Black History Month: Remembering Clifford Matthew Anderson

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I am honoured to write for Black History Month (BHM) at Colt. To me, BHM is a time of celebration and remembrance, heralding those who have inspired us in our journeys.

I could list an abundance of famous influential black icons who have inspired me, but I’ve chosen to focus on someone much closer to home. Someone who made great sacrifices so I could live a better life.

Many of you may not have heard of Clifford Matthew Anderson, born on October 22 1921, in New Amsterdam, Guyana. He was my grandfather. Grandad wanted to be a boxer ever since he was a young boy. As a teenager often in trouble, he joined a local gym. The trainers soon realised that he packed a mean punch and by the time he was 18-years-old, he had fought his way out of the amateur ranks to become a professional boxer.

When the Second World War broke out, he put away the gloves and joined the British Merchant Navy. He served for three years until arriving in Britain in 1945. Leaving the navy, he joined Bill Cline’s boxing gym. Grandad got his first big break on April 23 1946, at the Royal Albert Hall. As the underdog, he defeated the heavily favoured Frenchman – Theo Medina. Fortunately, the fight was broadcast on the BBC radio and the commentator Raymond Glendenning raved about his performance labelling Grandad `The Black Panther’.

On March 18 1947, Grandad fought for the vacant British Empire Featherweight Title at Alexandra Palace in London, in front of 14,000 spectators. Astonishingly, being a black man, he could not be awarded the British Empire Title even if he were victorious on the night. Despite being a British citizen, who had served for his country.

Grandad trounced his opponent the ‘Aldgate Tiger’ Al Phillips, knocking him down several times during the bout, yet the referee awarded the fight to Philips. Police had to be called to prevent a riot when fans heard the verdict. The Labour government’s colonial secretary Arthur Greech-Jones was called to the floor of the House of Commerce to denounce Britain’s ring colour bias after the fight.

The public demanded a rematch which took place on July 1, 1947. Again grandad pounded Philips into near submission knocking him onto the canvas five times. Reports say that in the eighth round Phillips seized the opportunity to turn his back on grandad, as grandad threw another shot to the body. As he lay on the canvas, Philips claimed that grandad had deliberately hit him in the kidneys. The referee disqualified my grandad and awarded the fight to Phillips. This was to become one of the biggest controversies in British boxing history… yet my grandad was never bitter about what had happened.

Grandad retired from boxing in 1954. He had sustained substantial damage to the retina in both eyes. He returned home permanently in 1974. In 1997, he was honoured for his contribution to sport and today the national sports hall is named after him.  But without a shadow of a doubt, his proudest moment was in 1988 in a small ceremony. The British Boxing Board of Control flew a representative to Guiana to award him the British Featherweight Title belt he had been robbed of some 41 years previous. The belt resides in the Clifford Anderson Sports Centre, Georgetown, Guiana. It is a testament that wrongs can be righted and history can be rewritten.

Meeting him for the first time in 1978 in Guyana, he would recall many stories from his boxing days. I remember him speaking so fondly about his days in London, the Al Philips fights. He said he wouldn’t change a thing.

Clifford Matthew Anderson sadly passed away on December 2 1998. He will always be my hero, RIP.

After sharing my granddad’s story at Colt, one of my colleagues reached out and I had the opportunity to share his story at their local school via Zoom. I’m honoured that his story resonates with so many and can help in celebrating BHM.

Richard Anderson, National Interconnect Manager, Colt Technology Services

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