“Sir Duke” strikes all the right notes for a real champ

NORMAN GILLER has rediscovered his campaigning zeal, this time for an overdue honour for one of this country’s finest boxers

Melting as I write but determined to get a message through the heat haze to Buck House, and to Her Maj The Queen on the subject of sporting knights.

In my near-60 years of earning a crust as a sportswriter, I have only twice campaigned for a sporting personality to be honoured with a knighthood.

My first crusade was for Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson to be recognised for his services to football in general and Spurs in particular. This was back in the 1970s, after he had lifted his seventh trophy as boss at White Hart Lane to go with the League championship medal he had collected as a player.

How Norman Giller campaigned for a knighthood for Bill Nicholson in the Express nearly half a century ago
How Norman Giller campaigned for a knighthood for Bill Nicholson in the Express nearly half a century ago

It was not just the titles that deserved the accolade of a knighthood but the manner in which he conducted himself, always representing his club and his sport with dignity, humility and style.

He was a pioneer, leading Tottenham to the first European trophy triumph by a British club when they captured the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963.

I made out the case for Bill to be honoured as a Queen’s knight in my days as chief football writer for the Daily Express. As this “Arise Sir Nick” cutting from my scrapbook proves, I got Everton manager Harry Catterick to help me launch the campaign.

Thousands of Spurs supporters took up the call for it to be Sir William, and there was not a soul in the game – even Arsenal disciples – who would have begrudged this master manager the same reward as bestowed on his old Spurs team mate Alf Ramsey after the 1966 World Cup.

The Establishment ignored the call. Bill was awarded an OBE, but it was goodnight to a knighthood.

My second campaign? It starts right here, and I hope sportswriters everywhere will take up the appeal to make it Sir Duke McKenzie.

A boxing world champion at three weights, McKenzie continues to be a wonderful ambassador for his sport, putting a lot back into a fight game that he graced with his skill and sportsmanship.

Now 52, Duke runs a superbly equipped gym near Crystal Palace, where he is a hands-on trainer and motivator, helping gym members aged from nine to 90 to find self-respect and discipline through boxing and exercise.

I was working as a PR for matchmaker and manager Mickey Duff when he first signed Croydon-born Duke in 1982, and I watched him grow through four weight divisions, from flyweight to featherweight, collecting titles in every weight category.

Duke McKenzie hard at work coaching in his south London gym. Photo by James Balston
Duke McKenzie hard at work coaching in his south London gym. Photo by James Balston

Softly spoken and a thorough gentleman, Duke had to dig deep to find the “Mr Nasty” needed in the ring, and he won 39 of his 46 fights with impressive skills and amazing strength for such a slender athlete.

Duke and I shared an admiration for Mickey Duff, and both of us got close enough to him to know that he was nothing like the monster painted by rivals in the cutthroat boxing game.

When Mickey became lost in the fog of dementia and ignored by most of his old associates, Duke made a point of contacting him on a regular basis and did his best to ease his final confused years.

That was typical of this polite, considerate man, who is an intelligent and balanced ringside fight analyst for ITV. Without fuss or fanfare, he helps many youngsters who could go off the rails if he were not showing them there is a better way to live. He also works closely with MIND, the mental health charity, and gives regular seminars and specialised training to patients under the jurisdiction of doctors at the Royal Bethlem psychiatric hospital in Beckenham.

Yes, Duke is putting a lot back. Now let’s give him something back, the reward and recognition that he deserves.

My dear old mate Colin Hart has been campaigning in The Sun for Duke to get inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Harty might have some pull in that respect – his boxing writing saw him made a Hall of Famer himself.

Let’s go even further. Let’s try to get Duke McKenzie a knighthood.

Sir Duke has a nice ring to it.

  • As with all authored pieces on, the views expressed here do not represent the views or policy of the SJA. Readers are always welcome to post their comments on the content of this column and the rest of the site
  • The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
  • This year, the SJA’s nominated good cause is The Journalists’ Charity. To find out more and how you can donate on a one-off or regular basis, go to


Tue July 14: Young sports journalists social event

Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club

Tue Oct 6: Entry forms for 2015 SJA British Sports Journalism Awards published

Thu Dec 17: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery


Mon Feb 22: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards dinner, sponsored by BT Sport