LARRY O’CONNELL

LARRY O’CONNELL

Larry O’Connell, a strong man in the ring.

Being one of the best known and most recognisable British referees we have ever had, it is sometimes easy to forget that Larry O’Connell had an exceedingly prolific amateur boxing career before he became the third man in the ring.  When I put that point to him at a recent meeting of the London Ex Boxers Association, he treated me to one of his kindly smiles that we all know and love.  “I had about 155 fights in total, and I won 130 of them.  I was 11 years old when I started boxing, and I never finished until I was 29.  I had so many amateur title fights when I was young.  Then I went in the army.  I was in the Royal West Kent Regiment in Maidstone, and I was Army Light-Welterweight Champion.”

“I boxed for the Fitzroy Lodge during the 1960s.  I boxed Dick McTaggart three times, and I beat him once.  That was a non-title fight.  But he stopped me from becoming ABA Light-Welterweight Champion twice.  He beat me in the finals in 1963 and 1965.   The thing was with Dick, you’d fight him and you’d miss him by just that much every time, and that would put you off because he was very, very fast, very quick thinking.  He’s a lovely man.  Every year, the first Christmas card I always receive is from Dick.  I get a Christmas card from him in November!”

“When I packed up boxing, I decided to become a referee.  The first fight I ever refereed was in November 1976 in London, and the last one was in 2007 in Berlin.  I wasn’t nervous or anything going in to referee my first fight.  If you’re not ready for something like that, don’t do it.  But I was ready for it.  One of the most important factors in being a good referee is you have to be a good mover on your feet.  You must use your feet to be in time with what’s going on in the ring, and, you have to remember, I was fit in those days!  I believe also that you have to have had experiences of your own to take into account.  I really do believe a good referee needs to have boxed himself.  Another thing is you learn from other people and listen to what people say.  I was very fortunate to have people looking after me and thinking after me, because it’s not easy.”

“Doing a fight that’s very, very close, and you know you’ve got to give a decision on it, that’s one of the worst jobs of the lot.  But, having said that, you shouldn’t be frightened of that.  You make a statement, and that statement has got to stand.  Integrity is more important than anything else.  And, if the crowd gets partisan, you should never be intimidated by people like that.”

“If you stop a fight early, you must know there is something going wrong.  What you do is you look after the boxers’ health, and that’s the most important thing of all.  If you let people stand up there and get knocked about, then you should be asked questions, definitely.  The main thing is, if something is going wrong for a fighter and you want to stop it, you want to get close well before it gets that bad.  You mustn’t run at anybody.  That’s the most important thing.  Don’t let a man get hurt.  When a boxer is really hurt, he hides it and tries to come back out, and he get hurts again.  So you finish it.”

“When it comes to a trainer throwing in the towel, the first thing you must do is take that out of the way, obviously to avoid any accidents, and then you should stop the fight straightaway.  You’ve got to do that.  If the trainer doesn’t want his boxer to fight on, he knows him better than I do.  In other words, what I’m trying to say is that, if the trainer feels that I’m being too long with his fighter and he wants him saved, I’d stop the fight immediately.”

“Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, I refereed the two of their fights and I got a lot of fun out of them.  They were both very professional and they both had so much talent.  When they boxed at Old Trafford in October 1993, that was one of the best fights I ever handled.  That was terrific, that was.  Quite frankly, I know Eubank talks an awful lot, but he’s really a lovely guy underneath.  Eubank was a bit special, and he treated me like God.  When I walked into a show and he was there, he would never walk in front of me and he would never call me Larry.  It was always Mr O’Connell.  I talked to Eubank very well, very easy.  Benn was, in his own way, a bit of a character.  He was a nice guy, but he was hard.  It didn’t do him as much good as it should have done, you know, but he was a certainly a character.”

“I’ve made a lot of friends in the boxing game, and I’m often surprised by the way people always seem to speak so highly of me.  The only problem I ever remember was when I was judging the first Lennox Lewis versus Evander Holyfield fight.  I think a lot of people thought, because it was in Madison Square Garden, that I bowed to the Americans.  Well, that’s a load of absolute nonsense.  It wasn’t like that at all.  I never, ever thought about anyone else outside, people calling and shouting and bawling.  There’s always somebody who doesn’t like what you did at one particular time.  When it came to judging that fight, Stanley Christoudoulou called it for Lewis, Eugenia Williams called it for Holyfield, and I called it right in the middle.  So how can that be such a bad place to be?”

“Honestly and truthfully, the best thing I ever done was to go refereeing, and I’ve been very, very fortunate.   I’ve done 1,700 fights as a referee and judge, and 200 of those were World Title fights.  I’ve done six World Title fights in Las Vegas.  I think that’s where I felt that I’d done very well, to get that far.  One of my favourite places that I ever refereed was on the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten.  That was Pernell Whitaker’s split-decision win when he defended his WBC Welterweight Title in April 1996 against Wilfredo Rivera.  That was such a beautiful place.”

