Fireman George Anderson - a man among men - by Ron Jackson
If South African boxing ever had a romantic era, as most historians believe, a fighter by the name of Fireman George Anderson was part of it.
He fought in the days when - as they say - men were men; when welterweights often challenged heavyweights and fights went well beyond 20 rounds.
In an article in The Star of April, 28, 1923, a journalist wrote: "Perhaps there is no boxer better known today among the old professionals than George Anderson, otherwise known under the appellations of Corporal and Fireman Anderson.
"And there is no doubt that Anderson looks every inch a fighter, and like most men who have made a profession of boxing, and met all comers in his class, and fought, as he claims, 100 battles, if not more, carries the trade mark of the pugilist, namely a broken nose and a cauliflower ear".
Anderson was born in England on April 7, 1881, although some sources say 1885. He started boxing at the age of 14 in Pentonville, London. When he won the 7-stone 4lb (46.24kg) competition at the Pentonville Hill Baths, he received a prize valued at three shillings.
After several other fights at Wonderland in Whitechapel, London, he joined the army (9th Lancers) at the age of 17 and was posted to India, where he won the lightweight championship of the Punjab.
In 1906 he came to South Africa with the 9th Lancers. He won the army and navy championships the following year and retained the title for the next three years.
In 1907 he had his first professional fight as a middleweight, betting Fred Glover McKell on a fourth-round knockout at the Old Gaiety Theatre in Johannesburg.
In June the next year he took on Jim Spears in Durban for one hundred pounds and won on a knockout. In the same year he beat Corporal Austin and Sid Hughes at the Tramway Hotel in Fordsburg.
Anderson was paid 450 pounds for the fight against Hughes, a heavyweight policeman.
The match was arranged entirely for the benefit of gamblers and took place in a ring not much bigger than a snooker table. Jack Barnett, the Australian racing man who came to South Africa in the 1880's, was the referee.
The referee's decision was questioned, so they met again in Potchefstroom in April 1909 for the vacant SA heavyweight title. Anderson won by knockout in the 19th round.
Anderson was reported to have fought Jack Lalor eight times but I can trace evidence of only five.
Jack's son Pat, who lived in Benoni, said, "My dad often spoke about George Anderson in later years and said he "owed" him because in their eight fights the best Anderson could ever manage was one draw.
"But they were great friends and it was a sad day for my father when he attended his old opponent's funeral at the West Park Cemetery in 1958."
In his book "The Fighters" Chris Greyvenstein wrote: "On two occasions, Anderson was lucky to escape serious injury in fights with Lalor.
In the third round of their bout in Potchefstroom in 1908, Lalor planted such a devastating left hook on the jaw that the unconscious Anderson had to be carried to the dressing room on a stretcher and was revived only after intensive medical treatment."
Three years later, when boxing had become popular in Bulawayo (the Rhodesia) Lalor once again clashed with Anderson.
Lalor was fond of betting on the races. A barber who ran a bucket shop near the Horseshoe Hotel in Krugersdorp, which was under Lalor's management, used to take bets for him.
Shortly before leaving for Rhodesia to fight Anderson, Lalor received information from a jockey to bet on a ten-to-one horse.
He placed a five-pound bet and got on the train, feeling fairly pleased with himself.
"By the time he arrived in Bulawayo, however, he had an angry boil on his neck and not even the prospect of picking up 50 pounds for again beating Anderson and another 50 pounds on his sure-fire bet, could do much to relieve his misery.
"It was a packed house with the ringside seats costing a steep two guineas each. In the very first clinch, a few seconds after the opening bell, Anderson rubbed his glove roughly over the boil and for once Lalor lost his temper.
"It was a cold, calculated fury and it roused the killer instinct in the normally placid champion. The feinted Anderson into a knot and then slammed his right fist with all his power through the opening and against the "Fireman's" exposed jaw.
"The punch landed at exactly 9:30 on Saturday night, according to contemporary reports, and Anderson regained his senses at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning."
After beating Fritz Macki on points over 20 rounds at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth in September 1911, Anderson decided to take a trip to England.
He arrived in London on 1912 and had to have a four-round trial spar with Eddie Hilton at the National Sporting Club. On the same evening, October 6, Ted Kid Lewis stopped Alec Lambert in the 17th round to win the British featherweight title.
