THE EXPLOSIVE ROCKY KELLY !!

THE EXPLOSIVE ROCKY KELLY !!

Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth

Young Rocky with Ralph Young training at Hogarth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was born in Liverpool on 5th January 1963 to an Irish mother and a Caribbean father, and he was christened Hamilton Kelly.  When he was six years old he moved to Acton and, during his formative years, fate saw fit to deal him a diabolical hand.  He became a wild child heading in a dangerous direction.  Then he discovered boxing, and he grew up to become ‘The Explosive Rocky Kelly’.

He turned professional at the age of 18, and his fans were fanatical.  They loved his ferocious intensity, they worshiped his bravery, and their devotion was tribal.  He captured the Southern Area welterweight title in 1984 which he defended three times, and he subsequently made fearless challenges for the British and Commonwealth belts against Kostas Petrou, Kirkland Laing and Gary Jacobs respectively.  Throughout his life, bad luck has never been a stranger and he has had to battle through some seriously hard times, but there is something that nobody could ever take away from him.  When ‘The Explosive Rocky Kelly’ climbed through the ropes, there were always fireworks.

“It was Harry Holland’s idea to call me Rocky, because my story was like the Rocky story.  When I came from Liverpool to London, I used to get bullied a lot at school, because they didn’t like Scousers.  My mum died, so I was put in a children’s home and it was horrible.  The staff used to have to pin me down, because I kept fighting all the time, because I lost my mum when I was seven years old and I was really close to my mum.  Then this woman at the children’s home said to me ‘Hamilton, if you don’t get rid of all this aggression, they’re going to send you away.’  They were going to lock me up because I was too violent.  So she took me down to the Hogarth boxing club.  I walked into the gym, and there were all these boys punching, and I was frightened because they were all giving me dirty looks.  But I loved it.  I loved that feeling.  So it all started from there.”

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.

With fellow Hogarth boxer, Gary Hobbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Once I went to the Hogarth, I didn’t look back.  The training taught me discipline.  When I was a kid, I used to be fighting all the time, but, as soon as I took boxing up, it all stopped.  I didn’t get myself in trouble.  I didn’t do nothing wrong.  I just boxed, and I loved it.  I got as far as the London ABA finals and I got beat by Johnny Andrews.  I thought I won, but obviously I never because they gave him the decision.  But I fought him as a pro, and I destroyed him as a pro.”

At Hogarth, Rocky found himself an important ally, a man called Tim Cowen.  “When Tim spotted me, he didn’t like me at first. He thought I was a right flash little so-and-so, the way I was walking, and all that. But then we got talking and he fell in love with me, and his son, Chunky, became one of my best mates as well. Tim used to pick me up from the children’s home and take me on days out. He was like a dad to me. He was always there. I don’t think he missed any of my fights, and he’s still my friend now after all these years.”

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky's corner.

Tim Cowen has always remained in Rocky’s corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky signed up with professional manager, Danny Mahoney, and his memories of his first medical still give him the creeps. “There was me, Gary Hobbs and Mickey Harrison, and Danny Mahoney took us to this doctor in Bournemouth. This house we went to was like a haunted house. It had cobwebs everywhere. The door squeaked and the stairs creaked. So Danny gives this doctor a bottle of whiskey and the doc just tapped our knees with this thing, took our breathing, and he says ‘Yeah, these boys are all right.’”

In his thrilling professional debut, Rocky stopped Dave Goodwin in two rounds at Acton Town Hall in October 1981. “I was scared when I had my first pro fight, but, once you get punched, all the fear goes. I used to love watching Roberto Duran. That’s where I got my inspiration. I loved the way he fought, and I wanted to be like him. I’d want to get stuck in there, because that’s what it’s all about.”  He went on to stop 21 out of the 27 opponents that he beat.  If he went the distance, but dropped a decision, the score was always close.  His first loss, against Gary Knight, was voted ‘Fight of the Year’.  “When I fought Gary Knight, he broke my ribs in the third round.  I was in a lot of pain.  Harry Holland wanted to stop it, but I wouldn’t give up.  Pain didn’t bother me.  I used to love pain when I was boxing because pain makes you stronger and more determined.  I thought I beat Gary.  It was a close fight and I had him down.  But it was on his show, so, of course, they were going to give it to him.  He beat me by half a point.  They should have made it a draw so we could have had a rematch.”

Rocky freely admits that the fighter in him has always remained close to the surface, and he owns up to a spot of extracurricular activity during his second points loss, against Judas Clottey at the Crest Hotel in 1983.  “I bit him in the eighth round.  I was that knackered because I couldn’t hit him.  He was so quick and he was very good.  He had a fast jab, but he didn’t hurt me.  In the eighth round, I got him in a corner and he was trying to turn me, and I pushed him and I bit him on the neck.  It was just out of frustration.  Judas Clottey was from Liverpool and, funnily enough, when I went to see my dad in Liverpool years ago, Judas lived upstairs and I bumped into him.”

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.

With old opponent, Chris Sanigar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of Rocky’s opponents were forced to emulate his fierce fighting style just to keep him at bay.  However, when he challenged Chris Sanigar for the vacant Southern Area welterweight title in February 1984, he was matched with a man who also relished a war.  From beginning to end, the packed house celebrated the mutual bravery of two true warriors.  After a breath taking finale, Rocky had his glove raised and Sanigar announced his retirement.  “I was amazing fighting at the Albert Hall.  Down in the dressing rooms, it’s all brickwork.  It was a lovely atmosphere.  That fight with Chris Sanigar was out of this world.  He was a true soldier, old Chris Sanigar.  He was a southpaw, but I never had no problems fighting southpaws.  With Chris, it was just his long arms, having to get underneath that, which I did.  Harry Carpenter kept saying that he couldn’t believe the energy we put into that fight, because we went ten rounds like that, from start to finish.”

