Miles Templeton looks back on the North-West Counties Championships that often pitted Liverpool against Manchester
REGULAR readers of this column will know that I have a soft spot for amateur boxing, particularly for the golden era of the sport in Britain, the 1950s through to the 1980s, when amateur boxing was at its most competitive and the standard was so high. They will also know that I regret the changes that have been made to the structure of the ABAs, with the old regional competitions largely losing their identity. The London Divisionals, which I wrote about back in June 2019, were very tough to win, and the same is true for the North-West Counties Championships.
At that time, the North-Western counties were split into two regions, the East and the West. This meant that the lads from Liverpool, within the Western area, came into direct competition with those from Manchester, in the Eastern area. It would be difficult to find two English cities that have a greater rivalry, and this was reflected in the boxing when the respective champions from the two cities often met in the North-Western finals. There were, of course, plenty of other boxers from different parts of Cheshire and Lancashire who won these finals, including Frankie Taylor (Lancaster), George and Ray Gilbody (St Helens), Kelvin Travis (Oldham) and Steve Hill (Blackpool), but the lads from the two cities tended to dominate the event.
The championships were often held at Liverpool Stadium and at Belle Vue, Manchester, with Preston Guildhall and Kirkby Sports Centre also hosting them upon occasion, and the list of champions reads like a who’s who of British greats – John Conteh, Alan Rudkin, Joey Singleton, George Turpin, Terry Wenton, John Lynch and Robbie Davies from Merseyside, and Phil Martin, Ray Shiel, Alan Tottoh, Kenny Webber, Eddie Copeland and Lee Hartshorn from the Cotton City.
Let us travel back to one of these championships and sample the occasion. On March 15, 1973, the championships were held at Liverpool Stadium in front of a huge crowd of nearly four thousand. At heavyweight, Les McGowan of Speke, who was rated at No. 1 across Britain at the time, had to withdraw due to a back injury. This opened the door for Paul Sykes, a Wakefield lad who had recently enlisted with the Liverpool club, Golden Gloves ABC. Sykes had demolished former NW Counties champion, Terry Connor, in two rounds to win the Western title and he did a similar job on Manchester’s 19-year old Barry Peacock (Cavendish ABC) to win the title. He eventually lost out to Garfield McEwan in the ABA semi-final and McEwan went on to win the ABA title that year before becoming a decent pro.
Two other Liverpool fighters, Joe Lally and Robbie Davies, also won their titles at welterweight and light-middleweight respectively. Both were big punchers and Davies was in particularly devastating from when he dispatched another Mancunian from the Cavendish club, Carlton Lyons, by one-round knockout. Carl Speare, who as a pro fought Larry Paul, Billy Knight and Maurice Hope, won his only NW Counties championship by outhustling Terry Dolan (BDS) over the full course, and George Gilbody, one of the greatest amateurs during this era, won at bantamweight by a walkover when Keith Howard (Ardwick) withdrew.
Another exceptional talent, southpaw John Lynch of Kensington, won at featherweight by beating Paul Dykes (Brookdale Park), and Tony Carroll and Steve Hill were standout winners at lightweight and light-heavyweight respectively. Among these names were many future professionals and they all came through a tough series of contests to become North-Western champion in a challenging era. Since 1957, the two teams from the Eastern and Western Areas had competed for the Jack M. Peel Memorial Trophy, awarded to the Area who had the most winners, and the Liverpool lads had never lost it. In 1973, they triumphed by nine bouts to one, but only one of their representatives, John Lynch, went on to win that year’s ABAs.