Celebrating his 80th birthday this week is the 'Godfather' of Elgin Amateur Boxing Club, Donald Campbell whose has served his sport for the past 65 years
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'LEGEND' is a word uttered too frequently in sporting circles these days but it finds its true meaning to describe the 65-year boxing career of Donald Campbell.
The Elgin Amateur Boxing Club stalwart celebrated his 80th birthday on Tuesday, and is still going strong at the club he co-founded after completing his own career in the ring.
He still officiates in the ring this day, but prefers to be down at his home club watching young boxing talent develop, ever-willing to offer priceless pieces of advice.
To mark his milestone birthday, the Northern Scot looks back over his incredible career from a feature written five years ago to mark his 60 years in sport.
Part one of the story appeared in our September 22 edition in 2017, looking at how Campbell earned the nickname of Highland Haymaker for his fearsome punching ability during his successful Scottish boxing career in his youth.
“THOSE who fall today rise to fight another day.”
It’s a phrase which Moray boxing legend Donald Campbell first heard after losing a bout at the age of 15, and became his motto throughout the 60 years he has devoted to the sport he loves.
Now president of the Boxing Scotland governing body, he will often take time out to tell his story of the Lhanbryde loon whose fearsome knockout punch earned him the nickname of “Highland Haymaker” in his youth.
In the ring he has battled in Scottish title bouts and fought for his country, and as a referee in more than 100 amateur international contests he has run the
rule over boxers who went on to become some of the sport’s most famous names.
Donald has also been an international boxing judge, administrator and supervisor, a coach who nurtured the talents of local fighters, and team manager for
Scotland at three Commonwealth Games.
In an incredible career, the former baker, window cleaner and now B&B proprietor has travelled the globe through his service to the noble art of boxing.
“The only thing I never did was the Olympics. I did the worlds, Europeans, nearly everything. I’ve been to all the continents in the world which for a wee boy from Lhanbryde is some achievement,” he said.
It was the 1956 Oscar-winning movie Somebody Up There Likes Me, starring Paul Newman and based on the autobiography of middleweight boxing legend
Rocky Graziano, which first encouraged a young Moray schoolboy to enter the ring.
Graziano grew up as a tough street fighter in New York, spending time in reform school and jail and later going AWOL from the army. He went on to become a world champion, and was famed for his fearsome punch as 52 of his 67 professional wins were earned by a knockout blow.
The movie fascinated young Donald and he soon signed up for his local Fochabers Boxing Club. Though hardly the rebellious youth Marciano was, the
Moray schoolboy was taught the value of discipline in sport and also discovered that like the world champ in the movies, he too packed a mighty punch.
However, like so many young boxers he learned the hard way how to compete in the ring.
“Everyone remembers their early bouts. I was boxing with Fochabers up in the Elgin club and I must have been knocked down about four times and I lost
“At the end you stood on the stage and got your trophies. We were standing there and this minister did a speech and he said: ‘These boxers, the ones who
fall today will rise to fight another day.’
“He was letting you know just because you’ve lost tonight, dinna give up. I’ve used that all my life. It’s been a motto we’ve used.”
Soon he was winning district titles and making a name for himself on the national circuit.
His powerful hitting landed Donald the North-East District Championships title in 1961 as a middleweight.
A year later, aged just 19 and with only 10 bouts under his belt, he made his debut on the BBC in a televised bout. His victory that
night clearly made an impression on a newspaper reporter who covered his bout and wrote: “The man who provided the biggest thrill of the evening was surely Donald Campbell, the apprentice baker from Lhanbryde.”
Entered into the Scottish Amateur Boxing Association Championships in Glasgow’s St Andrews Hall, Donald battled through to the semi-finals where he was matched up to a vastly more experienced Perth opponent.
After taking some punishment in the first round, the Moray youth sent his rival to the canvas in the next and by round three the fight had to be stopped to save the Perth man from harm’s way.
Although he was beaten in the final by a boxer who went on to become a British champ, Donald had done himself proud.
“You got to know lots of people through the boxing, and it taught you to keep away from trouble as well.
“I wouldn’t say I was a perfect boxer, more a puncher. If the fight lasted the distance I would probably lose but most my fights didn’t last very long.
“I had a technique of punching correctly which I try to get our lads at the boxing club to do. I used to demonstrate it on the bag.
That was the difference between hitting properly and not.”
His boxing exploits soon attracted attention from local businesses who were keen to lend support to a Moray sporting talent.
“I remember when I boxed the Scottish, there was a guy called Ted Smith who had Smith’s Toy shop and was Lord Provost of Elgin. He gave me a pair of boxing boots and a robe.
“I used to box with an old pair of sandshoes. I soon realised I could get something out of boxing instead of being a tearaway.”
His reputation as a hard hitter had unnerved a Dundee opponent in a North East versus Midland district fight in 1962, who was heard speaking about
Donald’s powerful punches and his “unruly” way of boxing.
To the Taysiders’ surprise, Donald held back on his long, looping swings and instead boxed with style to a points victory, proving he had more than
one string to his bow.
Another memorable occasion came when Donald was selected to represent Scotland in an international event against Ireland in the Govan Town Hall in Glasgow, though he ended up losing his bout.
By 1964 Donald had moved to Edinburgh with his work and joined the legendary Sparta Amateur Boxing Club, whose members included future world
champion Ken Buchanan.
“The club was made famous by Ken and I used to spar with him…well I say spar but I never used to touch him. He was such a great figure, and we’ve met up often since, on our travels.
“I had about nine bouts in Edinburgh. For one fight, I didn’t know where it was in Leith Walk so I asked this guy ‘do you know where it is?’ and he said yes. It turned out that he was my opponent and I beat him.
“I got the name Highland Haymaker and it followed me everywhere I went.”
Perhaps the most notable fight of Donald’s career came during his Sparta days when he took on the late Tom Imrie, a powerful-hitting former British and European champ who won gold for Scotland in a home Commonwealth Games in 1970.
“I boxed him, he had me down in the first round, and I had him down in the last round. They had a return for it and he never took the return. I lost it, but I had him down,” Donald recalled.
“While I was down there I won the Eastern District title, and in the final I knocked out Michael Imrie, who was Tom’s brother. He was out to get me because I knocked down his brother.”
On returning to Moray, he joined Huntly Amateur Boxing Club and won a north-east title in 1966 as a light heavyweight. It took him around five minutes of
total boxing time in Aberdeen’s Music Hall to polish off his semi-final and final opponent.
Later that year Donald defeated an Inverness opponent who took so much punishment from the “Haymaker” that he was later taken to hospital with a broken
After losing his title the following year, Donald took a two-year break from competing in the ring. He returned in 1969, having joined Forres ABC and was back fighting at middleweight and soon claiming another north-east district title.
Notably, he switched to welterweight and completed a unique hat-trick of north-east title wins at different weights.
Donald ended up enjoying a 20-year career as a boxer. “I finished when I was about 34 still having bouts as a filler-in, so if someone didn’t turn up I would
go in with the up-and-coming good ones.
“Over that period of time I had well over 100 bouts.”
But he always remembered how his sport kept him off the streets and into a disciplined environment when he was a youngster.
By co-founding a new boxing club in Elgin he knew he could give more young people the same opportunities afforded to him.
The next part of Donald Campbell's boxing story will appear later this week.