“I loved training, and we used to have a laugh together.  We were young men and we all wanted to be world champion, or be something. When Tony Rabbetts started training with us, after we’d finished training, me and Tony used to go round the corner for a pint and a smoke.  I shouldn’t have smoked when I was fighting, but I think smoking gave me something to prove.  They’d say ‘It slows you down,’ and I’d say ‘It ain’t slowed me down.  I’m still going strong.’  When I was fighting, I always wanted to prove something.”

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.

With old gym-mate, Tony Rabbetts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 14th March 1986, Rocky fought Steve Watt at the London West Hotel in Fulham. After a barnstorming fight in which Rocky stopped Steve in the tenth, the Scotsman collapsed and never regained consciousness.  He passed away two days later at Charing Cross Hospital.  It was found at the autopsy that Steve had a recurring brain injury and the fight with Rocky was the final trigger.  “If you saw that fight between me and Steve Watt, you wouldn’t believe it.  Me and him was toe-to-toe.  Sid Nathan was the referee, and he slapped us on the head because our heads were getting too close together.  It was just pure energy and aggression.  Steve was a terrific fighter.  The day after the fight, I went to see him in hospital.  I’ve walked in there, I looked at him and I thought ‘Is this what I do for a living?’  It definitely changed me.  I ain’t really got over what happened, and I still think about Steve Watt.”

Rocky took comfort from his army of supporters, and he pressed on with his career.  “I think I had one of the best followings in London at the time.  When I was in the ring, I could hear the people shouting.  One time, I was fighting this American geezer.  While we’re boxing, this fella is shouting up from ringside, ‘Use your jab! Use your jab! Use your right hand!’  It’s annoying, because you’re trying your hardest, and they’re trying to tell you what to do.  So I stopped boxing, I leaned over the top rope and shouted down to him ‘Shut the fuck up!’ and then I just carried on fighting.”

One of Rocky’s favourite fights was his British title eliminator against Tony Brown at Latchmere Leisure Centre in Wandsworth.  Rocky emerged victorious in the eleventh round, and he looked pretty in pink in the process.  “Me and Harry Holland used to go to Tenerife to train.  I’m black anyway, but I’d have a nice tan when I came back from Tenerife.  I wore the pink shorts and dressing gown because they showed my colour off, not because I’m queer or anything like that!  Tony Brown thought he had me.  He kept using his jab and his trainer kept going ‘You’ve got him, you’ve got him.’  Tony Brown was a good fighter, but I think I broke his heart because he kept hitting me and I just kept coming at him.  But that was a really good fight.”

In Rocky’s final fight, he drew with Winston Wray over eight rounds at Latchmere Baths in September 1989.  “I never knew at the time that Winston Wray was going to be my last fight, but I didn’t really want to do boxing anymore by then.  After what happened to Steve Watt, it changed my personality and the way I fought.  When I fought Gary Jacobs for the Commonwealth title, he dropped his hands and all I had to do was go bang!  But I hesitated for that split-second because I thought of Steve Watt.  Gary Jacobs was a good boxer, but I swear to God, if I’d have thrown that punch, I would have knocked him out.  But I never threw it and he stopped me on a cut in the seventh round.”

“If I’d have been boxing today, I’d get a lot more money.  We got peanuts in them days.  You see people now getting all this money, and I don’t think some of these fighters are worth that much.  Another thing is I think they should stop the crowd drinking, because that brings aggression.  After they’ve seen a fight, they think they’re boxers and I’ve seen fights in the crowd at boxing.  I’ve seen them standing up in the aisle pissed, and it’s not right.”

These days, Rocky is a popular face within the boxing fraternity.  “I loved fighting.  It was my life, so I’m really glad they appreciated my boxing and what I done for the spot, because I wanted to be the best boxer in the world.  I wanted to be British champion, I wanted to be world champion, and I nearly was.  I had my chances.  It was just the people I fought.  When I was training to fight Kirkland Laing for the British title, I was so fit.  But it was hard because, for Kirkland Laing, three times I was going to fight him.  The first time, we’re ready for the fight and he rings up and says he’s broke his finger.  The second time, we go to Tenerife and come back, and he’s broke his toe or something.  So, by the time I fought Kirkland, I was too fit, so I lost my fitness.  I’d gone over the top.”

“Kirkland punched me in the second round and the referee should have stopped the fight, because I got up and what saved me was the bell.  I got back out and I was pushing him back.  Then, in the fifth round, he brought this punch out and it was just like walking into a brick wall.  I got back up and the referee stopped the fight because I was cut underneath the eye.  I was so disappointed.  I was pushing Kirkland back, and I knew eventually I would have got to him, but I didn’t get that chance.”

“Mind you, Kirkland Laing was that talented, and I loved him.  After the fight, we ended up having a shower at the same time.  I just happened to look down and I said ‘Bloody hell!’  He had a willy down to there!  I couldn’t believe it!  I said ‘What’s that, Laing?’  He said ‘That’s me wood, man.  That’s me wood.’  Kirkland Laing was a funny guy.”

