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16 October 2014

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Johnny Hill, Scotland's first boxing world champion 1928

Johnny Hill

© Hulton Getty

These days, most people think Benny Lynch was Scotland's first world boxing champion when the truth lies in an earlier and equally tragic tale.

In 1928 Edinburgh flyweight Johnny Hill was recognised by America's most powerful boxing authority – the New York State Commission – as the world champion.

Born in 1905 in Edinburgh's Brunswick Road only yards from the same Sparta Amateur Boxing Club that would produce world champion Ken Buchanan, Hill won the British, European and world titles in just 18 months, a record never equalled to this day by any other Scottish boxer.

Benny Lynch had to wait nearly two years until January 1937 to get unqualified American recognition as world flyweight champion. In contrast, Hill received the recognition from the NYSAC on 10 December 1928 just three and a half months after he had out-pointed American world flyweight title claimant "Newsboy" Brown over 15 rounds at London's Clapton Greyhound Stadium on 29 August 1928.

This is a fact confirmed by Johnny Hill's sole surviving brother, Alf, who has a letter in his Strathmiglo, Fife home on New York State Athletic Commission-headed newspaper dated 10 December 1928.

Written by Charles J Harvey, chairman of the then all-powerful body in charge of matters of American world title legitimacy, Harvey assures Johnny's father David that while there are American claimants to his son's world title they would not be recognised until they had taken part in an elimination tournament to box Johnny Hill.

Similarly, most Scottish and British newspapers in August 1928 hailed Johnny Hill as Scotland's first world champion.

But who was Johnny Hill? He was born in relative middle-class comfort in a respectable tenement that still stands just off the capital's Leith Walk.

His father David, an ex-boxer with Edinburgh's West Bow Amateur Boxing Club, brought up his son to be a fanatic teetotaller, although ironically that did not save Johnny Hill from dying aged 23 from pneumonia, the same illness that killed alcoholic Benny Lynch aged 33.

Alf Hill recalls: "Johnny never smoked, drank or did anything that would interfere with progressing his boxing career. Besides, my father's word was law to him in boxing matters."

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