Authors: Carl Merritt
‘He’s got a time bomb waiting to go off in him, that one.’
Nil By Mouth,
written and directed
by Gary Oldman, 1997
To Carole and my mum – where would I be without them?
first met Carl Merritt when Hollywood film director John Irvin suggested I speak to Carl about his experiences in the fight game. Irvin had used Carl as a consultant on his boxing flick, Shiner, starring Michael Caine. I knew little about Carl except that the sort of fights he got into sometimes ended in death. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I arranged to meet him in a West London pub.
It wasn’t as if Carl was huge. He was about two inches shorter than my six foot one, but he was compact and incredibly solid looking in a Mike Tyson sort of way. Carl seemed embarrassed by what he’d done. There was none of that macho pride and boasting that I’d expected. He was a quiet, shy man who gave the impression of being a decent human being – not a bloodthirsty scrapper whose strength and determination had seen off many of the world’s hardest
characters. He clearly respected his fellow man, despite the brutal nature of his profession.
I watched Carl as he sized me up in much the same way he would size up an opponent in the moments before a fight. Then he winked at me and I knew we’d end up lifelong pals. For beneath the surface lies a thoughtful individual who knows people inside out and lives by more than just his brute strength. He told me, ‘I study a person the first time I meet ‘em. It doesn’t take long – maybe a few minutes – and I soon suss out who’s on my wavelength.’ Luckily I passed that test.
But others were not so lucky; I glimpsed another side of Carl seconds after that first interview ended. A young yuppie-type bumped into him at the exit to the pub where we’d enjoyed a few pints. Carl stopped and turned, and in that one beat I saw an expression on his face that must have struck fear and trepidation into his opponents. It was a look that could have ended in his breaking a dozen bones in that other man’s body in a matter of seconds.
Carl stared at the yuppie as he passed by and then looked at me for encouragement. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end: I ignored his response without comment, aware that if I’d acknowledged what had happened then the tap marked ‘red mist’ would have been turned full on. Instead, I held the door open, encouraged Carl to leave the pub and breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
The violence within Carl is always simmering close to the surface. You can see it in the way he reacts if he spots anyone looking in his direction. As a child all the trust was knocked out of him and from then on he looked on other males as a threat to his life and that of his beloved family. But these days he’s
somehow got that inner rage under control. Many may still call him a ‘psycho’ and a ‘lunatic’ but he’s worked hard to beat those demons – or so we both hope.
Carl is not a showman like the late bare-knuckle king Lennie ‘The Guv’nor’ McLean. He’s not a villain like the Krays or a nutter like ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser. He’s a master craftsman who knows the art of brutality inside out.
But you cross him at your peril …
y name’s Carl Merritt. I’m sure you haven’t heard of me, but by the time you’ve finished reading this book you won’t ever forget who I am. I was born and bred in Forest Gate, East London. I survived in that tough environment by always keeping one step ahead, never letting anyone take the mickey.
I’m not a great one for going on about the past. ‘The good old days’, as some call them, don’t really exist in my book. What’s the point in rambling on about things when it’s hard enough surviving today while keeping an eye on the future? I’ve always looked to my next move, not the last one or the one before that. All of the old boys I’ve come across keep their mouths shut about what they’ve been up to. That’s the way it is where I come from.
But when I got together with Wensley and started talking about my life it dawned on me that all the things that have
happened to me serve a purpose because they helped shape my life. A lot of the memories were painful to talk about after all these years, but as my mind started to buzz I began to realise that perhaps my story can serve as a lesson to any young tearaway who thinks he’s had it hard and has no choice but to get into trouble. To them I say think again, there’s always a way out of mischief, even if it means keeping on your toes so as to avoid the characters who want to own you and hold onto you.
Down the years I’ve been asked to help out with people’s problems on my manor. I’ve even given single mums money when they’ve been up against it because you gotta help people when they’re down. You never know when it might be you who’s up against all the elements.
That’s not to say I haven’t done a few bad things in my life but, hand on heart, I never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it. When I was a kid I knocked around with same right nutters who’d rob their own grannies as soon as look at them. But I didn’t live by their code. I wanted to make it in the real world, not the underbelly of life where it’s all such a desperate fucking scramble for survival.
In many ways I’m lucky to still be alive, even though I never broke a law that really mattered in my whole life. But however hard I tried to make a living on building sites, as a nightclub doorman and later in the fight game, the bad pennies kept coming back to haunt me. In the end they built me up as a tasty fighter inside the cage and I became the number one scrapper – the biggest hitter in the east. Trouble was those same characters owned me and used me.
The cage became in many ways a perfect mirror reflection of my life and there was only ever one way to get out of it – by
hammering my opponent into the ground. That meant I did some things I now regret. But they had to be done. I had no choice. Otherwise I’d have ended up six feet under.
People like me are built to try and beat the system. I never crumble under pressure. But as a result I became, in a sense, two people. One was the big, strong tough guy who struck fear into opponents across the globe. The other me was a quieter, more thoughtful fella who desperately wanted to provide for his wife and children.
As I’ve said, I never knowingly hurt an innocent person but if anyone touches my family or friends I’ll hunt them down and do the business. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not a brooding eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth merchant. That’s just a waste of energy. Revenge. It’s a word that can burn away your soul and split your heart in two. No doubt about it. Revenge doesn’t pay the bills. Revenge doesn’t help you stay in love. Revenge doesn’t create a happy family. Revenge just eats up everything in its wake.
I should know, as it’s the driving force behind the story of
Fighting to the Death
. And because we all would like a measure of revenge at some time in our lives I think it’s worth setting out my story.
've changed some names to protect (as they say) the innocent and not-so-innocent and myself. But the incidents are all true; there's been no need to invent anything. In fact, the difficulty has been to decide what to leave out!
t was a bitterly cold winter’s day and the icy wind was burning into my cheeks as I struggled along the street towards my family home. I was fifteen years old and desperate to escape into the real world, earn a living and get on with my life.
As I ran up the path to our house, I heard screaming and shouting – a familiar sound that had so often filled my childhood. My mum was yelling about something or other with my ‘stepdad’ Terry. She was really giving him a hard time. Probably about his bad temper again or maybe he’d gone and disappeared for a few days as he sometimes did when he was up to no good.
I stopped at the entrance to our front door and took a deep breath. Did I really want to walk into yet another row after the sort of day I’d just had at school? I was tempted to turn round and head off for the open space of Wanstead Flats and my little hideaway amongst the trees and bushes where me and my
mates would escape the pressures and unhappiness of our homes. But that day it was too bloody cold so I steeled myself for the usual verbal abuse and pulled out my door key.
My hand was shaking like a leaf. Was it the cold or the fear that I was about to walk into a war zone? After a couple of seconds I managed to steady my hand enough to slide the key into the Yale lock. Just then a male voice screamed: ‘You fuckin’ bitch. Don’t you ever fuckin’ talk to me like that!’
Then I heard the unmistakable thud of a fist connecting with flesh. That snivelling little piece of shit, Terry, was at it again.
Now my mum was crying and screaming at the same time. It was a horrible, disturbing blend of noises.
‘You want more? You fuckin’ want more?’ he yelled.
‘I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!’ came my mum’s reply.
I pushed open the door and ran towards the kitchen. Mum’s face had blown up like a balloon and I immediately knew what he’d done to her. I stood there for a few moments not sure how to react. My mum turned away to try and stop me seeing the state of her face. Terry looked down at the floor in order to avoid my gaze.
My eyes narrowed to try and stop the tears of anger welling up. Without saying another word, I ran straight at Terry, whacked him in the face and then followed up with a flurry of right hooks. He cowered down to try and stop the punches connecting but he was no match for the sheer force of my anger.
The sound of my fists pounding into his body permeated the kitchen. It continued: tap … tap … with my left fist. As I pushed my arms away from my body, my bastard ‘stepdad’ took a swing at me and missed because I ducked too fast for him.
Then I popped a vicious right into his battered leathery face. It felt like a hard shot and he quivered after I connected. That’s when I really steamed into him: left, left … and then right … WHACK; left, left … right … WHACK; left, left … right … WHACK. Air wheezed out of him with every punch.
My mum looked on, aware that the shots I was targeting on her partner were going to stop him ever hurting her again. We both knew it was time to finish off this arsehole for good.
I finally stepped back as he crumpled to the floor. Then he looked up at me with an expression of sheer hatred on his face. He seemed to be about to get up and come at me again.
‘Don’t move,’ I screamed at him.
But he ignored me and continued getting up from the floor. ‘I said, “Don’t fuckin’ move!”’
But he wasn’t listening and began veering in my direction. I grabbed a pen off the sideboard and faced him, with it clutched in my left hand.
He got even closer.
So I stuck the pen right in the side of his stomach and felt the squelch as it oozed through flesh and fat. I didn’t mean to do it. It was just a defensive action. I pulled it out with all my strength and found myself staring down at the bloody pen in the palm of my hand. Moments later Terry doubled up in agony. I stood as he fell onto all fours on the floor and began crawling towards the door. I looked down at him for a few more seconds while he slithered into the hallway. Then I stepped forward and kicked him hard as he stumbled down the steps.
I didn’t care. He deserved it.