Rocky has been a fleeting presence at the London Ex Boxers Association for years, but he has become reunited with his old crew and it is fantastic to see him on a regular basis nowadays.  “All these people are gentlemen.  They’re all friendly, because we’re all doing the same thing and we all wanted the same thing.  Some of us got it and some of us didn’t, and the ones who did get it, we take our hat off to them, because you’ve got to work really, really hard to get what you want in this world.  There are some right characters here who’ve been around the block a few times, and we’ve all got a story to tell.  It’s really nice to be around these people, and I just feel like I’m part of the gang.”

Rocky and Gary Hobbs, still pals after all these years.

Rocky and Gary Hobbs, still pals after all these years.

MARK LAZARUS (Former amateur boxer and well-known footballer)

MARK LAZARUS (Former amateur boxer and well-known footballer)

Mark Lazarus

Mark in his QPR strip.

As an amateur boxer, Mark Lazarus favoured the art of defence and ring generalship. As a footballer, he was definitely more of a reactionary spirit. In his era, the leather football soaking wet and caked with mud was comparable to a medicine ball, and heavy tactics were entrenched in the game. Mark was a right-winger who took intimidation in his stride and, as a result of his hard-running and fearless approach, together with his instinctive propensity to outwit the fullbacks, cut in and score goals, he became one of the most sought after players in the country.

During his 20 year professional career, Mark made 606 appearances in total and scored 151 goals. He played for Leyton Orient, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford and Crystal Palace, but his true love was Queens Park Rangers, for whom he played 206 times and put 76 balls into the back of the net. He completed three separate stints for QPR, during the third of which he scored the winner against West Bromwich Albion in front of a crowd of 100,000 at Wembley, ensuring that Rangers became the first ever Third Division team to win the Football League Cup.

Mark was born on 5th December 1938 in Stepney.  He was one of eight boys and five girls, and they were a formidable family.  All the boys boxed, most notably Harry and Lew, who boxed professionally and prolifically under the name Lazar, and the girls were also capable combatants.  “My brothers in order of age were Harry, David, Eddie, Lew, Mossie, Bobby, me, and Joe. My eldest sister’s name was Rosie. Then came Rayner, who was Harry’s twin. Then came Carol, then Sarah, and my youngest sister’s name was Betty.  My sister, Carol, was a right tearaway.  She was the best fighter in the boys’ school!”

When Mark was six years old, the Lazarus family moved to Chadwell Heath.  “That was in 1945, just after the war finished, and Essex was very different for us coming from the East End.  You’d hardly see a car, just horses trotting down the Arterial Road.  We were possibly the only Jewish people out that far, and I wouldn’t call it abuse, but we did used to get called a lot of names on our way to and from school.  My mother said ‘If anybody calls you anything to do with Jews, you go and sort them out.’  So we used to do that daily.  It earned us a reputation that other people got to know, and they were very wary of us.”

“My dad’s name was Isaac, and he was quite interested in boxing, but he didn’t take the same sort of interest as my mum did.  My mum was called Martha, and she used to watch me play all the time.  She wouldn’t miss a game, and she was the same with Lew and Harry.  She was at all their fights.  My mum was a very, very proud woman of all her children.  In my house, when we got up in the morning and we were downstairs chatting, it wasn’t ‘How did Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea get on yesterday?’  It was ‘How did Sugar Ray Robinson get on?’  We’d talk about Randolph Turpin, Freddie Mills, Bruce Woodcock and Joe Baksi.  There was never any football spoken in my house.  It was all boxing.  I enjoyed playing football at school and things like that, but I didn’t know anything about football or football players.”

“I used to go with my brother, Lew, when he was training at Jack Solomons’ gym in Windmill Street, and I became Snowy Buckingham’s right-hand boy.  I’d be the one that would undo the boots of Yolande Pompey, Jake Tuli, Alex Buxton and Henry Cooper.  I used to get their skipping ropes for them.  I used to help them on with their gloves, and Jack Solomons used to order me around; ‘Go and sit on his legs while he does his press-ups,’ and things like that.  I helped with Terry Downes as well, who finished up a very good mate of mine, and I went all over the show with Sammy McCarthy.”

In the QPR locker room.

In the QPR locker room.

“I boxed for three different clubs, Dagenham Trades, Lawnsway and Stepney & St George’s.  I didn’t have that many fights, but I never got beat.  I boxed at Mile End Baths against a fella, I think his name was Burke, who was the London Federation Boys’ Champion, and I boxed the London Schoolboy Champion who boxed against the Golden Gloves Team from America.  I think I was a better boxer than I was a footballer and I could have turned to boxing quite easy, but I was playing football quite a bit and a lot of clubs wanted me to sign for them.  When I signed for Leyton Orient as a professional, the Amateur Boxing Association stopped me from boxing.  So I think I took the right step.”

“When Mark was 15 years old, he joined Wingate Football Club, which was an all Jewish side.  “When I was playing football, amateurs never got paid, and there was the old saying that you’d find a couple of quid in your boot after the game.  I was playing for the Fulham youth team at the time, and Wingate offered me more than a couple of quid to play for them.  So it was nothing to do with religion or anything like that.  It was strictly all down to money.  Bearing in mind that it’s a long time ago now, I can’t remember all of the names, but Frankie Vaughan was on the Wingate team.”