“I had a wonderful time.  Mind you, I was always strong.  By that, I mean, when the fighters came in, I was strong with them.  Even with people I knew very well, it made no difference.  But I think I done all right.  I met some wonderful people, and it took me all over the world.  I might have made mistakes.  There may be something I didn’t see obviously, because I only see what I see.  Honestly and truthfully, I think there are an awful lot of very, very kind people who actually do a bit too much, if you know what I mean.  But I feel that British referees over the years gone by have been very, very good, and I hope I’m one of them.”

If Larry O’Connell had an official fan club, it would be fully subscribed in five seconds flat.  The late, great Joe Somerville, a jovial journeyman and booth boxer back in the day, once told me, “Larry O’Connell was one of the best referees I have seen.  You wouldn’t know he was in there, unless you tried to pull a fast one!”  Another London Ex Boxers member who was fully prepared to second that emotion was former British and Commonwealth welterweight champion, Sylvester Mittee (pictured with Larry below), who declared, “With Larry O’Connell, there was an open sincerity about him.  So, when he told you off, you never felt like you were being scolded.  You simply felt like you were being reminded that this is the way you should be doing it.”

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (A tribute to Will Jones, lifeboat man of 30 years and father of Ivor ‘The Engine’)

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (A tribute to Will Jones, lifeboat man of 30 years and father of Ivor ‘The Engine’)

Will in his days on the Holyhead lifeboat.

 

 

 

 

 

They say “like father, like son”, and that is certainly true in the case of Ivor ‘The Engine’ Jones and his amazing father, Will.  If anyone were to meet Ivor for the first time and they didn’t know anything about him, if they were to watch a film of Ivor fighting men like Billy Hardy and John Dorey back in the eighties with his ferocious and fearless fighting style, if they were to understand how his army of fans would follow him anywhere and fill out any hall at the drop of a hat, people could be quite shocked about that because Ivor is a quiet man who has nothing to prove to anyone.  Ivor gets the strong, silent side of his demeanour from Will.  Will is the source of where that comes from.

Will Jones was the coxswain on the Holyhead Lifeboat for over 30 years.  But, if you ever met Will and you didn’t already know that, he would never tell you about it.  My favourite story about Will in this regard is the one where he saved the same man’s life twice in one night.  It happened on 2 December 1966.  There was a terrible hurricane raging out on the Irish Sea, with the wind blowing at speeds of 100 miles an hour and waves reaching titanic heights of 35 feet.  A Greek ship named Nafsiporos was in big trouble off the coast of North Wales.  Her engines had failed and she was drifting helplessly towards the rocks with 19 crew members on board.

Three lifeboats were despatched to battle their way through those hellish waters to rescue the Greek crew, and Will’s boat was one of them.  Nafsiporos was a cargo ship and she weighed almost 1,300 tonnes, so the lifeboats were tiny by comparison.  When they found her, they managed to manoeuvre Will’s boat as close as possible to one side of the ship.  But, by now, a rigid life-raft that had been attached to the side of Nafsiporos had broken away and it was swinging about wildly in the ferocious wind off a single wire.

 

Painting depicting of the Greek ship, Nafsiporos, and the Holyhead lifeboat going to its aid.

As Will’s crew struggled against all the odds to maintain their position, members of the Greek crew started to make their way down a ladder on the side of the ship.  They had to dodge the swinging life-raft as they climbed down, and they took it in turns to leap from the ladder on to Will’s boat.  The first four made it, but the fifth one nearly didn’t make it.  Will managed to grab hold of the man and drag him on board, and then Will looked up and he knew that the life-raft was about to come down.  Will dived on the man who he had just saved and shoved him clear out of the way.  A couple of seconds later, that rigid thing smashed down on to the deck right where the Greek sailor had been standing, badly damaging Will’s boat in the process.

 

Between those three little lifeboats, they managed to rescue 15 of the 19 Greek sailors.  Very sadly, the final four refused to abandon ship.  The rescue operation took 24 hours, and it has been described as one of the most remarkable in the entire history of the RNLI.  Will received a rare medal for his gallantry from the Queen for his part in the Nafsiporos rescue mission.  He also met the Queen twice more during his three decades on the Holyhead lifeboat to be awarded further medals for his participation in other epic rescues.  But, if you ever met Will for the first time and you didn’t know about it, he would never tell you any of that.

Will with his medals that he was awarded by the Queen for his gallantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, there is one thing that Will Jones definitely didn’t mind anyone knowing, and that was the fact that his family meant absolutely everything to him.  He once told me that, when Ivor went to Newmarket at the age of 15 years old to become a stable lad for the Armstrongs, taking Ivor there from Holyhead and leaving him behind was one of the hardest things that Will ever had to do.  He said that going out to face a bad sea was nothing compared to that.  Throughout his life, Will was right behind Ivor supporting him in everything he ever did, regularly making the trip from Anglesey to London to be in his son’s corner.  Will passed away on New Year’s Eve 2018.  He was 91 years old.  He was a wonderful husband, a terrific father, and a lovely grandad and great-grandad.  Our heartfelt condolences go out to Ivor and his beautiful family at this very sad time.

