Froch and Groves prove to be just the ticket

Old hack NORMAN GILLER has been impressed twice in the past few days – once with the sales effort of modern-day boxing promoters, and then with the skill, strength and conduct of England and Wales’s rugby players

It takes a lot to make this old hack gape, but gape I did when I read that 60,000 tickets for the Carl Froch versus George Groves re-match at Wembley sold within an hour of going on sale.

Knock-out sell-out: Carl Froch and George Groves' first fight did much to help sell tickets for the re-match
Knock-out sell-out: Carl Froch and George Groves’ first fight did much to help sell tickets for the re-match

In a previous life I used to tub-thump and try to sell boxing tickets for a living.

Back in those days my paymasters were boxing’s Four Musketeers, Harry Levene, Mickey Duff, Mike Barrett and Jarvis Astaire, with my best pal Terry Lawless also in my corner.

One of my biggest challenges was to try to fill Wembley Stadium when the Lawless-managed Frank Bruno battled with “Tim the Terminator” Witherspoon for the world heavyweight title in July 1986.

I worked 48 hours a day to sell that one, staging a Bruno Hour after each of Frank’s training sessions at the Royal Oak gymnasium in Canning Town, and holding regular Tim Time press gatherings at the Witherspoon camp in downtown Basildon.

When the fight was announced I was competing for space against the little matter of the 1986 World Cup and its aftermath, Boris Becker winning Wimbledon and India pulling off their first series triumph in England. And this was before the internet was invented, so we did not have 24/7 social networks to help us sell our wares back then.

But back in those days, every newspaper did have a specialist boxing reporter, and I tried to keep them happy with daily bulletins.

The front-line boxing writers were unimpressed by my restrictions to try to save Bruno from media meltdown, and most demanded one-on-one interviews. This led to me arguing with old colleagues, leaving battle scars that last to this day.

I laid on a coach for the boxing scribes from Fleet Street to Basildon, and arranged for each of them to be given a Puma tracksuit. Witherspoon’s entourage of giant sparring partners and hangers-on turned up at the press conference and while Fleet Street’s finest were concentrating on asking Tim questions, they made off with most of the tracksuits.

I worked myself to the edge of exhaustion on selling the fight, with my reward a 40,000 attendance.

So you can imagine how I feel reading that 60,000 tickets sold in under an hour for the domestic showdown between Froch and Groves. Knowing promoter Eddie Hearn’s Dad, Barry, and his love of sporting history, you can bet your boots they will go for the extra sales to create a British attendance record.

That is the 70,000 spectators who watched two rounds of mayhem in the Battle of the Jacks – Welshman Petersen beating Irishman Doyle on a second-round disqualification in a wild British heavyweight title fight at White City Stadium in 1933.

Hearn needs to sell another 10,500 tickets for “Froch-Groves II” to be sure of the record.

That should take all of 20 minutes.

The only diving was to score tries: England v Wales last Sunday was a credit to the game
The only diving was to score tries: England v Wales last Sunday was a credit to the game

MY LOVE OF RUGBY was rekindled on Sunday while watching England pile up the points against Wales in a magnificent Six Nations match at Twickenham.

No arguing with the referee … no player head-butted by a coach … the only diving was to score tries … no manager describing his players as gutless … spectators who were not vile or abusive with their support. Then there was place-kicking that was world-class, and courage married to great individual skill from both teams.

I went to a rugby school, was house captain, a wing for the first XV and loved every minute that I played. My only senior match was a trial for Wanstead, during which a tackle from a 15-stone second row forward crushed my skinny nine-stone frame to the point where I felt he was still with me for a month afterwards. Goodbye rugby.

The game these days is a much better spectacle from when it was too much mauling and brawling, and I wish we could teach soccer players how to behave with the same discipline and integrity as the rugby footballers.

And they never have any trouble selling out Twickenham. Tickers for Twickers, anyone?

Make sure you don’t miss out on the gala celebration of the best of British sports journalism by booking your ticket – or even a table – for the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards on Monday March 24 at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden.

The event begins at 6pm, with a champagne reception and opportunity to view an exhibition of many of the leading entries in the photography categories, prior to a three-course dinner and the presentation of the awards.

There are special ticket discounts available to paid-up SJA members. But hurry – tickets are already selling fast.


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
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