Kelly’s Eye: Final bell for Mr Boxing but what a knockout life

The Four Tops: North East boxing officials (from the left) Stewart Lithgo, Fred Potter, Mike Kipling, John Jarrett. PIcture by TOM COLLINS
The Four Tops: North East boxing officials (from the left) Stewart Lithgo, Fred Potter, Mike Kipling, John Jarrett. PIcture by TOM COLLINS

Fred Potter was a fighting man – in every sense of the word and next Monday we will have the chance to give him an appropriate send-off.

The 86-year-old died the week before last following a short, but bravely borne illness.

For decades, Fred simply was Hartlepool and North East boxing

In fact, Fred had ‘died’ back in June when he collapsed with a heart attack at the Walker Dome in Newcastle, where he was working as the steward in charge.

Prompt and excellent work by the medical staff present revived Fred, who spent several weeks in hospital undergoing treatment.

Sadly, despite his great fighting spirit and medical expertise, Fred never fully recovered, though at least he was able to learn the fondness and high regard he was held in the boxing community during those weeks in hospital and a local nursing home.

And there will doubtless be a terrific turn-out at Stranton Grange Crematorium on Monday for his funeral service (2.30pm). Rightly so too.

For decades, Fred simply was Hartlepool and North East boxing.

A boxer as a young fella in the 40s and 50s, Fred became a top notch referee, being the ‘third man’ for some of the North East’s star fighters, like the Feeney brothers, George and John, Dave Garside, Billy Hardy, Stewart Lithgo and Glenn McCrory, to name just seven.

Fred loved refereeing and said he didn’t know whether to laugh or admonish Lithgo when he felled George Scott in a Northern Area title battle and before he could begin a count the Hartlepool heavy leaned over his opponent and said “get up you soft blank”.

After three decades treading the canvas, Fred became a director of the British Boxing Board of Control’s directors, one of the men controlling domestic boxing.

He fought the corner/championed the cause of many a local talent, including some of the finest from this town, fighters like Kevin Bennett, Michael Hunter, Martin Ward, Nigel Wright and Alan Temple.

He could be a funny old stick. For some reason, probably good taste some would argue, he stopped talking to me and once refused to shake my hand, most rude I thought.

Roy Kelly was an “imposter”, “a charlatan” (I had to look that one up!) and to this day I’m not sure what had rankled him, perhaps my close relationship with Gus Robinson, who he did not seem to have much time for, though that never seemed to interfere with him supporting Gus Robinson Development boxers.

But, in time, Kelly’s Eye was welcomed back into the fold, so much so that I was “the best boxing reporter” ever to come out of Hartlepool and a “true boxing man”. Coming from my severest critic, I took the compliments with pride. He clearly was not a man to hold a grudge and there were no further problems.

Fred had special responsibility with referees at the BBBC and he’d often ask me how I scored certain bouts and what I thought of the ref’s performance. While I claim no credit, I was pleased to see one I recommended, Steve Gray, win promotion to the star list.

It was a privilege to know Fred and was always nice to see him at ringside at the big North East shows over the years alongside his colleagues, like Arnold Bryson, Stuart Curry, John Jarrett, Stewart Lithgo, Reg Long and David Venn and many more.

One of my fave pictures of Fred, from the lens of Tom Collins, features on this very page.

Even into his 80s, he showed his energy and devotion to duty by still working at the North East promotions and trekking to Cardiff every four weeks for the monthly BBBC board meeting.

Hartlepool has had some incredible sports administrators, managers, officials, etc over the years, people like Brenda Bland (swimming), Barbara Brown (netball), Michael Gough (cricket), Mal Hughes (bowls), Chris McLoughlin (rugby) and Jack Rowell (rugby), to name just six, and Fred is up there with the best of them.

Fred did not have any children/loved ones but boxing was his family and they will be there in force no doubt on Monday to celebrate a great life.

You were a one-off Fred and you will be a huge miss.