Like father, like son, Will and Ivor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRIAN HUDSON (Former Southern Area lightweight champ and British title contender)

BRIAN HUDSON (Former Southern Area lightweight champ and British title contender)

Don't mess with him (Brian in his boxing days)

Don’t mess with him (Brian in his boxing days)

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was born in Woodford on 28th December 1945 and christened with the surname Hudspeth.  However, he is universally known and respected as Brian Hudson, the name he boxed under as a professional.  As with the majority of ex boxers of a certain age, Brian is the possessor of that certain old fashioned calm courtesy that makes one feel instantly comfortable in his presence.  His affable nature is underpinned by that matter-of-fact mode of expression that comes naturally to those who feel they have nothing to prove.

“My dad’s name was Tom.  He was born in Blackwood in South Wales, and he always kept his Welsh accent.  My mum was Florence, but we used to call her Flo.  She was born in Woolwich, and then she moved to East Ham.  When my mum was 17 years old, she was walking down East Ham High Street when they started dropping bombs on the docks.  So she ran all the way home, because they had an Anderson air raid shelter out the back garden.  Then her whole family got evacuated to Wales, and that’s how my mum met my dad.  My sister, Lorraine, was born in Wales.  Then, after the war, they came back to London where me and my younger brother, David, were born.”

“In 1950, I was supposed to go to my first school on a Monday, but it caught fire on the Friday.  So they put us on buses to an old prisoner-of-war camp in Chingford where they’d set up another school.  Of course, by the time we went there, all the prisoners had gone.  But, when we’d get on the bus to come home, I used to see a German helmet on the roof of this building.  There’s a golf course there now.  I still go by it now and then, and I think back to what it was like.  I always tell people I never learned much at school, but I was very good at digging tunnels!”

Brian did not come from a traditional boxing family, but his father was a fan.  “My dad had a mate, a Welsh fella called Billy Thomas who turned pro at the age of 16.  So my dad liked the fight game and, when I was 11, he introduced me into it.  I started off at the Woodford Boxing Club and, when they moved, I went to the Woodford Garden City club where I stayed until I turned pro.  The gym was in the Barnardo’s home, and quite a few Bernardo boys used to box.”

“I lost my first five amateur fights.  My fifth one was against Jimmy Tibbs.  Jimmy was a good schoolboy boxer, and he stopped me in the first round.  When I went back to the changing room, a tall fella followed me in with his big Crombie on.  He said ‘You’re a little bit short and dumpy for your weight, ain’t you, boy?’  I said ‘Do you think so?’  So he said ‘Yes, when you go home tonight, tell your old man to put some horse shit in your boots,’ and I found out later that it was Jimmy Tibbs’ uncle.  After that, I started winning a few and losing a few, but I always liked it.  In the end, I had 93 bouts and I won 64.  In 1967, I won the ABAs at light-welter, and I boxed for England in the European Championships the same year.  It was over in Rome, and I beat a fella from Switzerland.  Then I fought Valeri Frolov, the Russian who won the gold, and he beat me on points.  But, if I was going to get beat, it was nice to get beat by a gold medallist.”

Upon his return from Italy, at the age of 21, Brian decided to do away with his amateur vest.  “Towards the end of my time in the amateurs, Freddie Hill had a gym at York Way above a pub called the Butcher’s Arms, and he trained all Bobby Neill’s boys.  There was Alan Rudkin, Frankie Taylor, Peter Cragg, Johnny Pritchett, and I used to spar with all of them.  When I turned over, Freddie became my trainer.  I always wanted to go pro, and I thought I could get a few bob.  All I really wanted to do in life was get a house, where I could say ‘That’s my house that I bought.’  I was married at to Susan when I was 19 and she was 17, and we lived with my in-laws for four years.  Susan didn’t mind me boxing when I was younger, although, in the end, she didn’t like it.  When I was 23, we got a nice council house, partly because I did well winning the ABAs, so they pushed me up the queue because I put Wanstead & Woodford on the map for sport. But I always wanted my own house, and I got it in the end.”

When Brian turned professional, his manager was Sam Burns, who was the instigator behind the name change.  “Sam told me ‘When they send these reports through over the phone, there’s only office boys listening to the results and they don’t know one fighter from another.  Hudspeth would be too much of a mouthful.  Would you shorten it?’  I said ‘I don’t mind.  Do whatever you want to do.’  So he came up with Hudson, and I said ‘Yeah, that would suit me.’”

In September 1967, Brian made his professional debut against Ken Richards at Shoreditch Town Hall.  “I felt terrific, especially with it being at Shoreditch.  They used to lean over from the balcony and nearly touch you.  It was a great place to make my debut, and I stopped him in four rounds.  My favourite place to box was Shoreditch, and then York Hall.  The Albert Hall was very grand and it was a lovely venue.  But, at Shoreditch and York Hall, the crowd was practically on top of you, which was great.  A lot of people used to come and watch me box.  My dad used to sort all that out.  He used to sell a lot of tickets because I was a crowd pleaser.  I stopped 15 out of the 18 fighters I beat, but I wasn’t really a heavy puncher.  I used to throw a lot of punches, but I don’t think I was aggressive enough sometimes.  I had to be hit.  In most of my fights, I started off on the floor.  I would say I was more of a fighter than a boxer.  I’d be bobbing and weaving, getting in and letting them have it.  I could always hear the crowd when I was in the ring, and that would urge me on.”

Brian was a natural light-welterweight, but the Board of Control changed the rules and left him in a dilemma.  “My natural fighting weight was about 10 stone.  In 1969, because I went up the ladder a bit quick, they fixed me up with Vic Andretti, who was British light-welterweight champion.  But Vic packed the game up before I got the chance, and the Board did away with the in-between weights.  Sam Burns said I should go down to lightweight, because there weren’t so many boys about at lightweight.  So I had to lose 5lb before every fight.  It doesn’t sound a lot, but I was like a greyhound anyway.  So, a week before a fight, I was on a cup and a half of liquid a day, with no bread and no potatoes.  Back then, I was working on the Water Board digging the roads up, so I’d get very dehydrated, but it was a good job.  We used to get out early in the morning, get the work done as quickly as we could, and in the afternoon I used to shoot up to Battersea and train.  It was only a small gym above a pub, but Billy Walker was there, Chris and Kevin Finnegan were there, and it was a terrific atmosphere.  Then, after I retired, they brought the light-welterweight division back, which was just my luck!”

In May 1969, Brian won the vacant Southern Area lightweight title against Jackie Lee, stopping the Hoxton southpaw in three rounds at the Hilton in Mayfair.  “Winning the Southern Area was terrific.  It’s not like winning a British title, but it’s the next best thing.  I hit Jackie Lee with a right hand, and I heard Freddie Hill in the background saying ‘He won’t get up,’ and he never made the count.  I defended my Southern Area title against Jackie Lee about a year and a half later at Shoreditch, and that time I stopped him in four.  They used to say you’ve got to catch a southpaw with a right hand, although I always found it easier catching them with a left hook myself.  But Jackie Lee was a terrific boxer.”

Old opponents and firm friends, Brian and Colin Lake

Old opponents and firm friends, Brian and Colin Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of Brian’s old opponents who he is always delighted to see is Colin Lake.  They boxed at Shoreditch just before Christmas 1969, and Lake was retired in the seventh because of a cut eye.  “Lakey was a crafty boxer.  He’d draw you back on the ropes, he had all the old skills, all the old moves, and I was still up and coming really.  There was a five year age gap between us and, when you’re young, that’s quite a bit.  I don’t think there was much in the fight until he had to retire.  It’s great that we see each other regular at the London Ex Boxers Association all these years later and, what’s more, we’re not hitting each other!”

In May 1970, Brian challenged Ken Buchanan for the British lightweight title at the Empire Pool.  The outstanding Scot prevailed in the fifth round, but not before Brian had lured the ‘boxer’ into a fight.  “He caught me in the first round with a right hand, I think it was, and I was stunned.  I went forward, and normally, when you go forward, you don’t get up.  I got up and I was a bit dizzy, but I could hear them in my corner shouting ‘Claim him!’  So I claimed him and got through that round, and then I got back into the fight a bit.  I’d say that he dominated the opening two rounds.  Then I got him at close quarters and I was whacking him, and I think I won the third and fourth rounds.  Then he came back with the experience and he knocked me out in the fifth.  But Ken Buchanan was so quick.  I couldn’t believe how many times he was hitting me.  The only thing I can say is that, in his next fight, he won the world title.  So, if you’re going to fight someone like that who’s at their best in their career, that’s good for you.”

Brian’s penultimate contest was a swashbuckling upper and downer against Jimmy Anderson at the Albert Hall in February 1971.  Brian finished it in the sixth, knocking the former British Light-Welterweight Champion flat on to his back.  Anderson rose at the count of nine, but Harry Gibbs stopped the fight.  “Now, that was a fight, a proper battle!  Before I stopped him, he had me down four or five times.  Funnily enough, about 20-odd years ago, I was driving through Enfield and I saw him going round this corner.  I said to Susan ‘There’s Jimmy Anderson.’  So we’ve shot round the corner and he went into a phone box.  We’ve got out of the car and stood there.  When he came out, he was so surprised to see me, and then he told Susan what a good fight we had.  He’s a lovely fella and, cor, he could bang!”

