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William (Bill) McConnell (1906–1970)

by Peter Corris

This article was published:

William (Bill) McConnell (1906-1970), boxing-trainer, was born on 18 August 1906 at Paddington, Sydney, son of native-born parents William Daniel McConnell, dealer, and his wife Ruby St Clair, née Hall. After minimal education, Bill married his childhood sweetheart Millicent Miller (d.1959) on 28 June 1923 at St Francis's Catholic Church, Haymarket; he was aged 16 and she was a year older. They had three children by the time he was 20 and lived in a single room. He was employed in a brass foundry and she had worked as a chocolate-packer.

In 1926 McConnell entered a boxing tournament solely to make money. Stocky and tough, he fought as a flyweight and won through to the final by competing seven times over a total of forty-four rounds. He lost the fifteen-round final, but the purse of £40 enabled him to buy some furniture and move into a rented house. McConnell fought professionally at Leichhardt Stadium and advanced to main events until he was matched with the future lightweight champion (1931) Bobby Delaney who outweighed him by a stone. Knocked out in the fifth round, McConnell was so badly beaten that he was unable to work for several weeks. He retired from fighting and turned to training.

His gymnasium—which he opened at Newtown in 1930 and moved to Abercrombie Street, Chippendale, about 1934—became the 'Stillman's' of Sydney, where young hopefuls went in search of glory, old stagers battled to keep their careers afloat, overseas fighters trained, and the boxing fraternity gathered. Over forty years McConnell trained numerous Australian and State champions. He achieved his greatest success with the southpaw Jimmy Carruthers whom he took to the world bantamweight title in 1952. Carruthers defended the title three times, earning substantial purses and ushering in a brief period of prosperity for McConnell.

Leading American fighters such as Freddie Dawson and Archie Moore regarded McConnell's skills highly. Unlike many others in his role, he seems to have cared for and protected the boxers in his charge. During the late 1940s he was president of the Boxers', Managers' and Trainers' Guild. In 1950 a number of articles under McConnell's name, crafted from his notes by boxing journalist Ray Mitchell, appeared in the Australian Ring Digest: in these pieces the trainer forcefully expressed his views on honest promotion, fair refereeing and the image of boxing. After Carruthers' premature retirement in 1954, McConnell's fortunes waned. He grew disenchanted with the conduct of boxing and suffered a severe loss when his gymnasium was destroyed by fire in 1955. He opened another gym on a different site at Chippendale, turned his attention to training amateur fighters, and took a job as a cleaner to make ends meet.

Known as 'Silent Bill', an ironic reference to his loquaciousness, McConnell provided lively copy for sporting journalists. He and his rival, fellow trainer Ernest McQuillan, occasionally came to blows, but McQuillan organized a boxing show to raise money for McConnell who suffered a heart attack in 1968 and was in financial distress. On 10 September that year, while in St Vincent's Hospital, McConnell married an invalid pensioner Gloria Joyce Sproule. Survived by his wife, and by the two sons and two daughters of his first marriage, he died of myocardial infarction on 21 January 1970 in St Vincent's and was buried in Botany cemetery. Carruthers and many other fighters whom McConnell had trained attended the funeral.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Kieza, Australian Boxing (Syd, 1990)
  • Australian Ring Digest, May, Nov 1950
  • People (Sydney), 2 June 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July, 24 Oct 1947, 28 Aug 1955, 9 Nov 1959, 22 July 1960, 25 Apr 1969
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 4 Jan 1969, 20 Sept 1982
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Corris, 'McConnell, William (Bill) (1906–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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