Scott Harrison speaks to Terry Dooley as he looks back on a career that remains unfulfilled
DEPENDING on your perspective, and there are plenty, Glasgow’s Scott Harrison was either bombed out of the sport due to volatile out-of-the-ring behaviour or it had reached the point where his face no longer fitted with the powers that be and it became easier to ignore the former two-time WBO featherweight titlist than it was to deal with the legal maelstroms that surrounded him.
There was more than one incident, but the catalyst for his downfall was an arrest in Spain in 2007 for assaulting three men in Malaga that eventually led to him being extradited in 2015 after a 2012 conviction in a Spanish court. He was granted an early release in 2018 after serving three years of a four-year sentence for assault in his native Glasgow as the Spanish courts ruled that he could serve his time in Scotland following an initial stint on remand in Spain. He was released for good in July 2018 and hoped to resume his stalled career yet the British Boxing Board of Control denied his latest application for a licence. Harrison still maintains that it was an act of self-defence yet the damage was done.
The 42-year-old now plans to box under the auspices of the British & Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA). The same organisation that allowed the remnants of Danny Williams to enter the ring against Lee McAllister, a former lightweight, for the WBU heavyweight title in July 2018. Inspection of BIBA’s rankings – which places 51-year-old Frans Botha as the ninth best heavyweight in the world, for example – provides further evidence of a door that never closes.
Harrison hopes to make his return at 140lbs in the coming months, with a shot at the World Boxing Federation belt a telling but realistic target. But when it comes to licencing a fighter, it’s only fair that cases are assessed individually and Harrison was passionate about his right to box again when talking to Boxing News.
“I think I’ve been forgotten by the general boxing world, not just the press up here and in England — they’ve all turned their back on me,” he said. “I lost my licence in 2006 then got it back in 2012 and that was a lot of lost time for me. That is why I’d like to thank BIBA for giving me a chance to have a last part of my career.
“Why did the Board take away my chance to work? Boxing is my only means and ends to make money. It has always been my job. I was out until 2012. I must have been up before them about 15 times trying to get my licence back. I was turned down every time. I went to prison over in Spain, did my time here and then reapplied for my licence. I was told: ‘You’re not good for the sport of boxing’. I was told if I did my time I’d get my licence back, so they went back on their word.”
Robert Smith, the Board’s General Secretary, told BN that all cases are considered on their individual merits. He maintains that the Board made the right decision both in the past and as recently as 2018. “The charges against Scott at the time were very serious, and he had an extradition order hanging over him, so we made the decision that it wasn’t in the best interests of boxing for it to be permitted while that was over his head,” he said. “Every case is taken on its own merits. We’ve dealt with Scott on numerous occasions in regards to his behaviour, and there didn’t seem to be any prospect of improvement.
“As for the most recent application in 2018. Regardless of his age, it was decided that he hadn’t been in competitive contests since 2013 with us, so you have to take everything into consideration and the Board didn’t think it was beneficial for him or the sport to grant him a licence.”
While not denying that his life spiralled after Spain and during the period when he was admitted into the Priory in May 2006, citing alcohol abuse and depression, Harrison argues that he was singled out by the Board while others were given leeway following failed drug tests and serious criminal offences.
“They are hypocrites,” he fumed. “Boxing is full of hypocrites. Your licence is gone, so your career is gone and you are just thinking about when you can get back to work. I lost my best years. Once I lost the licence, my life went downhill very quickly: I went bankrupt, my uncle committed suicide [Jack McGill was charged with assault in Spain alongside Harrison in a separate case in 2006 and took his own life in May 2008] and I lost everything. Then I ended up in prison.
“Do you know how serious it is to take away someone’s livelihood from them? Stacey [his partner] suffered a miscarriage a week after I was refused to my licence in 2018. I didn’t want to mention it to you, but she said we should let the people know the detrimental effect and stress the loss of my licence had on us as a family.”
Still, there were constant press reports that the father of five’s life was on a dangerous and downward slope during those dark days. Rumours abounded that he was causing chaos up in Scotland. There were assault charges, three of them, later dropped, plus resisting arrest and breach of the peace and possession of Valium, often referred to a “drugs charge” in the national press rather than the more accurate “prescription drugs”. Local people claimed that Harrison would drink heavily and then cause chaos. Some of the fans turned on him yet he still maintains that his behaviour was not the worst that the sport has or will ever see.
“I would train for months, not drink and then celebrate after a fight, then I’d go out for a drink again before training,” he said. “Then I’ve got no licence, no job, no fights coming up and nothing to train for. That is in the past now. I’m not living in the past, I’m looking to the future and just want to get my career back on track.”
This is the point where we are supposed to delve into the deep recesses of darkness. To use depression as an excuse. To wheel out his stint in the Priory to try to win you, the sceptical reader, over. Yet there was nothing but stoical silence from Harrison when he was asked about this period. If you are after an apologetic and personal pull quote then you’re in the wrong place. Harrison grew up in Cambuslang, a place where being the toughest kid in school meant more than academic achievement and that mentality never leaves you even when you leave school. Whether you like him or not, Harrison is not waving the tattered mental health Get Out Of Jail Free card.
