The Lancaster boxer known as ‘The Toy Bulldog of the North’ has died at the age of 80.
Billy Nelson is regarded as one of the city’s best ever amateur and pro boxers.
As an amateur he became Lancashire Champion, Northern Counties Champion, Boys Clubs National Champion and Cheshire Champion, and was also ABA finalist.
As a pro the former Skerton Boys School pupil only lost 13 times in 53 bouts, most of which were through stoppages due to his notorious ‘glass nose’ which bled profusely almost as soon as anyone got near it.
“His tactic when boxing was to jab and dance, keeping his opponent away from that nose just like his all-time hero, Muhammad Ali,” said his son Robert.
Billy was born in 1936 in a lodging house on Westbourne Road.
He began boxing at the age of nine on St Georges Quay.
“I couldn’t join the club till I was 12 but I was nine and I was outside and it was chucking it down,” said Billy, talking to the Guardian in 2006.
“Billy Hodgson the boxing trainer come out and said ‘Who’re you waiting for?’ I said ‘Me brother, Ronnie Nelson’.
“He took me inside out of the rain and I started watching the boxing and I got really interested in it.
“I was boxing in competitions from when I was nine but I wasn’t supposed to do.”
His son Robert said: “Dad was always thought of as a stylish and graceful boxer rather than a heavy hitter – he did fight at the lowest weight division of under eight stones after all.”
Billy turned pro in 1953 as a bantamweight. He would go on to box all the way up to light heavyweight.
In 1954 he went into the RAF for two years.
He was outraged when he was told he would not be allowed to box in the Forces competitions as he had some professional fights under his belt.
“When Billy told the admissions officer that he just had to do something with sport they put him in charge of washing the football kits,” said Robert.
“He never forgave the RAF for that but he did wear his Forces veterans’ pin and Remembrance Day poppy with great pride.”
Billy was also asked to fight British Heavyweight Champion Brian London at Morecambe Winter Gardens. It had to be an exhibition as Billy was at least four weight levels below the towering London!
When Billy finished boxing he worked on the electric board as a cable jointer and captained the board football team in the early 1960s.
Billy married Anne Fitzpatrick in 1954 and was devoted to her until she passed away in 2012.
They had two sons, Robert William and Philip, who died in 2001.
Billy also had five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
He died peacefully at The Sands nursing home in Morecambe on October 24. Funeral arrangements are to be confirmed
Boxing historian Larry Braysher described him as “a lovely guy and a real character, what boxing is all about”.