Dave Lanning meets 19-year-old boxer Mark Rowe in 1967
Down here at Grove Farm, Three Gates Road, Fawkham, Kent, there are more than 1,000 sows, boars, and assorted piglets. All rooting about in Kentish mire, happy as only pigs can be.
For, en route to the sausage factory, these piggies get some snorting good laughs. From the antics of us humans.
There’s the young master: Mark Rowe. Only 19. They call him the latest “Golden Boy” of British boxing. But every morn before dawn, he’s in with the pigs. Dispensing swill. Then he goes over ploughed fields for a three-mile run.
And the boss. Bill Rowe. Not nearly so energetic. But he ambles about in mid winter in a vest, like some great contented bear. Splendidly hospitable, but rumbles away because his big son is chopping down all the trees on his 200-acre spread.
Oh yes. Strange are the goings-on at Grove Farm. The pigs wouldn’t swop it for the Palladium.
Take today. Photographer Peter Bolton and I arrive to have words with Mark. It’s all to do with the ITV boxing programme, Professional Boxing, on Wednesday, when the piggies’ 11st. 51b., 5ft. 1Oin. young master attempts to … well … bring home the bacon against Jack Powe, of Preston, in a contest that Mark hopes will prepare him eventually for a middleweight title fight.
It’s bang in the middle of Mark’s punishing training routine. Nothing else for it but to join in. Dad Bill says: “He’ll be back from his run along that bit o’ path over there. Careful where you tread, now.”
The pigs line up to watch the fun. They do not have long to wait.
Photographer Pete, doubtless attempting to obtain the Picture of the Year, disappears knee-deep into a patch where only pigs would feel at home! Ahem, I think I’ll stay here, close by Mark’s private gym. There are concrete paths here.
Mark pants in. Looks in great trim. Doesn’t say much. Doesn’t go much on publicity. He’s shy, insular but not unfriendly. Right now he’s training and that’s the job in hand.
He says: “Hold the punchbag for me, will you, please?” Well, there’s a half-hundredweight of padding to protect me. But the destructive punches of Mark have the power to swing the bag. And I swing with it. This kid packs a wallop!
Mark seems concerned. “I’m not hitting with full power,” he says quietly — it’s almost a whisper. “I daren’t. Without bandages on my hands. I’d split my knuckles.”
Ahem. Jack Powe on Wednesday must face this teakish teenager with bandages and without a punch-bag to hide behind and I for one wish him well.
Mark doesn’t talk about his private life, but from Bill Rowe I learn Mark:
- it owns 100 acres of his own and 13 houses:
- has his own private swimming pool, gymnasium and 40-record juke box;
- spends his holidays in Florida .
- was paid £10,000 to turn pro after a sensational amateur career in which he lost only three of his 100 fights and won an Empire Games Gold Medal:
- drives a blue, two-seater Lotus Elan — and is thinking of switching to a Ferrari with the same nonchalance as I order an oil change!
So why box?
Mark stops throwing punches. Muses deeply. He always uses his head before engaging his mouth. Then replies: “It’s purely ambition. I want to be the greatest boxer in the world.”
Don’t imagine this is a playboy boxer with an oversize ego.
Playboys don’t rise before dawn to clean out a pig-sty. They’re not in bed every night before 10. Nor do they go without smokes and drinks. “Mind, I do go to the pictures in the afternoons about three times a week,” adds Mark, a trifle sheepishly. “I shoot a bit, too. Pheasants, rabbits, you know.”
Girl friends, then? “Yes, I did have a couple once,” says Mark with great disinterest. I do not pursue the subject; right now we’re doing pull-ups on the bars. I am in no mood for talking, because I’ve run out of breath.
Mind, Mark has most of the attributes that girls require from a pin-up. Blue eyes. College-boy style hair. His boyish good looks unmarked after more than 100 amateur scraps and five tough professional encounters. There is a scar on the bridge of his nose. “A childhood accident,” he explains.
He still reckons his most exciting moment was when a fiery old boar got loose and needed rounding up, cowboy style.
That’s the morning training over. Mark must lunch, grab a sleep, then roar up into the East End to another gym for sparring practice.
I’m rather glad I’m not his weight. Otherwise I bet he would have me in there.
And that would have been enough to make a pig laugh