In 1957, Leyton Orient manager, Alec Stock, spotted Mark’s talent and signed him up.  “I played my first game for Leyton Orient just before I went in the army to do my National Service.  I was in the Royal Artillery, and I hated every minute of it.  Bearing in mind I’d just turned pro as a footballer at the age of 19, they took two years of my life, which was just really starting.  All of a sudden, I was taken away from that environment to become a soldier, which I couldn’t handle either.  I was posted at Woolwich, which was just across the water.  Every Saturday when I played for Orient, all I had to do was get on the ferry, so that was no hardship.  The hardship of it was being in the army itself.  While I was in the army, Alec Stock moved from Leyton Orient to Queens Park Rangers.  I still played for Orient right up until I got demobbed in 1960, and the new manager there, Les Gore, told me quite frankly that he didn’t think I had a career left in me, but Alec Stock did and he wanted me to go to QPR, and that was the story of how I went over to Rangers.”

“I wouldn’t say I was an aggressive player, but I was retaliatory.  If someone kicked me, I wanted to kick them back.  If they insulted me in any way, I was prone to knock them down. I stood up for myself.  The word was that most of the wingers were frightened of certain fullbacks in my day.  But I got in where it hurt, and the fullbacks and defenders knew that they wouldn’t be able to kick me or shove me around . I’d go past a fullback and he’d say ‘You go past me again and I’ll break your legs,’ and I used to just laugh at them.  They were more or less the same size as me, some of them bigger, some of them nuttier, and some of them older.  Sometimes, they came down the ranks from the First Division, and they weren’t as quick or as good as they were, so they reverted to kicking you instead.  I was brought up with football as a contact sport.  Today, if you touch anybody, the referee blows for a foul on you.  I’d have been sent off every game if I was playing today.”

“I never asked for a transfer from Queens Park Rangers.  I was the top dog there, I loved it and they didn’t want me to go.  But other clubs were coming after me, and Wolverhampton Wanderers was the top team in the country.  They were as big as Manchester United are today.  Nobody wanted to refuse to go to Wolverhampton Wanderers in them days, so I signed with them for a record fee at the time of £27,500.  But I was never happy at Wolverhampton.  There were personality clashes with Stan Cullis, who was the manager at Wolves at the time.  I never agreed to live in Wolverhampton.  When I signed for them, he promised me that I wouldn’t have to.  Once I’d signed, he went back on his word and kept telling me to come up there.  The whole thing really was a mistake.  Stan Cullis was a sergeant major in the army and he produced that attitude as a manager.  He was one of those types of people that I just couldn’t get on with, so I asked to get away.”

“Alec Stock, who loved me to pieces, as a player that is, had no hesitancy in bringing me back to Queens Park Rangers, and it was like I’d come home.  I got a very good ovation from the fans when I went back, and I carried on where I’d left off. I used to enjoy my football, and I suppose I was a character.  I used to give them a little bit of showmanship.  I used to do a lap of honour once I scored a goal, and I used to shake people’s hands on the touchline.  In them days, we made ourselves accessible to the fans.  We used to travel to matches with them on the train and spend time with them at the supporters’ club, and they enjoyed it as much as we did.”

Mark and his team mates with the Football League Cup.

In 1964, Mark was sold again, this time to Brentford, where he spent two years, made 62 appearances and scored 20 goals, before he returned to QPR for the final time.  He set a record for the same player returning to the same side and, on 4th March 1967, in that hallowed Cup Final against West Bromwich Albion, Mark scored the winning goal in the 81st minute.  “People always ask me what it felt like to score at Wembley, but it doesn’t register with you at the time. We were professional people and things happen in a split second.  I took my chance, I shot the ball into the back of the net, and it just happened to be the winning goal.  So that’s more significant than, say, Roger Morgan who scored the first goal or Rodney Marsh who scored the second goal.  When you score the winning goal, there’s much more to it.  Being a winger, if someone else is in a better position to score, then you give him the chance to score.  Although I got a lot of pleasure out of laying on goals for other people, it’s not the same feeling as scoring yourself.”

In 1967, Mark became a wanted man again, this time by the manager of Crystal Palace, Bert Head, who was convinced that Mark was the key player to achieving promotion.  Mark played for Palace for two years, and they were indeed promoted to the First Division for the first time.  “Towards the end of my career, before I went to Crystal Palace, there was Reading and there was Luton Town who were pushing for promotion as well.  Both these teams came to get me, because they knew that I’d get them there.  Then, when I left Crystal Palace, I went back to Leyton Orient and they were promoted to the Second Division.  I got promotion with three teams on the trot.  But I’d had enough by then.  I had a transport business running while I was at Orient, and I was a bad trainer to begin with.  After 20 years, I didn’t like the thought of getting up in the morning and going training, running round pitches and things like that.”

Having left major league football, Mark finished his career back where he began, at Wingate Football Club, an outcome which suited him down to the ground.  “I was at the end of my career and Wingate said ‘We’ll give you a few quid to come and play for us.’  So I just accepted that.  It was nice to get back there, and I was only too pleased to play for them again.  They said ‘You don’t have to come training.  All we want you to do is play for us on a Saturday, and we’ll give you so much a game.’  Seeing as I wasn’t doing anything, I thought it was the perfect thing for me.”

“When you’ve done what I’ve done, it’s been mainly for money.  It hasn’t been for the love of the game, or anything like that.  But, when I was playing in the First Division with Wolverhampton, money never came into it then.  I took a big drop in wages to go back to QPR, because I knew I’d be happy there. I had a love affair with QPR, and I had a very good relationship with the fans, but I also had a very good association with the fans at Brentford.  It was the same when I was at Crystal Palace and Leyton Orient. So I wasn’t money orientated all my life.”

