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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 3 (June 1, 1940)

Panorama of the Playground — “Gentleman Jim Griffin”

page 60

Panorama of the Playground
“Gentleman Jim Griffin”

New nights ago I sat and yarned with one of New Zealand's most famous old pugilists, “Gentleman Jim” Griffin. The years have been kind to this old-timer and he had many interesting things to talk about.

There were four brothers in the Griffin fighting family—Jim, Charlie, Jack and Frank. Jim was middle-weight and heavyweight professional champion of New Zealand after first winning the amateur middleweight and heavyweight titles of Australia and New Zealand. As an amateur he had 14 contests and won them all by knockouts. His professional career was also studded by knock-out victories although he invariably conceded weight to his opponents.

In 1908 the great Tommy Burns visited Australia and Hugh D. McIntosh, who made fame by staging the Burns-Johnson world title contest at Rush-cutters’ Bay, Sydney, matched Griffin against the Australian heavyweight champion, Bill Lang, with the winner to meet Burns for the world title. In the third round Griffin, weighing 11st. 6lb., knocked out Lang, who weighed 14st. 8lb., but in the excitement the referee missed the count and Lang was saved by the bell. It was agreed that Lang had received the biggest hiding of his life, but his superior weight told in the end and Griffin threw in the towel after six rounds. So popular did he prove with the Sydneysiders that they carried him shoulder-high down Castlereagh Street. After the fight the newspapers were unanimous that Griffin had morally won by a knock-out and it is on record that McIntosh contemplated giving Griffin the title bout against Burns instead of carrying on with Lang, but an injury kept Griffin out of the picture. Another memorable contest engaged in by Jim Griffin was against Billy McCall, former Australian heavyweight Champion. Griffin broke the big bone in his right arm in the second round, but continued with the fight and so punished McCall that a halt was called in the fifth round. Against Joe Grimm, who had many bouts against Jack Johnson, Griffin had to be content with a draw, the agreement being that if a knock-out did not come there would not be a points’ decision. Once again Griffin gave away a couple of stone and gave his opponent a boxing lesson.

His brother Frank died under tragic circumstances. After knocking Curly Parkes in 16 rounds he retired to his room. In the morning his throat started to bleed and he died as the result of a ruptured blood-vessel. For that contest Frank Griffin was trained by Pat Connors, well-known in New Zealand for his association with Lachie McDonald, Charlie Purdy and Ted Morgan.

Another brother, Charlie, fought in New Zealand, Australia, England and America. His most important win was against Joe Bowker, lightweight champion of England, who was knocked-out in 8 rounds at Albert Hall, London. He met Jem Driscoll, the “Welsh Wizard,” three times for the world title and after a bitter struggle in America faced Leach Cross, the “Fighting Dentist,” in a title bout. Although a New Zealander, Charlie Griffin was dubbed “the Fighting Kangaroo” in America.

In Jim Griffin's opinion the boxers of to-day do not take sufficient pains with
A quiet scene in sunny Gisborne.

A quiet scene in sunny Gisborne.

their training; in his days, when the ring sport was at its zenith in Australia and New Zealand the half-trained boxer could not make the grade. Hard work, not an easy existence, interspersed with gymnasium training, was the lot of the old-time boxers who used to get conditioned in sawmills or by tree-felling.

New Zealand's Smallest Soldier.

One of New Zealand's smallest soldiers is Leo Nolan, former New Zealand amateur bantamweight and featherweight wrestling champion. Leo was turned down on his first attempt to enlist as he was under the regulation height … and looked it. On his next visit he wore thick-soled shoes and somehow or another managed to make the grade and join his pals in khaki. In the last war the “Bantams” proved great soldiers and as Nolan can handle men two and three stone heavier than himself he should prove a worthy successor to the other great little men who have worn the khaki uniform.

Oldest Active Sports Official in New Zealand.

Who is the oldest active sports official in New Zealand? My vote goes out to Jack Cusack, who carries out the duties of starter at the annual Labour Day sports gatherings in Wellington. Jack recently celebrated his 80th birthday! Sixty-three years ago Jack Cusack linked up with the St. Albans Cricket Club, Christchurch, and has never allowed his interest in the game to slacken. He has long been a stalwart of the Wellington Mercantile League Cricket Association, the organisation that has made great strides in one-day matches in recent years.

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Elected president of the New Zealand Women's Hockey Association a few days after its eightieth birthday, Mr. Cusack has had a long association with that branch of sport, having been selector, manager and coach for many touring teams in addition to carrying out the onerous duties of referee until he had passed his 75th birthday. Five years ago he was appointed one of the selectors to choose the New Zealand team to tour Australia.

In track and field sport Jack Cusack played a prominent part as administrator after ending his competitive days. He was Secretary of the New Zealand Cycling Alliance, the controlling body in the closing days of last century, and in that capacity was associated with the first Australasian cycling and athletic championships staged in New Zealand.

His association with sport did not end with those mentioned above, for he was a member of the Christchurch Fire Brigade, the Wellington Volunteer Fire Police, and for many years was handicapper and starter at Fire Brigade competitions.

By trade a hairdresser, Jack is unique among men of his profession … he is a good listener! Instead of doing the talking—and he can really tell you something interesting—this veteran prefers to do the listening, and few realise what a fund of anecdotes is possessed by this wonderful “young” old-timer.

New Zealand Army Footballers.

News of the success of New Zealand's Army footballers has been trickling through week by week and it is obvious, from the names of the players, that a large number of our best players have donned the khaki and are no longer available for play in New Zealand. Just as the boys of the Echelon in Egypt have the tradition of the original Anzacs to urge them on to greater efforts, so have our soldier footballers a great tradition set them. The Army team of 1919 included some of the greatest players ever to wear the All Black jersey, and had the men from Mesopotamia been included, New Zealand might have fielded its “best ever.” But the lads of 1940 have a bigger handicap to overcome, on the football field, than was the lot of the 1919 brigade. Our Rugby mana stood on a pedestal in the years prior to 1919, but in recent years we have had our Rugby pride trampled into the dust by England, Wales, and South Africa. The time has arrived for the new generation to win its spurs on the field of battle and, also, to regain our Rugby prestige. The Army team of 1940 bids well to place New Zealand where she rightly belongs … at the top of the ladder.

V. P. Boot.

A great champion is not necessarily a great sportsman … it is when you get a combination of both that you get the Real Champion. Such a champion is Pat Boot, British Empire half-mile champion who is now Second Lieutenant V. P. Boot. Pat, in thanking the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association for its expressions of goodwill on his marriage, sent this letter:

A view from the Mount, Tauranga, showing the inner and outer beaches.

A view from the Mount, Tauranga, showing the inner and outer beaches.

“Would you please convey to the members of the Council my sincere thanks for their very kind expression of good wishes to myself and wife on the occasion of our marriage and also their congratulations on my appointment to commissioned rank. I would also like to take this opportunity of thanking you all for the generous consideration you have shown me during my athletic career and for affording me the opportunity of competing overseas. Without these opportunities I feel sure I would not have been able to improve, and I can assure you that when time permits I will do my bit to pass on the knowledge which it has been my good fortune to gain. I intend to keep up my athletics in the Army, and, if the opportunity arises while I am overseas I do hope I will be able to put my best foot forward.”

To appreciate the true value of Boot's gesture of thanks it must be realised that he nearly missed selection for the 1936 Olympic team because the Council of the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association did not consider him up to the required standard. This is not a “knock” at the N.Z.A.A.A.—I was one of the members who voted against his original inclusion—but merely a desire to put in the proper perspective the sporting gesture of Boot's letter of thanks.