For Scott Murray, the owner/founder of Bar Sport in his home town of Cannock, Staffordshire, in the English Midlands, boxing and the hospitality industry have always gone hand in hand.
From frequenting his father’s hit nightclub during his formative years to having a successful amateur boxing campaign, it seems fitting that Murray now runs his own sports bar and hosts dinner shows featuring star of the big names in boxing yesterday and today.
It was an interesting journey for the English businessman who is fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage. During a recent chat, Murray entertained me by telling the story of his life and career so far.
“Growing up in my dad’s nightclub business gave me a taste for the hospitality industry,” Murray began. “My father, Alan Murray, ran it for 37 years, making it the UK’s oldest independent nightclub.” Hearing my accent, Scott informed me that his father was born in Falkirk, Scotland, and spent many summers there with his grandparents during school holidays. Funnily enough, I also grew up not far away, so the interview started well.
“I’ve done well as an amateur boxer,” Murray said as our conversation turned to the sporting side of things. “I’ve had over 100 fights and I’ve won more than I’ve lost. I’ve won a few county and midlands titles but I didn’t think I was good enough to turn professional. I don’t never really got to win an ABA title, and in the 1980s that was considered the norm for anyone going pro. Also, my dad, who owned the only nightclub in the area, didn’t help – too many distractions,” Murray said with a laugh.
In his 15 years as an amateur, Scott has had the opportunity to train in Houston, Texas alongside some well-known names. For many, this may have led to a career in the paid boxing ranks, but ironically enough, the trip to Texas planted the seed for Murray to pursue his life in the bar business instead. “Frank Tate and his trainer Jessie Reid were using my local club in Stafford too much as a base, and they invited me to go back to Texas with them to train for six weeks. I think the intention was for me to turn pro and let Jessie train me. I trained there with Frank, Orlando Canizales, Iran Barkley and Calvin Grove. It was one of the first associations specializing in boxing – it was called the Houston Boxing Association, owned by a very wealthy woman called Josephine Abercrombie They had the best coaches there and a full management team It was a good experience While I was in Texas I visited this sports bar and in the 1980’s the Kingdom Uni had nothing like it. No one was doing sports bars. That’s what I’m keen on doing.”
After returning to England, the option to turn pro was still available to Murray. “There was a local boxing promoter in my area called Ron Gray. Ron was very good friends with my father. As well as being a promoter, Ron was also the main matchmaker for Mickey Duff and Mike Barrett – known as “The Cartel” at the time. Ron wanted me to turn pro, but it wasn’t for me – like I said, too many distractions.
When it came to setting up his own sports bar, Murray was focused. “I begged, stole and borrowed money to get this old abandoned bingo hall in Cannock and converted it. Bar Sport opened in 1998.
During this time, Murray also gained experience hosting boxing dinner shows. “The first show I did was at my dad’s club. There was a lounge there and I did a little dinner show with John Conteh when I was 27. Then I managed to get the space I have now it’s a huge venue our capacity here is around 1200 with the sports bar, club and function room called the Premier Suite where we host all the shows after dinner Ron Gray, who I mentioned earlier, started doing little shows with me when we opened in 1998. Ron had all the contacts, and he approached me to start doing those little shows We started doing gigs with people like Henry Cooper, Charlie Magri, Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt, John H Stracey and Alan Minter – all these former British champions – it was just small shows – around 150 people.
The popularity of boxing dinner shows has steadily grown, with many former and current professionals eager to connect with their fans at events like the ones Scott hosts. Scott explained how his shows grew and began to attract boxers from further afield. “Ron retired and I started doing the shows myself. We moved on to bigger things and brought in world-famous names like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. Then I brought Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and we did a show with him here, which means my venue is the only one in the UK to have all the Four Kings under one roof.
From the Four Kings to some modern names. “We were the first venue to do a show with Anthony Joshua before he was world champion. He was very green and naive back then. We’ve done shows with Tyson Fury, and we were the first in the UK to do a show with Floyd Mayweather – he worked hard to be polite.
“However, the nights I enjoy the most are the ones with all the old school fighters,” Murray continued. “We had a night of champions three or four years ago. I brought Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. At the top table we had Ray, Barry McGuigan, John Conteh, John H Stracey and Ken Buchanan. The way we work is we have Steve Bunce and Richie Woodhall host our shows, so they do the after dinner talk and the Q&A session and then the audience then goes to the audience to ask questions.
As well as regularly filling his own venue, Scott made a point of talking about staying in touch with his Scottish roots by hosting several shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which acted as benefit nights for the Ken Buchanan Foundation. “The wonderful Marvin Hagler mentioned that he had never done a show in Scotland so we managed to get two shows with him in Scotland in September 2019. Those shows we did with him also raised some funds for the Ken Buchanan Foundation. We also did a great show in Edinburgh, where all proceeds went to the Ken’s Foundation. The top table included Ken, Jim Watt, Barry McGuigan, John H Stracey, John Conteh, Richie Woodhall, Steve Bunce, Josh Taylor and Lee McGregor. It was a show that made a lot of money.
I wanted to know what Scott had planned for this year looking back on past successes. “Next month I’m bringing Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini back. We are having a big event on March 31st called ‘The Italian Job’, which will feature a top table of Italian-born boxers. We have confirmed Ray, Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Maccarinelli, and I would like to bring in Vito Antuofermo if possible.
Scott also informed me that he has organized a tour to remember a classic fight as he reaches a milestone this year. “We’re bringing in Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney in May to mark the 40and anniversary of their 1982 Caesars Palace epic. We start in my venue and then do a number of shows across the UK and Ireland. We have shows booked for Dublin, Cardiff, London, Manchester and Liverpool, and I hope to add Glasgow to that list. It’s a real tour that I look forward to.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it was nice to end the interview with Scott learning of these upcoming events. The hospitality trade has suffered many blows during the lockdown period, but for Scott Murray and his Bar Sport/Premier Suite venue, it looks like there is a lot to look forward to as the popularity and demand for shows after dinner with current and former boxers continue to grow.
The pandemic and its effects on business came up during our conversation, and Murray drew on his boxing background to answer my query. “It had an impact, but I don’t think anyone in the hospitality industry should feel sorry for themselves. The whole world has suffered. We just have to put our chins down, take a few hits and keep fighting. I liken it to a 15 round title fight, we were opening up, we were closing, we were getting up, we were getting knocked down again, but it looks like we’re in the last round now, and we’re winning the fight.
There was a slight pause before Scott left me with a final remark, something that underlined how much his boxing background had helped him as a business owner. “Boxing prepares anyone who has boxed for anything in life. It gives you the hope and optimism to keep fighting. If you get knocked down, get back up and win the fight like a true champion.
Follow Scott Murray on Twitter @scottbarsport and For more information on Bar Sport see barsportcannock.co.uk