It is now 50 years Mark scored that goal.  “West Bromwich Albion were a very, very good First Division side.  We were 2-0 down, and we came back and beat them 3-2.  Because it’s the 50 year anniversary, I’ve been to QPR and Wembley, I’ve been to a questions and answers session, I’ve been to a new strip fitting, I’ve been to the NFL Awards where we were honoured by the rest of the football community, and that’s all for this occasion.  Because I scored the winning goal, I’ve been right at the forefront of it all. It’s been very enjoyable, but quite emotional as well.  The whole thing has brought back a lot of old feelings, and football clubs don’t do this often enough.  When we go to the boxing meetings, all the boxers go there regularly.  Football clubs aren’t like that.  They haven’t got the same solidarity with their ex-players.  They come, they go, and they’re forgotten.  It’s not the same as boxing.”

Mark acknowledges the cheers from the terraces at the 50 year celebration.

Mark acknowledges the cheers from the terraces at the 50 year celebration.

PAT THOMPSON (Former Central Area light-heavyweight champion)

PAT THOMPSON (Former Central Area light-heavyweight champion)

Pat Thompson

The affable assassin.

His friends call him Killer, but one would be hard pushed to encounter a more amicable assassin than Pat Thompson.  When he speaks about what boxing has meant to him throughout his life, his face lights up with boyish enthusiasm.  He was born in Merseyside and his formative years were shaped by the fact that Liverpool was still recovering from the aftereffects of the Blitz, not that the lingering war damage prevented Pat and his chums from having fun.  “In the street where I lived, some of the houses were bombed, but they just hadn’t had time to knock them down and rebuild them.  We used to play in them, trying to catch pigeons and all that.  There was one particular street called Reading Street and there were all different landings and, at the back of them, people used to play dice and crap games, and everything was good.”

“I didn’t come from a traditional boxing family.  There was my mam and dad, and my three brothers and three sisters.  One of my brothers boxed, but that was about it.  They did an interview with me years ago, and I’ve still got the tape somewhere.  They introduced my mother and they asked her ‘What do you think when your son is boxing and he’s getting hurt and getting battered?’  My mam turned round and said ‘He’s big enough to batter them back!'”

“In the neighbourhood, all the kids were boxing.  I used to read about these fellas being good boxers, and the first club I ever joined was the Maple Leaf, but I wasn’t there for very long.  Then I joined the Liverpool Transport Club.  But, with me being a big lad, I was always a bit big to fight the other kids, so I only had a few amateur fights, about 15 or 20.  Having said that, I boxed for England and I won a silver medal in the Multi Nations tournament in Denmark, because I was good, see.  I got to the final and I got beat by a guy, and I can’t think of his name now, but he came in with a big Viking hat on him!  He was a giant and I suppose I was maybe a bit scared of him, instead of not worrying about him.  I went the three rounds with him, but I was grabbing and holding because he was a lot bigger and heavier than me.  But I won the silver medal anyway.”

“I joined the Merchant Navy when I was 15.  I went into the sea school and they used to have boxing matches every month, and I used to win all the time.  Then, after about three months, I went back to Liverpool to get on a ship.  I was on all sorts of ships, cargo boats, iron ore boats, passenger ships and tankers, and I was in the Merchant Navy for seven years.  I’ll always remember my first trip.  I was only 15, turning 16, and we went to Montreal.  It took us about a week to get there, and I remember coming off the ship and thinking ‘Blimey, they’ve got pigeons here!’  I didn’t realise that there were pigeons all over the world.”

“I was always training on the ships.  When I was on the deck on lookout, when I was supposed to be looking for ships, I’d be shadowboxing all the time to pass the time away.  One of the last ships I was on was the Empress of Canada, which used to cruise all around the Caribbean.  All the American tourists would be on the ship and we’d put boxing shows on for them, and then we’d go round with the bucket and collect all the dollars.  We’d have a share out and we’d all get drunk, and then we used to get fined a day’s pay because we all had hangovers.  But it was great.  I loved it!  It was just wonderful to be with all your mates and we’d box one another, but then we’d be the best of mates after the fight, so it was lovely.”

“I first came down to London with Pat Dwyer.  I was going to go back to sea, but Pat said ‘Come down to London and see how you get on down there.’  When I first came to London, we were living in a little hotel in Finsbury Park and then, when Pat went back to Liverpool, I was on my own.  Sometimes, you’d come back to the hotel, and there’d be three beds in the room and the landlord used to rent out one of the beds without telling you.  So you’d come home and you didn’t know who was there, but we got by.”

Boxing out of Islington, Pat amassed a record of 72 fights, with 38 wins, 29 losses and five draws in a career that lasted from 1972 to 1977.  He regularly fluctuated between light-heavy and heavyweight, and it was all the same to him.  “When I turned professional, Ernie Fossey was my manager.  In those days, if Ernie said to me ‘You’re fighting King Kong tomorrow,’ I’d have boxed him, because I knew Ernie wouldn’t have me hurt.  He really was a good manager and he was a lovely fella.  We had such a great time in the gym.  We boxed all over the country and we never stopped laughing.  To be honest, I was an average fighter, an ordinary guy, an eight round fighter, but I was always happy.  I’d fight anybody, and I was always in the gym.”

