in Spain. I should point out that I had just watched Spurs coming back from 2-0 down against Southampton to win in injury-time, so I was in a state of heightened excitement.
As I reached for the receiver the phone rang. It was my niece, Karen, telling me that her dad – my big brother George – had been found dead in his car on the A10. We are awaiting a coroner’s report, but it seems he managed to drive into a lay-by for his last moments, so it could have been a much worse scenario.
Suddenly, memories of my brother swamped those of Mickey, and I thought of his 33 years as a City of London copper. We used to call him the black sheep of the family, particularly when he became a Grand Master in the freemasons.
He used to be in charge of police security on Tower Bridge, which comes under City jurisdiction, and I often called into his sentry box-style cubicle for a cuppa. From the bridge we could look down the road 400 yards to the block of flats where we were born in Cable Street.
We were both sports mad. In 1952 we took part in the London Boy Scouts’ athletics championships at Victoria Park in Hackney. We were the only two who turned up to represent the 34th Bow and Stepney troop. I won the under-13s 100 and 220 yards, George won the senior (under-18s) 220 yards, 440 yards, high jump and long jump.
The last event of the day was the senior 100 yards and George only had to finish in the first three to win the team prize. As the starter shouted “to your marks, get set, go!” George tumbled forward on to the cinder track with an attack of cramp. Happy days.
I am teetotal, but George made up for me and could drink for Britain. During a rollercoaster of a life he had two lovely wives die on him when they were 40. Thankfully his third marriage was long and contented.
Both of us genuine East Enders, we were calling each other “bruv” long before the Mitchell brothers came along.
Mickey Duff and my big bruv going on the same day. They are some match. Rest easy.
MY CONGRATULATIONS to Jeff Powell on his 48 years of sports reporting for the Daily Mail being recognised with the coveted Doug Gardner Award at the SJA’s Sports Journalism Awards on Monday night.
I knew Doug well in his days as the driving force behind the wonderful World Sport magazine, and Jeff represents all the high principles and standards that marked Doug’s authoritative work as an omniscient sports journalist.
When Jeff first came on the road from the Mail sports subs desk in the late 60s, I nicknamed him Jeff the Lad because of his energy and enthusiasm.
He was industrious and ambitious, and worked harder than any sports reporter I ever knew at getting to know the people inside football, particularly the players.
His contacts book was the most envied in Fleet Street, and throughout his career he has represented our profession with dignity and style.
- All the winners from the SJA Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport
- Glitzy night puts sports journalism in the picture
- The view from Table 7: Jeff Powell honoured with the Doug Gardner Award
- Lennon masters cycling’s long and winding road
- A gallery of some of the leading pictures in our competitions can be found here
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Thu Apr 3: Media lunch with boxer George Groves, The Driver, Kings Cross. Booking details here here
Thu Apr 10: SJA annual meeting, Old Cock Tavern, Fleet Street
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced