I was born in January 1940 at Sand Street, Collyhurst and was the second of six boys for my Mother, Eileen.
Myself and my brothers, Colin, John, Wilf and Stephen (sadly Wilf's twin, Paul, died in infancy) lived in Collyhurst and later moved to Blackley with our mother and her husband, John Burton (the younger boys' father).
My early life in Collyhurst was as happy as it was poor, no more than what downtrodden people could expect. We were poor, very poor indeed, but one thing a stranger would recognise straight away was that our two-up and two-down old dilapidated terraced house was spotlessly clean. My mother made sure of that. We had no carpets just cheap oilcloth on the floor. Our walls were not wallpapered but simply distempered. There was no hot water; we had to boil a big black iron kettle for that, so we mostly washed in cold water. Our toilet was situated in the backyard outside the house. In the winter it was extremely uncomfortable sat on the white washed toilet outside I can assure you, especially in the winter when the wind would whistle underneath the door. Toilet rolls were old newspapers cut up and pushed through a nail on the inside wall. There was no electricity our lighting was a little gas-mantle, which was positioned on an like an arm coming out of the wall. The sanitation was bad and dampness throughout the house with roof leaks all over the house. It was criminal to allow families to live in such sparse conditions.
However, what I remember most about my younger days was the unique community spirit in Collyhurst amongst all the people, it really was fantastic, and I mean that most sincerely. Although the people of the neighbourhood were poor, they were kind, honest, considerate, warm hearted and neighbourly. If someone was ill, there was always a neighbour ready and willing to help. Adults were respected especially the old age pensioners. There were no such things as a television, and very few families could afford a wireless set. The cinema was the main source of entertainment for all the family. There was plenty of play centres and boy’s clubs where youngsters could go after school and let off steam. Abbot Street School had a good one and I used to go there three times a week. You could do boxing; paint; watch the magic lantern or play five a side football in the yard. There was also Hugh Oldham Lads Club. This establishment had wonderful facilities for kids. I boxed there and sang or I should say, tried to sing!
Collyhurst Lads Club was another good place where lads could let off steam. There was also Ancoats Lads Club and Ardwick Lads Club. The adults had dozens of public houses, working men’s clubs, church, works and political clubs, dance halls and community centres. All simple, but harmless. Lads played endless hours of football on old derelict crofts or waste ground left after the German bombs. Girls played hop scotch, whip and top, skipped rope or played simple games. The main family entertainment was a trip to the picture house. It was quite common to see Mam, Dad, children and Grandparents all queuing outside the cinema for the doors to open. Near our house was the Rex cinema, on Buckley Street, later to become Bucknell Street This was quite a posh sounding name, but like thousands of others I only knew it as the “Cinny, the Bug Hut, or the old Flea Pit.” In fact it was about forty years later that I found out what it was actually named. My mother used to tell me that she was a frequent visitor to Dickie Banks cinema, which was situated near Squash Belly entry but which, was demolished in 1936.
I went to Saint Patrick's school and joined the Merchant Navy at 15 years old and left 2 years later where I worked various jobs in and around the Manchester area.
I became fascinated with boxing after watching a Newsreel about the great American world featherweight champion Willie Pep; and around Collyhurst lived
dozens of former boxers including the world class trainer Jack Bates, I would stand gazing through the window of “Harry The Barber's” on Rochdale Road, where Jack trained his lads and can remember
clearly the day when Tommy Fynan let me go into the gym!
I started boxing when a neighbour, Andy Lambert, took me to Lily Lane Youth Club. Fred Hampston was the trainer helped by Ronnie Furness. Mr Hampston made a great impression on me, he came to see my Mother and asked if she had any objections to my boxing and I began to dream of being World Champion!
After two years of training however, I had still not had a fight and each time I begged Mr Hampston to let me have a go he would always say the same "I will let you know when you are ready".
Frustrated, I left Lily Lane and joined another gym where I got my first contest within 3 weeks. I was delighted and couldn't wait for my chance of stardom- however, one minute into the bout and it was over- Harry Carter was the winner! I had one more try (which I lost) before Mr Hampston came and took me back to Lily Lane where I was much happier.
In the early 1950's Jack Bates moved from his gym on Rochdale Road and moved into the Rainbow Gym which was situated at the back of the Big Queen's on Queen's Road. This became like a second home for me, I used to sweep up and watch all the greats preparing for fights. Former lightweight champion Frank Johnson, his brother Jackie Braddock, Tommy Proffitt and Stan Skinskiss, were among the many who trained there.
I started coaching at the old Collyhurst Lads Club in 1965. It was situated on Willert Street, near the Police Station. The spirit fostered in this run-down building was second to none, and whenever the Collyhurst lads boxed on tournaments huge followers went to see them perform.
Under my leadership the football team won their League and Cup and the Boxing Team won championships year after year: National Schoolboy titles, National Junior ABA titles, England Schoolboy Internationals, Junior England Internationals, Senior champions and Internationals. I became the first Manchester coach to gain the ABA Coaching certificate.
Taking the teachings of Jack Bates, Fred Hampson, and Tommy Proffit and Billy Tansey as my guides I emphasised defence as the first policy.
In the early 1970's the Lads Club was
demolished along with the Collyhurst Flats and the club moved to its present premises above the Co-Op shop on Lightbowne Road, Moston. Success came thick and fast and I've produced champions with
class and flair. I had British, European, Inter-Continental and World Champions.
At first I did everything on my own, running tournaments at the now demolished St Edmunds Club on Monsall Street but did accept help from various people with the running of the successful project and I'm extremely grateful for all their help.
In the year 2000 I as awarded an MBE for my services to the community. I couldn't believe it at first and thought it was my kids or the lads at the gym playing a
practical joke on me! But it was real and I was extremely flattered.
In March 2000, all the family (including my brother Colin and his wife Pat) descended upon London to meet Prince Charles and later on, Sir Richard Branson, who was receiving his knighthood on the same day and invited us all to his restaurant, The Kensington Roof Gardens, for a party.
It was a truly special day and one that I will never forget.
In my life away from the gym, I married my lovely wife Rosemarie in August 1973 at Corpus Christi RC Church, Miles Platting and we have four wonderful children, Anthony, Damian, Christopher and Rachael. It has been great for me to see my children all grow into the special people they are today and now I have my beautiful Grandsons, Joseph, George & Joshua and Granddaughter Rose to lavish attention on and keep me active.
In March 2011, I decided to retire from boxing and concentrate on my family and my writing. Whilst I was sad to leave, I know it was the correct decision for me and I get to spend more time with my beloved wife and family.
I received the Sir Henry Cooper Services to Boxing Award in 2012 from the British Boxing Board of Control which I was thrilled about, I loved my time in the gym and the great memories I have will be cherished forever.