“I lost my first professional fight on points over six rounds in Manchester.  That was against a guy called Terry Armstrong, and I’ll always remember that fight.  It’s your first fight with no vest on, and it’s funny the things that go through your head.  Then, a few weeks later, I boxed Billy Brooks in London and I stopped him in one round.  Throughout my career, I won quite a few and I lost quite a few, but I never really got hurt by anybody.”  Pat actually boxed the above mentioned Terry Armstrong six times in total, the final of which provided the setting for the jewel in his career crown, the Central Area light-heavyweight title.  He took the vacant belt from the Mancunian on 1st April 1976.  The contest took place at the Adelphi Hotel in Merseyside, and Pat made sure that he was no April fool that night.  “It was like being king of the country!  I loved it, coming home with the belt and showing my mam and dad, and I was made up.  I thought I was going to be world champion.  I felt like a world champion.”

“When I defended my Central Area title, I boxed a fella called Alex Penarski at the Liverpool Stadium and everyone thought I’d won the fight, but they gave the decision to him.  John Conteh was fighting Len Hutchins the same night and Jerry Quarry came over to Liverpool to commentate, and the show was on the telly in America.  A lot of my family lived in America, so they saw me box and I’ll always remember what Jerry Quarry said about me.  He said ‘This kid has got the greatest smile I’ve ever seen.'”

Throughout the five and a year time-span of Pat’s career, he boxed an average of once a month, often getting the call at short notice.  “We used to go to the Noble Art Gym in Haverstock Hill on a Sunday morning and train.  I’ll always remember this one time when I came out of the gym and I had nothing going on, so I went and had a pint with the fellas next-door.  Then, when I got back to my house, Ernie Fossey called and said ‘Pat, you’re boxing tonight.’  Anyway, I boxed that night and, if I remember it right, I stopped the fella.  I don’t know how I done it, but I did!  But, even though I was a sort of ‘have gloves, will travel’ boxer, I could sell as many tickets as any of the Londoners, because I had a good name and I was with the right people, like Ernie Fossey.”

“Me and Billy Aird used to spar with each other all the time, and we did used to get up to a bit of mischief.  I’ll tell you a little story about big Bill.  We were in the Isle of Wight.  We used to have a free holiday out of it, because we’d go and spar with the kids over there.  Billy had a title fight coming up, and I said ‘Listen, Bill, don’t spar with them little kids because they don’t know what they’re doing.  They’ll come and smack you, because they’re only young kids.’  Bill said ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and this little kid went BOSH and he cut Billy’s eye, so Billy had to cancel his fight.  I couldn’t stop laughing!  But me and Bill, we always had great times and we were laughing all the time.”

“All through my boxing career, I laughed.  Sometimes, you’d have hard fights, but it was the good company that I liked.  I loved the camaraderie with the boxers and the banter.  I never got into much trouble, because boxing gave me discipline.  Every single fella I boxed, I’d have boxed every one of them again.  They were all good fellas.  Even if you get beat, you still like one another.  You stand together.  I had some great fights with Johnny Wall from Shoreditch.  I boxed him three times.  I won one, lost one and we had a draw, but I thought I got the three of them.  Another guy I boxed was Billy Knight.  He stopped me in five with a cut eye at the Albert Hall.  When he hit me, he hit me so hard that I didn’t know if I was in New York or New Brighton!  I was still up for it, but I was glad I got stopped with a cut, because he probably would have killed me otherwise!”

Pat’s last ring appearance was a points victory over eight rounds against Theo Josephs at the Norfolk Gardens Hotel in Bradford.  “I didn’t know that it was going to be my last one at the time, but I’d had 72 and that’s a lot of fights.  Also, I was getting married, so Ernie said ‘You’ll have to retire now.’  To be honest, the signs start showing when you start slowing up a little bit, and you know it’s time to step down and leave it to the young kids coming up.  I loved being a boxer and I really missed it, but, when you get older, your timing is just that fraction out.  You can see the shot coming, but you just can’t get out of the way and your reflexes start to go.  All of a sudden, your opponent is going to throw a left hand at you and you can see it coming, but, before you can get out of the way, it’s got you.”

“Throughout my career, I always worked on the building sites.  Sometimes, I’d go to work the day after a fight looking a bit bashed up, and they’d say ‘Hey, good looking!’  Then, when I finished boxing, I became a publican.  So I had 72 professional fights, and then I made it 100 by going into the pub!  But I loved being a publican.  You’re like the Lord Mayor.  Everyone knows you.  I had different pubs in the East End, and I did that for over 20 years.  Then, when the all-day opening came out, the pub game was finished then.  After that, I went into the catering game and I’ve been doing that ever since.  It’s similar to the pub game because you’re mixing with people all the time, and I love mixing with people.”

“Believe it or not, I’ve never actually stopped training.  These days, I’m down the gym about three times a week.  I was in the gym a while back and this kid came up to me.  I didn’t know who he was.  I’d never met him before, but he said ‘I’ve got admiration for you, because it’s inspirational to see you, the way you train.’  When I told him that I’ve been doing it for 50 years, he couldn’t believe it.  Obviously, I don’t do sparring, but, apart from that, I do the lot.  I do about 12 rounds, shadowboxing, skipping, working on the speed-ball, and I love it.  It’s great to still be around the boxing game after all these years, and it makes me feel young.”

Pat Thompson

Pat still packs a punch.