Brian stepped through the ropes for the final time in April 1971 at the Grosvenor House Hotel.  He was defending his Southern Area title against Willie Reilly, and Brian was retired in round eight.  “About three weeks before the fight, I was in Freddie’s gym at Lavender Hill, and I must have hit the bag wrong and my left hand blew right up.  Freddie said ‘Don’t do no bag-work, sparring or nothing.  Just do general fitness, and the fight will go on.’  On the night of the fight, I’ve gone out and, the first punch I threw, I hit Willie Reilly on the chin and the pain went right up my arm.  I came back after the first round and I went ‘Freddie, my left hand has gone.’  Please excuse my language, but he said ‘So use the other fucker!’”

“Me and Willy Reilly were both cut, and the referee didn’t know who to stop.  Every time I threw the left hand, the pain was terrible, but I didn’t want to give up.  They should have pulled me out after the first round, got my hand better, and then had a return with him, but they never.  When I came out of the ring, I said ‘I’m going to pack up, Fred.  I’ve had enough.’  I was proper gutted, thinking they were pushing me out when I was injured.  So I retired and I was only 25, but I never regretted it.  It’s just one of those things that happen in life, and it’s all water under the bridge now.”

“After I packed up boxing, I went back to Woodford Garden City as a trainer, and I helped out there for about four years.  But, by now, I was self-employed working on the building sites, and I was training the boys three nights a week and then going out to shows, so I had to pack the training up and concentrate on my work.  A while after I finished at the club, they had a tribute night for me at the Prince Regent and so many boxers turned up.  It was a lovely evening.  They called me up into the ring and gave me a nice big silver plate.  Then they’ve only brought out Ken Buchanan!  He travelled all the way from Scotland just to be there.  I couldn’t believe it when he walked in, and it was terrific to see him again.  It was around that time that I joined the London Ex Boxers Association and, in all these years, I’ve always tried my best never to miss a meeting on the first Sunday morning of the month.  I love seeing all the old fighters and people I know.  Sometimes, I have fellas come up to me and they’ve turned up there just to see me, and they end up joining the organisation, which is lovely.  It’s the camaraderie, that’s what it is, all of us friends together.”

 

 

IVOR ‘THE ENGINE’ JONES (Popular bantamweight contender from the 80s)

IVOR ‘THE ENGINE’ JONES (Popular bantamweight contender from the 80s)

Ivor 'The Engine' Jones

Ivor ‘The Engine’ Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ivor ‘The Engine’ Jones is a decent, law abiding citizen.   He’s never been in trouble with the police in his life.  However, in the days when he took centre stage in the ring, if they had made stealing the show a criminal offence, Ivor would have been up there with Britain’s most wanted.  Be it at York Hall or the Albert Hall, Ivor rarely took a backward step from the first bell to the last, and his drawing power was phenomenal.  His family and friends travelled from North Wales in their coachloads, the Newmarket racing crowd came to support him en masse, a throwback from his days as an apprentice jockey, and he rapidly built up a staunch army of devotees from London, where he made his home in 1979.  In a sport where selling tickets plays such a crucial part, this quiet man of boxing and his barmy army of fans were every promoter’s wildest dream – although perhaps with the exception of the night when he came in on the wrong end of a close decision in the ABAs, and his followers became so irate that they send a pool table flying out of the window!

Born in Holyhead on 8th April 1954, Ivor comes from the most solid and supportive family.  “My dad’s name is William, my mum’s name is Elizabeth, and I’ve got two brothers, Colin and Robert, and one sister, Sharon.  My dad was the coxswain and the pilot on the Holyhead Lifeboat for about 30 years.  When my dad used to go out to sea, I didn’t really understand the danger he was in, to be honest, because I was too young to realize.  But I remember my mother used to sit up at night worried sick, listening to the radio in case there was any news.  When my dad was on the lifeboat, he was awarded a silver medal and two bronze medals for saving people.  My dad is 90 years old now, and he’s always supported me in whatever I’ve wanted to do.  We’re best friends, and we get on absolutely brilliant.  That’s meant a hell of a lot to me over the years, as it would to anybody, I should think.  My Uncle Llewellyn Jones boxed as a professional.  He’s passed away now, but, when I boxed, he used to follow me everywhere.  He loved coming to see me, and he was there every time.  He was all ‘Ivor this’ and ‘Ivor that’ and he supported me like anything, being an old pro himself.”

“I was working when I was 12 years old.  I done paper rounds and everything like that, but labouring on the building sites was my first job.  Then I left home at 15 to become an apprentice jockey at Newmarket for the trainers, Fred and Robert Armstrong.  I was at Newmarket for five years, and I enjoyed it.  I never had any races, but I went out on the gallops all the time and it was brilliant, fantastic!  I rode with some of the best jockeys in the world, like Lester Piggott, Brian Taylor and Willie Carson.  There were loads.  We didn’t really get to know them.  We just used to say little things about the horses, but that was it really.  Then, about 25 years ago, I was working in London and I was looking after a big house in Victoria, and who knocked at the door?  Lester Piggott.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was just looking after the house and he’d come to meet the owner.  He didn’t recognise me, but I knew who he was obviously, so we had a nice little chat then.”

