Gary Jacobs: the erstwhile boxing hero of the Scottish sporting story

Gary Jacobs, the erstwhile hero. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Scottish sport is known for its gallant losers. Think football, of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.Think golf, in which Colin Montgomerie, Ryder Cup-talisman, winner of eight European Orders of Merit and 31European Tour events, failed to win a single major. Think rugby, in which the Scotland team have, for the fourth time, have won the Wooden Spoon in the 6 Nations without gaining even a single miserly point.

Of course, there are many exceptions to this, and anyone with an inkling of a clue about Scottish sport will know what is meant by the reference to Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and the Lisbon Lions, to name but a very randomly-chosen few. Yet us Scots have a reputation for being the plucky but unlucky, the Davids that Goliath beat after an evenly-matched-but-robbed-by-the-dodgy-ref sort of fight. And the noble art of boxing epitomises that just as well as anything.

Gary Jacobs, the erstwhile hero. Credit: Wikimedia commons
Gary Jacobs, the erstwhile hero. Credit: Wikimedia commons

The examples mentioned above are, it must be admitted, well-known. Scotland’s latest rugby shambles was just this year; Colin Montgomorie is still plying his trade on the Seniors’ Tour; Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland will forever be engrained in the nation’s collective memory because of that scene in Trainspotting. But there is one Scottish once-sporting hero that seems to have been almost forgotten in the annals of history. And that man goes by the name of Gary Jacobs.

Perhaps it is a slight exaggeration to say the man has almost been forgotten; there are several newspaper articles about him to be found, and his name will undoubtedly be known to those who watched him win the European Boxing Union Welterweight title in 1993 and ’94. But in Scottish sporting terms, he will not feature in the collective national memory in the same way that Murray et al will; in boxing terms, he is certainly no Mayweather, Holyfield or Tyson.

Yet how different it could have been. In 1995, Jacobs faced 1984 Olympic Gold medallist Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker for a shot at the World Boxing Council Welterweight title. The winner of that particular bout can probably be deduced judging by the fact that Whitaker’s name stands in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jacobs, meanwhile, faded into obscurity.

 Two years after the Whitaker fight, he retired at the relatively young age of 31, losing his final match at the hands of journeyman Russian Yuri Epifantsev. Heard of him? Neither have I. A stark contrast from the halcyon days of Sweet Pea. A gym business venture in later years subsequently failed, and far from the bright lights of Atlantic City, the scene of that shot at glory, Jacobs now lives an otherwise ordinary lifestyle with his family in the Southside of Glasgow.

But then again, who is this writer to belittle the man’s efforts? It is not like he took a leaf out of the book of Scott Harrison, that once-esteemed Scottish boxer who ruined his own career through a series of run-ins with the authorities; or Mike Tyson, who apart from getting a taste of Evander Holyfield’s ear, is banned from entering the UK and a multitude of other countries due to his rape conviction.

It may well be that Gary Jacobs will never be held in the same sort of deity-like esteem of Muhammed Ali. It may well be that he never became world champion. But you know what? For a middle-class Jewish boy from Glasgow, he did not exactly follow many of his peers and become just another middle-class brick in the wall. For all that he might have been had he won that fight against Pernell Whitaker, perhaps we should take a look at what he actually was: a sportsman who wore the Star of David on his shorts with pride, who followed his dream and, for a while at least, achieved great success following it.

Which brings me onto the crucial point: where this all fits in with Scottish sport. For while our sportsmen may be branded as “bottlers” by their detractors (particularly our footballers) – let us just take a moment to consider what we actually have achieved as a sporting nation. Think not of Berti Vogts, wooden spoons or the fact that our national cricket team is still to win a single point at any single World Cup. Think of Calcutta Cups, Paul Lawrie at the 1999 Open or Jackie Stewart and countless other examples of our sporting success. Or even think of Gary Jacobs.

Sometimes we tend to overlook our achievements as a small nation. Sometimes we focus too much on our negatives, or what we should have achieved, as opposed to what we have achieved. Let us change the narrative of the ballad of Scottish sport from one of the gallant loser.

Let it be one of the ruthless winner instead.


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