BY GEORGE! TEMPLE CAN BE CHAMP

WINNING a boxing title out of Hartlepool has never been easy just ask the Fighting Feeneys or Stewart Lithgo.

WINNING a boxing title out of Hartlepool has never been easy just ask the Fighting Feeneys or Stewart Lithgo. Champion brothers George and John Feeney were forced to travel thousands of miles for their British and European contests and Lithgo had to go to the other side of the planet Australia to win the Commonwealth Cruiserweight title, beating Steve Aczel in Brisbane in 1984.

Not since those glory, glory days in the early 1980s has Hartlepool had anything to shout about in the uncompromising world of professonal boxing.

The silence, as they say, has been deafening.

But while pro boxing was at its lowest ebb, Hartlepool's amateur pugilists were making some noise with six ABA championships in the 1990s.

Two of those titles were won, in dazzling fashion, by Alan Temple.

Now he is just one fight away from putting a pro belt in his trophy cabinet.

Temple steps into the ring at Wembley Arena on Saturday for the WBO Inter-continental Championship confrontation with Londoner Steve Murray.

Not surprisingly, Murray is the favourite. The champion is fighting in front of his own supporters on his boss Frank Warren's show.

But George Feeney, Britain's lightweight champion from 1982 until his sad, enforced retirement in 1985, won his Lonsdale Belt the hard way and feels Temple has come the same route.

Like George, Temple has fought in everyone else's backyard as well as against boxers from the weight division above.

At times, it has been a tough apprenticeship for the Gus Robinson-managed boxer during the long and patient wait for the big opportunity to come up.

George, who remains a magnificent ambassador for Hartlepool 15 years after hanging up his gloves, explained how his own career path was so similar to that of Temple.

"I think we've had very similar situations," said George, who is still in fantastic shape at the age of 43.

"I fought a lot of hard lads early in my career and Alan has done the same. He's been in with Billy Schwer and all the top boys.

"I went in with people like Cornelious Boza-Edwards and other light-welterweights and that is really tough.

"No one understands how hard it is to fight good boxers who are seven pounds heavier than you.

"Half a stone in our division is a massive difference.

"But those contests stood me in good stead and it will be the same for Alan.

"When you go back to fight someone of your own weight then you have the strength and the resolve to win.

"Although I have never seen Murray, I have heard he is very good.

"But the thing is, he has never boxed someone as good as Alan before.

"He has never really had a hard fight, whereas Alan is used to them and that will be to his advantage."

George feels Temple, who like Feeney was a product of the Boys Welfare gym, is now hitting his peak as a boxer.

"I was 25 when I won the British title and I think boxers do peak when they are around 28.

"Alan is 27 so now and in the next year or so he should be at his very best.

"I had my set-backs along the way like Alan has, but if he has the inner-belief and determination then he will achieve his ambition. It is that which makes the difference.

"I remember I was beaten by Ricky Beaumont in an eliminator. The loser's dressing room is the worst place in the world and I was feeling sorry for myself.

"It was very, very close but my manager Dennie Mancini came in and instead of consoling me he gave me a right good talking to.

"He said to become a champion I had to really believe I would do it and work harder to achieve it, otherwise I would just become a journeyman.

"After that I trained harder and ran further.

"I won three on the trot and there was a snowball effect, the drive and desire were there and I took the British title off Ray Cattouse.

"Alan must set his sights on the title and really believe he is going to be the champion."

By George, he is right!

Feeney was a top performer on the world stage

HARTLEPOOL'S greatest? Certainly in the last 25 years no Hartlepool boxer has achieved more and entertained the boxing public like George Feeney.

His brother John was a British champion before him and he was unlucky not to win the European Bantamweight title, but it was George who made it onto the world stage after showing he was the best of British in 1982.

He defeated former World champion Ken Buchanan in an eliminator and then won the British title by ending Ray Cattouse's seven-year reign with a 14th round stoppage in the fight of the year, at the Royal Albert Hall.

Awesome Feeney's reputation grew overnight and boxing legend Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, the WBA world champion, granted him a fight in Italy in February 1983.

Even though George was defeated in San Vincent, it must rate as one of his greatest performances.

It was a non-title contest because Feeney was not ranked in the world top ten, but the Hartlepool man pushed the American for the full ten rounds in a fight shown live on TV in the USA.

"Britain has a champion to be proud of," said a gracious Mancini after a unanimous, but close, points verdict in front of his adoring Italian fans.

"He has a champion's heart and is definitely a world-class fighter."

George recalls: "I went there going for the win, but it took me until after the third round to KNOW that I could beat him.

"At one point, he hit me with a shot which was so hard that I thought he had broken my ribs.

"I saw George Bowes and Dennie Mancini in my corner look away, they thought I was gone.

"But even though he'd really hurt me, I kidded him on that I was OK and I think then he thought 'what do I have to do here?'.

"I got going and put him under pressure but he ended up winning by a couple of points.

"Afterwards, he said if I got into the world top ten he would give me a title shot, so I went to Italy again to fight Howard Davis, who was another top American.

"I went the distance with him but he won by a mile.

"I just couldn't get close to him so I didn't get the ranking I needed.

"It was promoter Mike Barrett's idea that I should meet Davis rather than go in with a banger, but to be honest I'd rather have gone in with someone who came to fight than a boxer who spent the whole bout on the run."

My greatest memory of Feeney's career came in December 1983.

He was defending his title against cocky Scouser Tony Willis who had done big things at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

The challenger declared how he was the rightful champion and Feeney would be hammered out of the way.

His mouth though was well and truly closed by George, who destroyed him inside two minutes in brutal fashion in front of ITV's World of Sport cameras.

"I never minded being the underdog. But on this occasion, everyone wrote me off, even the Mail," smiled George.

"But I think they may have been trying to wind me up a bit.

"One day, I was in the chippie with our John and he said some bloke was saying I would lose inside three rounds.

"All that stuff made me really fired up and that was one fight when I went out for an early finish."

All challengers were put aside, usually in London. "I had some great nights at the Royal Albert Hall," says George, but the beginning of the end came in a brave attempt to dethrone European Champion Rudi Weller in Frankfurt.

George suffered a detached retina in his right eye and, on medical advice, decided wisely to call it a halt.

To this day, he remains Hartlepool's last British champion.

Is Temple the man to rid George of that tag?

If he did, no one would be happier than the fighting Feeney.