After a satisfactory trial, Anderson beat Stoker Griggs, Jim Hearn, Gunner James, Charlie Allum and Jack Morris before loosing a 10-round decision to Dixie Kid in December 1913.
Kid, whose real name was Aaron Lister Brown, was an outstanding fighter who had won the world welterweight title on a 20th-round foul against the original Joe Walcott, the "Barbados Demon" on April 29, 1904.
When he met Anderson, Kidd had already taken part in 124 fights. He had been in against men such as Sam Langford, Jimmy Clabby, Mike "Twin" Sullivan, Georges Carpentier and Johnny Summers.
Anderson showed tremendous courage in a closely fought contest with Kid at the Ring, Blackfriars. By the end of the fight his right ear was a shapeless lump, but in spite of the pain he refused to surrender.
The next day Anderson was taken to hospital in Fitzroy Square where he was treated and advised to stay away from boxing for several months.
In January 1914 he fought a return match with Kid. They met in Birkenhead, Liverpool, but Anderson was knocked out in the second round.
A cauliflower ear of monumental proportions was to remind Anderson of his two bouts against the great American fighter.
He then lost on a disqualification to Bill Bristowe and fought a no-contest over four rounds with George Mack before returning to South Africa.
In his first fight back home, Anderson drew with Maki before facing his old foe, Lalor, on June 6, 1914 for the SA middleweight title. Lalor stopped him in the 17th round.
No fights can be traced for Anderson in 1915, but on March 11, 1916 he held Lalor to an eight round draw in what was the only time he did not loose to Lalor.
He finished 1916 with a third-round disqualification win over Jack Rutherford and a disqualification loss to Ronnie Dumar, a one-time SA lightweight and welterweight champion.
Anderson was inactive in 1917 and 1918, but returned in July 1919 to outpoint George Marhant of England.
In September he won the vacant SA middleweight title when he beat Len Wenman on points over 20 rounds.
He made a successful defense against Bob Storbeck but in a return match in March 1920 he lost the title when Storbeck beat him on points over 20 rounds.
And in September the same year Ginger Corrigan stopped him in the eleventh round.
After many hard fights his career was clearly coming to an end.
In 1921 he lost on a disqualification against SA welterweight champion Joe Rosella and in his last two fights he was knocked out by Johnny Squires; both fights ending in the fourth round. Squires later won the SA heavyweight title.
George had joined the Johannesburg fire brigade in 1906 when he first arrived in South Africa and retired a District Fire master.
He was also chairman of the Professional Boxers Union, which was formed just after the Great War to try and control the game.
Ted "Kid" Lewis, the former world welterweight champion who knocked out Alec Storbeck in less than round in Johannesburg on December 3, 1927, was trained by Anderson during his stay in Johannesburg. Anderson also trained Deaf Burke from Scotland, who was totally deaf and virtually mute, for a bout against Ernie Eustice.
Anderson's son, who fought under the name of Young George Anderson and campaigned from 1931 to 1946, met JN (Babe) Smith for the vacant SA featherweight title, but lost on points.
Anderson was a good friend of one of South Africa's foremost boxing historians, Chris Lessing.
In a letter dated February 3, 1952, Lessing wrote to Eric Moolman, a former referee, judge and memorabilia collector: "I spoke to fireman George Anderson, who is a good friend of mine, yesterday.
"Daddy, as we affectionately called him, is not in as good condition as he used to be; he had had two operations recently and age seems to be catching up with him.
"George told me something that you might be interested in: that Jack Lalor, former triple South African champion, was the best man he ever fought. He rates Lalor, even though practically only a welterweight, as the greatest heavyweight this country has ever produced.
"He opines that if Lalor had gone overseas he would have won a world championship. "Having fought Lalor and Dixie Kidd, Anderson states that a battle between these two would have been a classic.
"Anderson also has a high opinion of George "Boer" Rodel who went to the States and did quite well, but Fred Storbeck did not impress him very much. This is rather surprising as the majority of old-timers seem to agree that Storbeck was a great."
After retiring from the fire department, Anderson lived in Orchards, Johannesburg, and worked as a caretaker at the Anglo American Corporation in Johannesburg before his death on July 17, 1958.