March 2024

Dandy Dick: The Dick McTaggart interview

March 2024 <h2>Dandy Dick: The Dick McTaggart interview</h2>

Trying to write about Richard (Dick) McTaggart in one article is like trying to fit a pint into a shot glass. Born on 15 October 1935 in Dundee, Scotland and raised in post-war austerity, McTaggart is rated by many as Britain’s finest ever amateur boxer – and here’s why.

He fought 634 times, winning 610 contests, which consequently filled his silverware cabinet with 32 cups, 57 plaques and 49 medals. The accolades amongst this plethora of glory includes, Imperial Services champion 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, Allied Forces champion 1956, Brittania Shield winner, 1954, 1957, RAF champion 1954 – 1958, Duke of Hamilton plaque 1962, Northern Counties champion 1963, ABA champion 1956, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1965 (moving through featherweight, lightweight and light welterweight), Scottish champion 1957 – 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, Olympic gold at the Olympics in Melbourne, British Empire champion 1958, bronze at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, European champion 1961.

McTaggart kindly took the time to have a chat with BVB to reflect on a few of the highlights of his magnificent career, which included how he first got into boxing. ‘I was one of 18 children and one of five brothers who all boxed, but I also had an uncle called Danny Cunningham, who was a very good boxer and was well known as a booth fighter at the fairs. I had another brother called Dick who died before I was born and my father was also called Dick, so the standing joke was that I was ‘Richard the Third.’

"We’d fight amongst ourselves (the McTaggart brothers), and our dad decided, if we’re going to fight, we may as well do it properly. That’s when we started at the local boxing club in Dundee and from the beginning, I enjoyed it very, very much. The discipline, the fitness. It all changed my life."

The pride of Dundee recalled his first official amateur contest in the square ring. "I was about 12 years old and there was five of us who boxed. My older brother, Peter was a champion at seven and he was great for advice, telling us what to do, what not to do and what to look out for.

"I really enjoyed boxing, but from the beginning, the best advice I was given was to keep a cool head, don’t get yourself into trouble and in that way you’ll enjoy the boxing, which I did for all my fights."

The standout Scot is known for being incredibly humble and failed to mention that the same year he started boxing he also won the Belmont Youth Club boxing trophy.

Standing at a touch under 5ft 10inches, McTaggart, not only had a height advantage over most of his opponents at lightweight and light welterweight, but he also had the added advantage/awkwardness of being a southpaw. Or as McTaggart said, "I write with my right, but fight with my left. Although, the right isn’t bad also!"

In 1953, McTaggart joined the RAF, which was when his interest and ability in boxing rapidly shifted through the gears. Whilst becoming the Armed Forces champion five years on the bounce, McTaggart was also accumulating a host of other plaudits which would help to immortalise his activity in the ring. It’s also worth mentioning – between his brothers, they won national titles in all three of the armed forces.

McTaggart won his first ABA title in April 1956 against fellow Scot, Eddie Kane, which acted as the springboard for his selection onto Team GB for the Olympics later that year in Melbourne, Australia. McTaggart recalled his trip Down Under. "They are great memories for me. It took a few days to get there from Scotland with planes and a lot of buses, but winning the gold was well worth it. Harry Kurschat (from West Germany) was a well known fighter and I did well to beat him on points. I was nervous, but I won - so I couldn’t have been nervous for that long!" Kurschat died in 2022 at the age of 91.

The night wasn’t over yet for McTaggart as he explained. "Later on, I found out that I’d won the Val Barker Trophy, which was given to the Best Boxing Stylist of the Olympic Games each year. When I found out, that was simply fantastic.

All the boxers were there from the British team and the boys were all pleased for me." Dick laughs before jokingly adding, "I deserved it, anyway!" To this day, McTaggart is still the only British boxer ever to be awarded the accolade.

Dick recalled the heroes welcome once landing back on Scottish soil. "When I came off the train, there were hundreds of people waving on the street, all the way to where I lived. I won’t lie, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. That’s something I’ll never forget."

Dick was serving in the RAF at the time of winning the gold medal, and consequently, the RAF Museum at Hendon created a tribute to Dick with photographs about him being the only person in the RAF to win Olympic gold.

Moving the clock forward four years, in 1960, McTaggart competed at his second Olympics, in Rome. Dick’s local boxing club, presented the champ with a lovely robe which featured Dundee ABC and his name on the back, and the Olympic rings on the front. He was also given a new pair of boxing boots, all of which he wore with pride in Italy. Unfortunately, controversy scuppered his chance of gold again. McTaggart recalled. "It was good going again, representing my country at the Olympics, but in was never a split decision. I won that hands down and was definitely robbed (against Kazimierz Padzior of Poland). I guess I did take home another medal though, so that’s not a bad thing." McTaggart did however pick up his third ABA title the very same year, not to mention a number of overseas victories, against stiff opposition.

The Rome Olympics was also famous for another boxer who would soon be known as The Louisville Lip. McTaggart, who is blessed with incredible humbleness and integrity, also has a great sense of humour. "I didn’t meet Muhammad Ali, he met me! Jokes aside, it was great to meet him there. He was already a very funny man back then and he was still a teenager, but don’t forget, he could definitely box."

In 1961, the lightweight sensation won European gold, outpointing Peter Benedek in his backyard of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Incredibly, by this stage McTaggart had fought around 300 times and was incredibly, not even halfway along his fistic journey. Dick added. "The Olympic gold medal is the most important I’ve won, but the European was the hardest one to win. That was a very solid victory."

