Memories of a boxing champion on the pitch
Sport historian Terry Ainsworth recalls his memories of a boxing champion.
When I was watching Morecambe at the Globe Arena recently, Andy Chappell, a former North Lancs League player and part of one of the most celebrated football families in the area, handed me a piece of football nostalgia from the late 1960s.
The background to this charity match was to raise funds for a new play area in Ingleton. Desmond and Irene Redhead were instrumental in organising the game and Desmond came across a well-known face playing football in Blackpool and asked him to come and take part in the charity game.
If I tell you his name was Brian Sidney Harper I’m sure you will be as mystified as I was, but I know you will all recognise the name of Brian London, former British and Commonwealth heavyweight boxing champion from 1958-59.
Known as “The British Bulldog” and “The Blackpool Rock”, Brian twice challenged for the world heavyweight title, losing to Floyd Patterson in 1959 and Muhammad Ali in 1966.
Brian was a fitness fanatic, a lifelong teetotaller and in his seventies would still run 12 miles every day maintaining his fighting weight at the same time.
The charity match would take place between Greta Rovers and Ingleboro.
The lads playing for Greta Rovers would meet regularly at Dolly Guy’s Grove Café in the centre of the village and eventually Brian came along with a friend and joined the group.
The match drew a big crowd to provide funds to buy a slide, a swing and a see-saw which were placed in an area just above the swimming pool.
It is not known how the name, Greta Rovers, was chosen and even the result of the game.
Another memory of Brian London comes from Peter Bleasdale of Skerton who remembers playing for the Lads Club Old Boys in Blackpool, around 1960, and at halftime he was having half a cigarette with Jimmy Fagan and they spotted Brian London playing on the adjoining pitch for Squires Gate.
Their comment was, “it could be worse, Brian could be playing against us”.