Aside from the racing, as did many of the stable lads, Ivor also enjoyed boxing.  He was 17 when he first met his then-to-be trainer, Colin Lake, and theirs was a friendship that has lasted to this day.  “I was in my teens when I met Lakey for the first time.  All the lads used to spar in the loft at the Exeter House Stables.  There was an old ring in there, and we used to have to sweep up the straw first.  We used to have wars and I was useless really, but Lakey was coming up there watching and he said he could see a bit of potential in me.”

The bond was formed, and Ivor became one of Colin Lake’s protégés.  As an amateur, Ivor won the prestigious National Stable Lads Championship three times.  “Winning the Stable Lads was very important, definitely, not just for me and Lakey, but for the Armstrongs as well.  So it was good for everybody, and I got a big picture in Sporting Life.  But I was always going to turn pro.  So, in 1979, Lakey brought me to North London.  I stayed with Lakey for a while, and then I got a flat.”

That's my boy (Ivor with his trusted trainer, Colin Lake)

That’s my boy (Ivor with his trusted trainer, Colin Lake)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In October 1979, Ivor made his professional debut against Carl Gaynor at the Lewisham Concert Hall.  “When I turned professional, I had to go for my medical and this doctor was trying to find my reflexes.  He kept hitting me on my knee with a hammer and nothing was happening.  In the end, I was getting fed up, so I just kicked my leg out.  He said ‘I knew I’d find his reflexes,’ but he didn’t find nothing.  I’d just had enough of him hitting me with his hammer!  When I came out to fight Carl Gaynor, I felt great.  I really wanted it.  Carl was a nice little boxer, but I was so confident and I stopped him in the third round.  I loved being a boxer.  I loved the discipline it gave me, and I only cared about winning.  I would have fought for nothing, to be honest.  If I’m going to do something, I’m going to win.”

“I had some decisions that went against me that I definitely didn’t agree with.  To tell you the truth, the same thing happened to me in the amateurs.  I fought the best and I knew I beat them, but that’s what boxing can be like.  It’s all politics and promises.  I beat Robert Hepburn on points in my fourth professional fight.  But, when I boxed him in the amateurs, in the ABA quarterfinals, I knocked him down five times in three rounds, and they gave him the decision.  The crowd didn’t like it and there was a riot.  That was at the Cambridge Leisure Centre, and the pool table went right out the window!  I think all the later fights were put off, they went right into one, but I wasn’t even thinking about any of that.  I was mad because I didn’t get the decision, and that was all I could think about.”

“In the pros, I boxed John Dorey twice, both times at York Hall.  Me and John used to spar nearly every single day up the Thomas A’Becket and we were good friends.  But, when it comes to boxing, it’s business.”  The Engine was firing on all cylinders for both of his fights with the Eltham man.  The first time, in September 1982, Ivor beat Dorey by half a point, and the pair of them received a standing ovation, together with a generous cascade of nobbins.  They fought again the following March, this time for the vacant Southern Area bantamweight Tttle.  It proved to be another blazing battle and, this time, when the referee raised Dorey’s glove at the end, Ivor could only stand bewildered in his own corner.  “You see, for me, the Southern Area Tttle was going to be a steppingstone.  It was a starting point.  I was looking much further ahead than that and, when the referee raised Dorey’s hand, I couldn’t believe it.  I believe I won the second one easier than the first one.”

“One of my favourite fights was when I stopped Kelvin Smart at the Albert Hall.  Frank Bruno was top of the bill that night, and me and Bruno shared the same dressing room.  I think Bruno knocked his man out in three, and I stopped Kelvin Smart in two.  I got him with my favourite shot, my left hook to the body, and I really wanted that win, because do you know what he said?  The referee called us to the middle of the ring before we started boxing and, as we touched gloves, Kelvin Smart said to me ‘You Welsh bastard!’  I wouldn’t mind, but, when he won the British Title, I went and congratulated him and shook his hand.  So I knocked him down the first time and he jumped back up, but I think that was just reflexes.  So then I had to knock him down again.  My Uncle Llewellyn had just died before that fight, so, after I’d won, I grabbed the microphone and I done a speech at the Albert Hall.  I dedicated that fight to my Uncle Llewellyn.”

The Engine pulled into his final station in December 1985, when he lost a points decision to Shane Sylvester on a National Sporting Club dinner show.  “I already knew that it was gone by then.  The spark had gone away, and I knew I wasn’t the same fighter.  I never told Lakey at the time, because I knew he would have pulled me out and I didn’t want that.  But, after that fight, Lakey knew and he said ‘Right, you’re never fighting again,’ and I respected his decision, because, to me, Lakey is the best trainer in the world.  He’s my best friend.  We’ll argue.  It don’t matter where we are, and we’ll argue.  But everything I’ve learned has been off Lakey.  When he trains a fighter, he gives everything.  He did it with me, he did it with Colin Dunne, and I’ll always stick up for Lakey, no matter what.”