On 30 November 1962, McTaggart lost against Clement Quartey from Ghana in a very controversial decision, which saw one of the officials being sacked. McTaggart took a breath before recalling. "That was terrible judging. Harry Carpenter, (who nicknamed him ‘Dandy Dick’) was commentating and he said that the gold was definitely mine, based on what he saw. It was absolute daylight robbery. Worse than the Rome Olympics decision I had." Quartey fainted shortly after the decision was announced and didn’t regain consciousness for about five minutes. McTaggart added, "I almost fainted myself when I heard the decision announced!"

Clement’s dad had five wives and fathered 27 children, one of whom was nonother than world welterweight champion, Ike Quartey. When informed of the size and nature of the Quartey clan, McTaggart’s response was, "His father. He was some boy!"

In 1963, McTaggart picked up his fourth ABA title, then in 1964 he fought at the Tokyo Olympics and by doing so made history as the first (and currently), only Brit to punch his way through three Olympic games. Unfortunately, McTaggart lost in the second round to Jerzy Kulej of Poland, who went on to win gold.

McTaggart’s 634th fight of his career, was against Larry O’Connell on 30 April 1965, at the Wembley Arena, for the light welterweight ABA title, which McTaggart won on points. O’Connell, best known for his refereeing accolades, was a decorated amateur, having fought over 150 times and was denied ABA titles on two occasions, due to locking horns with McTaggart. Albeit, he did beat the Scot in a non-title contest.

Good friend, fellow Scot and former amateur boxing champion, Ray Caulfield recalled a warming anecdote about McTaggart’s swansong. "His great British rival was Larry O’Connell. When they fought for the ABA Title in 1965, Larry backed Dick into a corner and thought, ‘I have got you right where I want you,’ and he threw a right hand and hit the post. To make matters worse, Dick tapped him on the shoulder and in front of 10,000 people in Wembley said 'I am over here Larry,' and Larry told me that story!" By beating O’Connell, McTaggart was further cemented into the history books, by equalling Fred Mallin’s record of winning five ABA titles.

Following the O’Connell fight, McTaggart retired at the age of 30 with good justification. "It got to the stage where I’d done everything I wanted to achieve in boxing, but I was also struggling with injuries - so, I decided to call it a day. But you know what? I still miss it. I might have to make a comeback!"

Despite only earning £8 as a labourer, the lure of the bright lights and bigger pay packets from the likes of promoters such as Peter Keenan and Jack Solomons, didn’t attract McTaggart. Here’s why. "I was asked a good few times. Each time they’d offer me money in my hand, but I wouldn’t have done it because I just enjoyed boxing. Once you turn pro, it’s not a sport anymore, it’s a living, and I didn’t fancy doing that."

Not one to hang around, McTaggart entered the world of coaching boxers, including the Scottish team. On one occasion, in 1966, McTaggart took a Scottish squad to Moscow and the night before there was an hour long documentary on Russian television all about him. Let’s just say he was well respected during his stay out there.

Travelling around the world as the national team boxing coach during the 80’s and 90’s, McTaggart recalled the time stamp. "I was national coach for a number of years and I enjoyed it very much and everyone behaved themselves, which was good! It was great to be able to pass on my knowledge and see these fighters do something with it."

His efforts to his beloved homeland didn’t go unnoticed, as McTaggart received an MBE in 1985 for services to amateur boxing in Scotland. Dick recalled. "It was lovely. What an honour to receive it from the Queen, who was lovely, but my wife Doreen (married since 1966) was also very pleased and had a great day. It was all very humbling."

McTaggart’s plaudits continued as he was voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000 and then in 2002 inducted into the Scottish Boxing Hall of Fame. Then in 2012, McTaggart was a guest of honour at the Olympic games in London. Ray Caulfield provided some warming memories. "Prior to the start of the Olympic boxing finals in London, a compere was talking to the crowd and I gave him a short resume of Dick’s achievements, which he then went on to read out. Well, the whole arena gave Dick a standing ovation. I had 100 of Dick’s record cards with me and only came home with about five or six."

Then just when you thought McTaggart’s popularity couldn’t get any bigger, Ray provided the next level of anecdotal colour. "Wladimir Klitschko came over to the table in the arena where Dick and I were sitting and asked to see Dick’s gold Medal. They had photographs taken together and he sat with Dick and I throughout the finals. Then, I asked Lennox Lewis if Dick could have his picture taken with him and he replied, ‘No – BUT, could I have my picture taken with Dick?"

McTaggart’s duties weren’t over yet. With fond memories of winning Commonwealth gold in 1958 in Cardiff (better known as British Empire gold back then) and silver in Perth in 1962, McTaggart handed out medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow to the lightweight winners, with great pride.

Currently Scotland’s only ever Olympic champion, Dundee’s favourite fighting son collected the Lifetime Achievement Award in Edinburgh, at the Team Scotland Sports Awards in 2019. With a sports centre named after him in Dundee and nominated as Britain’s No1 Amateur boxer of all time by Boxing News, would he change anything? McTaggart laughed, then answered, "I’d like a rematch with Dave Charnley. He beat me! I lost in the 1954 ABA’s in the featherweight division. I improved later on, but Dave’s a good lad and the better man won that night. I guess I would have liked the opportunity to fight him again. However, when I look back, you have to always remember, ‘Some you win, some you lose.’ There’s no point on dwelling on it. When I started boxing, I had no ambitions in the sport. If someone had told he how far I would go, I wouldn’t have believed them. I have no complaints."



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