Boxing: Leeds veteran Vann to referee his final bout in Ireland

Referee Mickey Vann declares Johnny Nelson the winner of his fight against Steve Mormino in April 1989.
Referee Mickey Vann declares Johnny Nelson the winner of his fight against Steve Mormino in April 1989.
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THE FINAL bell is set to ring on Leeds boxing legend Mickey Vann’s stellar career.

Vann, one of the sport’s most experienced and well-respected referees, will climb into the ring for the final time in Dublin tonight.

The 72-year-old reached the British Boxing Board of Control’s mandatory retirement age seven years ago, but continued to be licenced by the Boxing Union of Ireland, along with the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF).

Now he has decided it is “time to go”, ending a lifelong association with the sport and 40 years as a referee.

“I want to finish while I’m on top of my game,” Vann said. “It would only take one mistake to ruin my reputation.

“I don’t get a lot of refereeing work now, probably half a dozen a year.

“To my mind, like anything else, you need to be doing this work all the time because you are learning all the time and you have to be at a good level.

“I am more liable to make a mistake now – with not working as much as I used to – than I was years ago, when I never made mistakes.”

Vann – who fought for Market District Boys’ Club in Leeds – had a long career as an amateur boxer, beginning in 1958.

After winning around 70 per cent of his unpaid matches, he turned professional under the guidance of Halifax manager Tommy Miller and competed professionally as a featherweight from 1969-70.

Vann hung up his gloves after winning three of his 12 professional contests and refereed his first bout in October, 1976.

He went on to become a well-known figure in rings across the planet, refereeing more than 150 world title fights and judging at over 120 more, as well as countless bouts at British, Commonwealth and European level.

Vann’s career highlight came in 1993 when he was third man in the ring at the all-British world heavyweight title showdown between Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno.

“When I retired I asked Tommy if I could help him with the training,” Vann recalled.

“He said he didn’t think I could teach anyone anything and suggested I apply to become a referee.

“That’s the best advice I ever received. It took me two years to qualify, but I have worked in 38 different countries – that I can remember – and I didn’t even know there were that many before I started!”

Today’s farewell show is at the National Stadium in Dublin and Vann is hoping for a warmer welcome than on a recent visit – when he witnessed a shooting at a weigh-in which left one man dead and two others injured.

“I am reffing two Celtic titles,” he said of tonight’s action.

“I have refereed for the Irish union for the last eight years and I’m grateful to them for considering I could still referee at a top level.

“I’m going over to Dublin with my wife and they are having a bit of a do for me, which is nice.”

Vann admitted he is “not sure” how he will feel when he leaves the ring for the final time.

He said: “I don’t think I will realise it, I will probably be back in Leeds before it sinks in, but after 40 years as a referee it is time to go.

“I don’t want to be remembered as that silly old so-and-so who went on too long.”