Indeed, his belief is that it all stems from a WBO title defence against Nicky Cook that was spiked in December 2006 as he was unable to make weight in a situation beyond his control. His licence was revoked and he did not box under the BBBoC again until a comeback in 2012 that led to him being served up to the younger, sharper Liam Walsh in April 2013, a decision loss over 10 on a Frank Warren-show at Wembley Arena.
Ironically, Cook would later go on to win Harrison’s former WBO title after a points win over Alex Arthur in September 2008. He then lost his title to Roman Martinez. Following a comeback win over Youssef Al Hamidi in May 2011, “Cookie” met Ricky Burns, who had wrested the title from Martinez by decision, in July 2011.
Cook was cleared to box yet I was there that night and he wasn’t in a position to be in there against Burns. People within the trade had heard that his back was injured. He could barely get into the ring and his back went the moment he took a punch. He was taken out of the ring on a stretcher and never boxed again. On the one hand we are told boxing is a dangerous sport, and the Board do lead the way when it comes to safety, but this incident supports Harrison’s argument that there is hypocrisy in the ranks.
“I paid them [the Board] a lot of money through the years through my world title fights,” he argued. “They are not there to help professional fighters when they should be. Why isn’t there something in place when you retire? There should be something included, something that goes into a pension fund.”
Smith maintains that the decision was made with one eye on his past and another on his future wellbeing. “Scott was given the opportunity on numerous occasions, but unfortunately didn’t take them,” he said. “We have a duty of care to all our boxers and to Scott. We didn’t think it was beneficial to him to carry on boxing at this stage of his life and after what had gone on in the past. If he was to go abroad with an organisation we recognise we would obviously raise our concerns, but we don’t recognise the organisation you are talking about [BIBA].
“People will be behind Scott, people will be against it. We might get slaughtered by some people who think we are being harsh. I don’t think we are being harsh. Scott had plenty of opportunities with the Boxing Board of Control and, unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to take them, which is a great shame.”
Harrison is a born fighter who can still pass a medical and, as any fighter will tell you, a win is still a win. Just stepping into the ring again will be a moral victory in Harrison’s eyes.
Sadly, in the midst of all this we have lost sight of what a hard, effective fighter Harrison was in his pomp. He learned his lessons in the gym at an age when most of his peers had discovered the pubs and clubs. Despite being known as a pressure fighter, Harrison argued that he was a craftsman in the ring.
“My dad [Peter] was a fighter,” he said. “His dad was, his dad’s dad — our whole family. It is definitely in the blood. In my family, we want to be winners. I have to thank my dad for all the training throughout the years, as it made me a world champion. I can never thank him enough. Boxing is all about levels, how you prepare for fights and experience. Experience is the main thing because you have to be constantly learning about boxing. Listen and learn. It is as simple as that. I was first in the gym and the last out — that is just how it is.
“People see us on the TV. If we knock an opponent out in two rounds they just think we get paid a lot of money for it. They forget about the preparation. The running. The early mornings. The training. Boxing is all about practice. You need to keep working at it and it is also about repetition.
“Even as a pressure fighter you work behind the jab, throw combinations to the body off it and get inside. I’d use to the jab to get to the body. See Michael Brodie, he was a brilliant fighter, known as a warrior who should have been a world champion, but I got to him with a body shot under the elbow. It was a left to the rib and that was it.”
That urge to fight is what pushed him on as a professional despite losing to Miguel Matthews in his fourth fight [rsf 4 in October 1997]. He netted the Commonwealth featherweight title with a decision win over Eric Odumase then annexed the vacant British title by beating Richie Wenton in four four months later. A win over Victor Santiago [rsf 6 in June 2002] brought home the WBO interim title. He got the full title against Julio Pablo Chacon four months later via a decision win.
This determination to win is what drove him after losing his WBO belt to Mexico’s Manuel Medina via a split decision in 2003. The return was much more emphatic, an 11th-round win for Scott in November of the same year. “It is every fighter’s dream to get to the top, to the world title,” he said. “You go British, Commonwealth, European and world if you can — that is the dream. You then defend your world title in front of your fans and dream of unifying the division. That is the goal as a professional fighter, making money and being world champion. To fight in front of your fans is a privilege and an honour.
“My first world title fight went well. It was a brilliant night. Training was brilliant, the lead up went well and then after it you have this brilliant feeling because years and years of training had all led up to that fight. My family was my training team. My goal was to be world champion. I eventually reached that goal. It was amazing.
“Then I had that setback against Medina, a Mexican legend, but there were problems before the fight and the rematch went the way it should have went. I’d never take anything away from Medina, though. It was a long four months. I had defended my title a few times so was just getting used to it.
“Losing it wasn’t good. I was just looking at getting the rematch done, winning it back and then keeping it as long as possible. Medina was top-class, a warrior who had fought everyone. It was a grand fight, one that I enjoyed and the rematch was something I’d thought about every day after the first one. It was a fantastic night in my career. After that rematch, I never lost my world title again in the ring. Boxing is all about taking your opportunities. When it is time to deliver, you deliver.”
It is hard when it comes to Harrison because this is the point where we are supposed to condemn him and all involved in his comeback. But he is a fighter, he is fit, and he wants closure, so you have to respect his autonomy. If the idea of him fighting again offends you then just look the other way. That is how things generally work in boxing, anyway.