“We’re not fans, we’re family” explained one elated fight goer walking out the famous arched doors of the Ulster Hall after Martin Lindsay had just won the British featherweight title.
The overjoyed punter, who had to shout over a fire alarm to get his point across, was responding to queries from some shocked members of the English media as to the unique atmosphere they had just witnessed.
It’s quite a common reaction come Belfast fight night. Be it a Mick Conlan-topped Féile, Carl Frampton strutting his stuff in the Jackal’s Den or Windsor Park or even a Paul McCloskey and Martin Rogan King’s Hall night, the reaction of the travelling support, foreign press and even away fighters to the noise and support is always a source of pride.
However, Lindsay versus Paul Appleby at the Ulster Hall in April of 2009 was different and possibly one of the most unique Irish fight atmospheres of all time.
In fact, it wasn’t as much a sporting atmosphere as much a shared emotion that hit you akin to the Holy Spirit at an American evangelical meeting.
The noise felt like it had been transported from a stadium fight night and squeezed into the intimate venue. You could touch and taste the anticipation as soon as you walked through the giant double doors that separate the very grand lobby and the picturesque arena – but in this case, there was a different flavour and feel to that suspense.
The excitement hadn’t roots in the fact the fight mad city knew they were about to witness an entertaining fight, nor even that they sensed another Ulster Hall classic. It wasn’t that the knowledgeable crowd felt an upset title win was on the cards for a local lad and the presence of the Setanta Sports cameras were irrelevant to the atmosphere. It certainly wasn’t the crowd pandering to David Haye and Adam Booth – to whom ‘The Mac Man’ was signed to at the time. No.
The was a nervous edge that had everyone moving from the edge of their seat up onto their feet. There was a massive desire for Lindsay to win and again not in the normal way a fan wants their team or the local favourite to win.
Those in attendance didn’t want a victory so they could celebrate – they wanted it because they knew what it meant to the Belfast man. When the referee jumped in to save the Scot in the sixth round and the roof fought hard to prevent itself from being raised beyond repair, the crammed-in crowd, who could only be dispersed by a fire alarm and demands for immediate evacuation, were not rejoicing the win as fight fans or for what it meant boxing wise, they were celebrating for Lindsay, overjoyed he had secured success.
“We’re not fans, we’re family” wasn’t meant to suggest the 1,000-plus crowd was made of the now Immaculata coach’s brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, rather was an explanation as to how they loved him like he was a brother.
It was that real sense of love, personal affection and close community spirit that lead to the most unique small hall atmosphere in Irish boxing history. It’s been seen in flashes since, like when Stephen Reynolds brought half of Sligo to the Devenish for his epic Celtic Nations title fight with Declan Trainor or when the Dublin crowd officially adopted Jamie Conlan during his classic with Junior Granados.
However, none of this was to the same extent – but you get the feeling that could change if Padraig McCrory was to have his big night in Belfast.
McCrory will challenge Gustave Tamba for the EU super middleweight title in his next fight and will do so on home soil after Conlan Boxing won purse bids to promote the fight.
Rumour suggests Galway – on a card with Kieran Molloy – and Belfast are being explored to host the fight – and while Galway would be amazing you get the sense ‘The Hammer’ could have a Lindsay-style folklore night if he was to win continental honours in his home town.
There has always been a sense of goodwill surrounding the Dee Walsh-trained fighter and he has a real personal connection to his following.
The King of St James, the working class hero, McCrory is now legitimately one of Ireland’s top pros following a run of stand-out wins. Now 34 and having turned over at 29 following an undistinguished amateur career compared to many, this route to the top was not expected but has made it all the more sweeter for one of the good guys.
Like with Lindsay, there is a ‘more than just fans’ air surrounding those who buy tickets off the West Belfast man. It’s as if each person cheering him on come fight night knows him personally and that creates a special atmosphere.
The passion from the team at The front 👏 🥳 pic.twitter.com/Ujo87HSZMm— padraig mc crory (@padraigmc1988) August 9, 2022
It now seems the stars have aligned to enable Conlan Boxing to use that special following to create smaller show magic. Put a fighter with that kind of support on top of a bill in an intimate venue, throw in a prestigious and meaningful title fight against a dangerous opponent and you have all the ingredients needed to make a potent potion.