STAN KENNEDY (Light-welterweight contender who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties)

STAN KENNEDY (Light-welterweight contender who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties)

STAN KENNEDY

Light-welterweight who boxed out of Dagenham in the sixties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If there was ever a boxer as bashful about his ring achievements as Stan Kennedy, he would indeed be a hard man to find.  On a personal level, Stan is such an affable man with a quietly confident demeanour and a ready smile.  So, once we had the voice-recorder going and we embarked upon this interview, his candid viewpoint of his own shortcomings as a fighter took me by surprise – a classic example of just how complicated boxers can be.

“I was born in Olney in Buckinghamshire on 18th April 1942.  They say I boxed out of Dagenham because my family were evacuated out to Olney during the war.  Then, once I was born, we all came home again to Dagenham.  So I was born in the middle of the war.  I was one of eight children and, like it was for a lot of people back then, they were very hard times, but there was a lot of love in our family.  My eldest brother was boxing, and so was my next brother up, so then I went along with them and that’s how it all started.”

“I boxed for Ilford Boxing Club, which doesn’t exist anymore. I suppose I must have had 50 amateur fights.  But, to be honest, I was the most under-confident boy who ever boxed.  Because I came from such a poor background, I never had nothing.  When I used to get to the shows, I always felt a bit inferior because all the other kids had flash shorts, but anyway, I got over that.  As an amateur, I never boxed as a senior.  I boxed as a schoolboy. I reached the semi-finals of the Schoolboys of Great Britain, and I got beat down in Bristol.  I joined the Army Cadets when I was 14 and I got to the Army Cadets Championship final, and I got to the London Junior ABA finals, and I got beat by Johnny Mantle.”

Stan turned professional at the age of 19.  “I was Terry Lawless’ first fighter.  Funnily enough, I was speaking to his wife, Sylvie, two or three weeks ago.  I still keep in touch with her regularly.  Terry used to train me at the Duke of Fife in Katherine Road, East Ham, and I was lucky because I was the only fighter he had, so he really looked after me.  To me, Terry Lawless was a brilliant man.  The gym itself was really busy.  It was run by a fella named Bert Spriggs.  Terry Spinks used to train there, and Billy Walker, the heavyweight, he used to train there.  I got quite friendly with Billy.  He was a nice fella, a very quiet man in the gym, and I remember he was a bouncer down the Ilford Palais at the time.”

“There was an awful lot of boxing going on in the East End in those days, and the local paper was called the Stratford Express.  The boxing reporter was a bloke named Norman Giller, and he used to write about us all in the paper, so a lot of the fighters that came out of East London used to buy it.  All of a sudden, they put a photo of me in the paper, saying “This boy has just been signed up by Terry Lawless.”  So, after that, every time I won, the other boxers used to read about it.  After I had 12 fights, and I only lost two, the Stratford Express was reporting on how well I was doing, and then certain fighters, some of whom beat me as amateurs, they came to Terry Lawless, and it all sort of snowballed from there.  I mean, anybody can get a manager’s licence, but it’s getting the first fighter to go with you.”

“As I say, I was always the under-confident fighter.  I got knocked down so many times.  I remember, one time, I was boxing at Shoreditch Town Hall.  I must have had about seven or eight fights by then.  My missus, Diane, was in the third row from the ringside and, unbeknown to me, there was a bit of a scuffle.  Anyway, I fought this fella and I beat him.  I went and got a shower, come out to pick my missus up, and she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.  I said ‘Has anyone seen my wife?’, and they said “Yeah, they sent her over to the back.’  So I went over to find her, and her face was like thunder.  I said ‘What’s the matter?’  The thing was you used to have betting round the ringside in the old days, and my wife said ‘The two fellas in front of me, when you come in, one asked about the odds, and the other one said you only go down to push the betting price up, and that you’re a slippery bastard.’  So my missus got the hump with it and had a go at these two blokes.  They called security, and they carted her to the back of the hall.  It was funny really.  But, I mean, whenever I went down, it was never planned.  I just used to walk into punches.  I never got knocked out.  I got stopped, but I was never knocked out, touch wood!”

“For me, one of the best things about being a boxer was having my hand lifted at the end of the fight.  Also, I think boxing gave me a little bit of prestige, if you know what I mean.  You got some respect.  It made me feel, not important, but a bit special.  I boxed a geezer named Ray Thompson.  We both came from Dagenham, but he was a seasoned pro and he was a big hero of mine.  Although he was one of those boys getting beat, he fought the best.  When he was fit, he was a very, very good fighter.  He fought good class fighters.  When I boxed him, they called it the featherweight championship of Dagenham.  Anyway, he had me down twice the first round, once the second round, and I came back and I got the decision.  I don’t think I won it, but they held my hand up, so I must have done something right.”

Stan retired from the ring at the age of 24, and he was on a winning streak when he decided to hang up his gloves. “To be honest with you, I couldn’t believe my luck how my record had gone.  I was quite pleased with it and I didn’t want to spoil it, so I decided to retire.  I loved the fight game, but I never believed I was that good.  But, when I think back, I got to the Schoolboys semi-finals of Great Britain.  As a pro, I used to get knocked down a lot, but somehow, I kept getting back up and I kept winning.  I only lost four out of 23, so I didn’t do too bad really.”

Stan Kennedy (right) with his pals and fellow ex-boxers, Brian Hudson and Georgie Day, with the late, great Jake LaMotta.

THE BOROUGH COMMANDER AND THE BOXER

THE BOROUGH COMMANDER AND THE BOXER

James Cook MBE with the Borough Commander of Hackney.