“The thing was, I was working all the time during my boxing career, on the roofing mostly, and the only regret I’ve got when I look back is that I should have packed work in really.  I knew I needed a few quid to live on, but I should have roughed it a bit more, so I could have concentrated more on the boxing.  I think, for any professional boxer, it is hard when you retire.  You don’t know what to do.  Some people go drinking.  But I was lucky, because I went straight into training.  I started working with Lakey down the Angel ABC, and we’re still doing that to this day.”

Ivor and Lakey enjoying a pint after training the lads down the Angel ABC in Islington

Ivor and Lakey enjoying a pint after training the lads down the Angel ABC in Islington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the face of it, Ivor’s demeanour is quiet, a trait that some mistake for shyness.  But, give him half a chance and, in what he deems to be the right circumstances, he’ll give you a glimpse of his mischievous sense of humour.  Along with Colin Lake, he is still very much a regular face on the ex-boxers circuit, and Lakey’s feelings for his longstanding pal came through loud and clear when I asked him for a quote to finish off this piece:  “When Ivor was boxing, he fought the best, and you wouldn’t want him in front of you, I’ll tell you that.  I’ve worked with some great fighters, and Ivor is one of them.  All these years, he’s worked with me training the lads at the Angel, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Ivor.  It would be too hard.  Me and him are the same.  One minute we’re arguing, and the next minute we’re laughing, but I’ll tell you this.  Ivor is like a son to me, and I think the world of him.”

 

 

 

 

JOE CRICKMAR (Stepney heavyweight from the 1950s)

JOE CRICKMAR (Stepney heavyweight from the 1950s)

Joe with trainer, Bill Wakefield

Joe with trainer, Bill Wakefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Crickmar is a much loved regular at the London Ex Boxers Association (LEBA) meetings which take place on the first Sunday morning of every month at a pub in Old Street.  With his craggy good looks and silver hair, together with his warm character and quiet wisdom, Joe could effortlessly put one in mind of an actor, or maybe a vicar.  As a boxer, he fought the best British heavyweights of his era, and he held his ground admirably with them all.  Born in Stepney on 4th January 1930, Joe’s fascination with boxing came to fruition in 1947.  “I first got into boxing when I was 17.  I went to the Stepney Institute, initially for carpentry lessons.  A lot of my friends were there who I knew in school, and they were boxing.  Johnny Gudge was the trainer at the boxing club.  Actually, Johnny went onto become a member of LEBA, and it was him who got me to join the association about 40 years ago.  Johnny Gudge was a terrific trainer.”

“I had about ten amateur fights, and then, when I was 18, I went in the army and did my National Service.  It was 1st April, the day I joined up, April Fool’s Day!  I joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper, working with the bombs.  I was stationed in Singapore, and I won the Inter Services Heavyweight Championship at Changi Barracks.  I got beat in the Far East Championships by Lance Sergeant Huggins of the Grenadier Guards.  Then my sergeant said ‘I’ve matched you in the Amateur Championships of Singapore.’  I went straight into the final, and I beat a big Malay Indian.  I knocked him out and I won the Championship at the Happy World in Singapore.  During my time in the army, I got made up to a Lance Corporal, and then I got made up to a full Corporal after that.”

“When I travelled over to Singapore it took a month to get there, and when I finished in the army it took a month to come home again.  The Empire Windrush took me out there, and the HMS Devonshire brought me back.  I went back to the boxing club and I won the London ABA Championships against a fella called Eddie Hearn.  I beat Hugh Ferns in the National semi-finals, and I got beat in the finals by a fella called Albert Halsey.  That was in 1951.  I can’t remember exactly how many amateur fights I had, to be honest, but I know I had a lot.”

“Then, when I was 22, I turned professional.  I used to idolise Freddie Mills, and he used to come round my house to try and sign me up with Nat Sellers, but I’d already said to Wag Wakefield that I’d go to him, so that’s what I did, and my trainer was his brother, Bill.  They looked after me all right.  When I was boxing, I used to model myself on Freddie Mills’ left hook and Joe Louis’ left jab.  Bill Wakefield used to say ‘Punch through them, not at them.’”

“My last amateur fight was a win against Dinny Powell.  Then, funnily enough, in September 1952, I had my professional debut against Dinny, at Wembley Town Hall, and I beat him on points.  I also fought Dinny’s brother, Nosher, later in my career at Harringay.  Before I boxed Nosher, I’d just had a hernia operation and my spring wasn’t in my feet the way it usually was.  Anyway, I got Nosher in a corner in a clinch, and he had his tongue out.  I caught him with a right uppercut and he nearly bit his tongue off!  The bell went, and he won the fight on points.  If that had been a little bit earlier in the round, I would have beat him.  Nosher had to have five stitches in his tongue after that.”

