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'It was like passing on a family and it was difficult to find good parents'

THE club is so associated with one family that one could be forgiven for believing that St Andrew's second name was Gilmour.

Tommy Gilmour spent 27 years in charge of what Jim Watt calls the 'most important institution Scottish boxing has ever had', but has now sold his stake of St Andrew's Club. Picture: Martin Shields
Tommy Gilmour spent 27 years in charge of what Jim Watt calls the 'most important institution Scottish boxing has ever had', but has now sold his stake of St Andrew's Club. Picture: Martin Shields

However, Tommy of that ilk is gently, but purposefully weakening his grip on an institution that has been the mainstay of the nation's boxing heritage since it was formed in 1973. Gilmour has sold his stake in the St Andrew's Sporting Club to businessman Iain Wilson and boxing trainer Colin Belshaw.

Gilmour, owner and custodian of the club for 27 years, has, however, been made president of an institution that has witnessed the emergence of a series of world champions from Pat Clinton to Paul Weir to Scott Harrison.

Wilson and Belshaw, both self-confessed boxing anoraks, had only to look to their left to gaze on sporting history at a press conference in a Glasgow hotel yesterday. Gilmour, son of Tommy, trainer, manager, and matchmaker, and grandson of an Olympic medal winner in boxing, has been involved in the sport for most of his 62 years.

He held the round cards at a Sonny Liston fight, met Muhammad Ali and produced world champions from his native land, most wondrously Clinton. An astute businessman, he goes misty-eyed at the mention of his hero, Chic Calderwood. Boxing is and was never merely business for Gilmour.

Sitting to his left was the redoubtable Jim Watt, the former lightweight world champion who fought five times at the club but ruefully recalled that the most famous meeting - the first event of 1973 against Ken Buchanan - was the only time he lost under its auspices.

Watt, though, spoke persuasively of the significance of the club. He explained why it was "a godsend" for Scottish fighters who were condemned continually to fight on hostile soil and were handed decisions that were as tough as any blow they sustained. One such injustice was given to Watt in his first bout against Andre Holyk in 1975. But two years later Watt fought the Frenchman at the St Andrew's club and the fight was stopped after one round with Holyk suffering a cut eye, giving the Scot the European title. A year after that, he was world champion.

"The club came to my rescue," said Watt, pointing out that Gilmour had found the will and the way to stage a title fight in the dog days of August and in a private members' club. "I will never forget that. That was one of the steps along the way to the world title," he said.

Watt is astute and measured in his comments but he does not stint in compiling his scorecard for the St Andrew's club. "It is the most important institution Scottish boxing has ever had," he said.

He points out that other clubs have come and gone but St Andrew's has not only survived but thrived, giving generations of Scottish boxers a place to make their name.

The future now is firmly in the hands of Wilson and Belshaw. Gilmour will be a source of advice but the new partnership seeks to make use of social media to extend the appeal of a brand that has seemed extraordinarily durable even in times of recession. Their aim will be to secure British title fights for the club and they both seemed energised by the challenge.

Gilmour will continue to work with the 30 boxers he manages until their contracts run out. He will also be a reliable attender at the Monday night club promotions at the Radisson Hotel.

"It was not about selling a business," he said. "It was a sort of passing on a family and it was very difficult to find new parents. I have found a perfect partnership. I was 35 when I bought the club in 1987 and that is what Ian is today."

He added: "St Andrew's was the saviour of Scottish boxing and we gave so many young boxers the chance of winning titles. I was hoping to find somebody to bring on the next generation. I found an anorak."

This is an affectionate reference to Wilson who cheerily admits to having been obsessed by boxing ever since he was woken during the night by his father watching Mike Tyson on satellite television. But no-one should doubt the similar passion of Gilmour and his family.

His daughter, Stephanie, will also continue her sterling work with the club and Gilmour admitted: "I am not going anywhere."

He insisted: "I was only a custodian. I have been 27 years in an institution and I deserve a day off."

Watt praised Gilmour for his passion and commitment, saying: "He loves it. A lot of boxing promoters play at it but he has given his life to boxing and boxers. He does the best he can for his fighters."

Gilmour, an idealist in a pragmatic business, still has a dream for the club even though his time at the helm has come to an end. "My grandson Max is eight and in 27 years he will be 35, the same age as when myself and Ian bought the club. It would be nice if he could take over then."

This is said with the trademark Gilmour smile. The history of Scottish boxing, though, shows it would be absurd to count the family out.

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