The People You Meet: No. 2 – Punchy
He came into the meeting, took one look at the speaker and threatened to knock his b——y head off. Seeing me selling literature, he assured me of a likewise fate. Normally I should have been scared stiff. but we all know Punchy. About six times a year his battered face grimaced at the speaker and his glassy eyes glistened at the prospect of a fight.
At one time he was a promising young boxer. He was naturally well built and the years he had spent in the rough streets of dockland in the years that followed the First World War had taught him to use his fists. They had also taught him that in this world a man is judged not by what he is, but by what he is worth. So when he left school, with neither education nor trade, he sought a fortune with the skill of his fists.
Round the booths as a free lance he picked up a pound here, thirty bob there till he was eventually taken up by a manager. Visions of championships rose before his eyes—Southern Counties, British, European, and who knows, even the World! “But first we’ve got to build you up,” they told him. So once, twice, three times a week he climbed into the ring to punch hell out of declining veterans. The flattery, the cajolery and most of all the money, kept him going. He did eventually reach the top—the top of the bill at many back-street boxing halls up and down the country. There for a while he reigned but there were times when his sight grew blurred; bells rang in his ears. Defeats on points became knock-outs. The rot had set in. On the road down he became the human punchbag which carried other youngsters to the top. Gradually his fights grew less and less and only whiskey kept him going, till he completed his tour and returned, physically injured and mentally scarred, to the gutter from which he came.
Now, as veteran of more than 400 bouts, he lives from day to day, sweeping the arena, selling programmes, and scrounging fags and beer from those who recall his former “greatness.”
Sport! —a word which symbolises the human being at play for mental stimulation and physical satisfaction. Where is the sport here with young men being punched into insensibility for a few shillings to satisfy the warped desires of their fellow-workers and make a pile for the promoters? Where is the sport where the player is goaded beyond his capacity by fear of poverty?
Not only is this in the field of boxing. In every sport the professional is gradually squeezing out the amateur—and even the amateur must play to the gallery for support. The field of football affords an example of this transition. Just like every other worker the player is exploited to an ever-increasing degree, and the better he is, the more of an attraction he becomes the more he is bound in his peculiar form of slavery.
Sport is the medium by which men and women display their skill, the co-ordination of mind and muscle, but to be fully appreciated it must be spontaneous and joyful. In a system of society where all goods and services, including the service of entertainment, are produced for sale and profit, the greater an athlete becomes, greater is the pressure exerted upon him by the businessman. Sport gives way to viciousness and cunning.
Punchy cannot be saved. The most he can hope for is the chance to spend the rest of his days in kind hands, well fed and cared for. But it is in our hands to save others, and in doing so to save ourselves, for this, revolting as it may be, is only one of the minor anomalies of capitalism. The answer to them all lies in the establishment of Socialism, a system of society that will make life itself a sport and a pleasure.