Byline: PAUL HAYWARD
FOR the 54th year in a row, a lot of scarily tough men assembled in a ballroom at The Savoy to eat, drink and talk
about violence and friendship.
Across the tables, the eye could pick out Frank Bruno, no longer sectioned under the Mental Health Act, no longer ravaged by cocaine, no longer under the misapprehension that he is, in fact, Frankie Dettori - one of the more surreal manifestations of an illness that reduced this stalwart of the ring to a ghost of his old fighting self.
On the top table, young Kevin Mitchell, an unbeaten 20-year-old super-featherweight from Dagenham, accepted his Best Young Boxer of the Year award and recalled how he would stand as a boy outside The Savoy, waiting for autographs from his heroes.
Elsewhere at Monday's annual dinner of the Boxing Writers' Club, the roster of ex-world champions included John H Stracey, Barry McGuigan, Colin McMillan, Lloyd Honeyghan, Charlie Magri, Terry Downes, Duke McKenzie, Alan Minter and Chris Eubank, who turned up in a tie but no shirt, thus encouraging speculation about what his creditors are currently doing to him.
Three Olympic heroes were there, too. Terry Spinks, Chris Finnegan and Amir Khan, an impeccable advertisement for British boxing. Spot the missing name yet? Correct, Audley Harrison, who has reversed the normal trajectory of fame.
Most prize-fighters start on the outside and work their way in, as Mitchell proves. Harrison, on the other hand, began on the inside and worked his way out, from the glories of Sydney five years ago to one-horse towns, small crowds and political isolation in the wasteland of the heavyweight division.
Big Audley - or 'Fraudley' to his fiercest critics - is coming in from the cold, but not so fast that he is willing or able to break bread with his peers, the great and the good of British boxing, in whose presence on Monday night he might have understood a little more about the traditions that bind his profession.
The same day, Harrison signed a deal to fight Brixton's Danny Williams at the ExCel Centre, in London, on December 10, thus proving beyond doubt that desperation has outweighed his determination to go it alone, selfmanage, defy all the conventions of the boxing trade.
His American advisers were apparently against him taking the fight, which also shows how far he has slipped. 'Dynamite Danny' ducked out of his last engagement when the bell for the first round was about to chime, and the savage beating he took from Vitali Klitschko, in Las Vegas, may have left an indelible mental scar.
Harrison, the 2000 Olympic super-heavyweight champion, doubtless had good reasons for not attending Monday's shindig, but his absence cast fresh light on the wasted opportunities, the choreographed evasions of the past five years.
Sydney was meant to be the moment of his arrival as a major figure in our sporting life. Instead, he has shuffled into the shadowlands of Temecula and San Jose in California, clutching the money the BBC so unwisely lavished on him without exercising proper control, and exuding the air of a man with a questionable appetite for the physical trauma that accompanies hand-to-hand combat.
Early in his 19-fight unbeaten pro-career, Harrison made the mistake of calling his journey out of the amateur ranks 'the gravy train', and the label stuck. THE locomotive's earliest stop was a private investigator and part-time pugilist called Mike Middleton, who told us a couple of days before 6,000 turned up to see the gallant Olympian's professional debut: 'I'm not even a household name in my own household.' In mitigation, Harrison' s exploratory forays into the professional game were no more dubious than those of Bruno, who once stuck up for him by pointing out: 'You don't get an Olympic gold medal in a sweetie shop.' But the problem was that Harrison carried all his superstar aspirations into the ring and was never slow to point out that Olympic gold medals had been won by Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis. …