James Cook MBE with the Borough Commander of Hackney.

As I stood outside Rectory Road Overground Station at 12.45 on a Thursday afternoon in April 2016 waiting for former British & European super-middleweight champion, James Cook MBE, a grey Fiat parked up at the kerb.  Two young men emerged from the car and remained on the other side of the pavement railing, holding a conversation in a language that I took to be Turkish.  A black teenager came strolling down the street and, as he passed by, the trio instantaneously fused into a hostile triangle of testosterone-fuelled posturing and projectile glares.  I was a mere few feet away, but I felt in no personal danger as the three of them only had eyes for each other.  The menacing exchange lasted for the briefest of moments, but the intensity of the display made me feel grateful for the metal barrier that separated them.

 

 

When James arrived a few minutes later, we headed off to Stoke Newington Police Station to meet with the Borough Commander of Hackney, Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Laurence.  Our mission was to discuss the Independent Advisory Group (IAG).  Every London borough has an IAG, consisting of police officers, including the respective Borough Commanders, and representatives from the local community who are termed as advisers.  Meetings are held on a quarterly basis, and an open line of communication is maintained at all times.  The key objective is for the Met Police to gain a deeper insight into the mood on the street generally and obtain guidance on various cultural matters.

As the Borough Commander explained, “We want representation on the Hackney IAG from as many communities as possible.  For example, our Chair of ten years is from the Jewish community.  One of our younger members from the black community is the Chair of the Stop and Search Monitoring Group.  Also, we’ve made some real inroads with the Muslim community recently.  We need people who are going to challenge us, absolutely challenge me personally and the Met as an organisation.  The whole purpose of the IAG is to check that we are getting things right.  I would imagine that all Borough Commanders would treat their IAG exactly the same as me, but it’s personal to me and it means something to me.”

James Cook, who was awarded his MBE in 2007 for services to youth justice, is the driving force behind the Pedro Youth Club in Rushmore Road, Clapton, an area of East London which was once described by the Daily Telegraph as being “more dangerous than Soweto.”  James had been an adviser to the Hackney IAG for five months at that point, and he explained “We invited some local police officers to come to one of our Pedro boxing shows and they spoke to me about it then, so I thought I’d give it a try.  The meetings are really good, because we’re normal people who want to help the community.  We bring things up that aren’t working, and the police are listening to us.  If anything is happening in your particular area, you might get a phone call or a text from the police to let you know about it and they’ll ask if you can try and calm it down.  A lot of people, especially the young people, would rather speak to somebody they know before the police come, so we’re there to sort of keep the peace.”

Knives confiscated off the streets of Hackney.

Knives confiscated off the streets of Hackney.

In the Borough Commander’s modestly sized office there is a prominent display of the variety of knives that his officers encounter on a daily basis.  He told us that, during the seven days prior to our visit, 25 of these weapons had been apprehended.  He pointed to a horrifically offensive looking blade and remarked “That’s called a Rambo knife.  It’s not for filleting fish.  It’s not for butchering meat.  The only purpose of that knife is to cause serious harm and to kill, and there is no place in London or the UK for these knives.”

 

You only have to take a walkabout with James Cook in his area to appreciate the affable Jamaican’s standing with the locals.  He seems to know everybody, and he regularly waves across the street and swaps greetings with passers-by.  However, in the process of doing his outreach work, Cook acknowledges that he frequently puts himself at risk.  “I can definitely say that even the little ones are carrying knives now.  They’re trying to look up to somebody, and they’re looking up to people with big cars and lots of money.  The youth clubs and places for them to go are getting less and less.  At the end of the day, what do you want young people to do?  Where do you want them to go?  There may be five of them hanging about together on the street, and all of a sudden you’ve got a gang walking round the area.  We have all these different groups of people living in Hackney, and they’re not mixing enough.  At the Pedro Club, we’ve got three football teams now for the under-elevens.  I take them across to Hackney Marshes and I look at the ethnic mix.  It’s really beautiful, and the kids just want to enjoy themselves.”

The IAG concept was originally formed in the early-eighties in the wake of the Brixton riots, around the time when Cook was embarking upon his professional boxing career.  A responsible citizen who has been doing voluntary youth work since he was a teenager himself, Cook freely admits that the mutually cordial relationship that he enjoys with the Borough Commander would have been unthinkable in those days.  “It would never have happened back then, no way, which shows how far things have progressed.  Simon is a good guy.  He’s the Borough Commander of Hackney and, at the same time, you can talk to him properly and he means the things he says.”

James Cook’s multicultural football matches conjure up a harmonious image, but it should never be far from our collective minds that the scene which unfolded outside Rectory Road Station is the other side of the story.  The contribution that individuals such as James make to our communities is synonymous with housework.  One tends not to appreciate it until the job neglects to get done, a notion which the Borough Commander was keen to highlight.  “The work that James does is absolutely marvellous, and you don’t get an MBE for nothing.  I’m really proud to have James on my IAG.  If we think about the whole gang culture, if these young people have got nowhere to go, no positive role model, there is a big chance that they’re going to fall into a life of crime.  The whole idea of something like the Pedro Club is they’ve got somewhere where they can expend their energy, somewhere which is safe and where they’ve got good people who care about them.”

[Anyone wishing to contact James Cook at the Pedro Youth Club can do so at info@pedroclub.com]

James-Cook-MBE

Guardian of the streets of Hackney.
(Photo by Paul Osman)