The boxing fraternity moves in mysterious ways, and it was a random conversation between fellow LEBA member, Ivor ‘The Engine’ Jones, and one of his workmates that resulted in Joe being visited last year by a real blast from his past.  Ivor’s colleague said he knew an ex-fighter from the 50s named Mick Cowan, who had boxed a man named Joe Crickmar, and you can guess the rest.  It had been 60 years since these two onetime warriors had met, which was when they boxed as professionals at the Royal Albert Hall.  So Joe had the surprise of his life when, out of the blue, Mick came strolling through the door of a LEBA meeting to find him.

Old opponents, Joe with Mick Cowan

Old opponents, Joe with Mick Cowan

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I boxed Mick Cowan twice as an amateur, and I got the decision against him both times.  Then we boxed as pros in April 1953, and I won that one on points as well.  Then, after we boxed, he came over to my house in Stepney Green twice to see me, and both times he missed me because I was out working.  So the first time I saw him after all these years was when he found out about LEBA because of Ivor.  He came all the way from Battle in Hastings to see me, and now he’s one of our members.  Mick was a good fighter.  I was frightened of his left hand, because he had a good left hand.  In fact, it took me all my time to get out of the way of his left hand. He had a better left hand than Joe Erskine!”

“I boxed Joe Bygraves three times, and I stopped him twice.  The first time was in June 1953 at White City.  It was one of Jack Solomons’ competitions, and they were picking the names of the boxers out to box each other.  They said “Joe Bygraves will fight”, and they all went quiet in the dressing room, and then they said “Joe Crickmar”, and they all started talking.  We got in the ring and Bygraves came out in the first round, banging and banging, and I was covering up.  The second round I let go with a left hand, right hand, left hook, and he was on the floor.  He was completely knocked out, and his handler said afterwards that it was because the sun got in his eyes.  So I had a return with him up in Liverpool five or six weeks later, and I knocked him out in the fifth round.  My wife, Rose, wrote to the paper and asked, ‘If the sun got in his eyes at White City, did the fog get in his eyes at Liverpool?’”

“The first time I saw Rose was when I was doing demolition work for my dad.  I used to work for my dad as a builder and we used to do work down her street on the bomb damage, and I used to see her then.  We got married in 1953, and we got a letter from the Queen, because it was the same year as the Coronation.  We received a photograph of the Queen and a big congratulations card, and we’ve still got that on the sideboard.”

Joe was the first man to beat Derbyshire tough-guy, Peter Bates, in 1954.  “I boxed Peter Bates up in Birmingham.  Rose came to see that.  She was at ringside.  I beat him on points, but he did put me down in the last round.  I got up straightaway, and then the bell went, and the local paper said ‘Crickmar saved by the bell’, but I beat him on points easy.  That was the first time Rose came to watch me box, and the last time.”

“I boxed Joe Erskine in February 1955 at the baths in Leicester, and he won it on points.  When Joe wrote his life story in the Daily Telegraph, he said ‘I boxed Joe Crickmar.  I beat him then, but I’d like to fight him again to make sure I’d learnt what he had taught me.’ Joe Erskine said that, and I’ve got in black and white.  So that was nice.  A month later, I boxed Henry Cooper at Earls Court.  He stopped me in five rounds.  I wasn’t as fit really as I was when I fought Erskine, or anybody else like that.  In the fifth round, he cut my eye and the referee stopped it.  I had to have eight stitches in my right eye.  But I kept getting cut eyes all the time, like Cooper.  We were the same like that, because we both had very prominent eyebrows.”

“My last but one fight was against Albert Scott, the South African Champion.  That was at Belle Vue, Manchester, and he cut my eye in the fifth round.  Then, in my last fight against Ron Redrup, I got cut again.  Wag Wakefield used to say ‘Your eyes are your life,’ and I was getting too many cut eyes.  In the end, that’s why I turned it in, and also because my wife wanted me to as well.”

“The thing I loved most about boxing was the fitness.  I used to love being fit!  I was running over the park every morning.  I’d go to the gym every night straight from work.  It was nice, and I loved all the people as well.  It was really lovely.  But retirement didn’t affect me at all.  I was a jobbing builder, and I just went to work to earn a crust of bread.  I’ve got three brothers, Reggie, Ronnie and Kenny.  We were all in the building trade with our father, and we were all happy together.”

These days, Joe is well-known at our LEBA gatherings for keeping us all in the picture with his excellent photograph books, which are made of clipped photos from old editions of the Boxing News. “When I first started coming to LEBA years ago, some people used to show you little photos, and I got an interest in it.  So I’ve been doing that for many years now.  What I look forward to most about our meetings is meeting up with all the boxers. They all come up to me to talk to me. They really make you feel like you’re a somebody, and it’s lovely.”

Old pals, Joe with the Author

Joe with the Author at a LEBA meeting.