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Thursday, 28th May 2009
Sparring with Boy's Friend
by Terry McGarr.
B oxing, you either love it or hate it. Its violent, its bloody and the medical profession will try their damned hardest to ban it. On the other hand, its controlled and if you can imagine the bare knuckle fights of yesteryear you will understand why

Think of two men knocking lumps out of each other in the middle of a baying crowd and when one gets knocked down his "second" has 30 seconds to bring him back to the scratched line in the centre of the dirt (ever wondered where the phrases "Up to Scratch" and "Toe the Line" came from - well now you know). They had no gloves, no doctors and fights would last until one, or both of them, were in no fit state to continue. Frequently these fights would be raided by the police as they were illegal at the time but it did not stop boxing from taking place, and exactly the same would happen if boxing was to be banned today, so either love it or hate it, its here to stay.

There are a variety of boxing cards depicting fighters from the bareknuckle era through to the modern day and I hope to be able to bring you a small review on a set whenever I can spare the time and have the set to hand. Boxing is something I'm passionate about, being an ex-amateur and current ABA coach, so to try and take some weight off poor Franklyn's shoulders I'm going to don the gloves for a quick sparring session.

This first bout of sparring will be dedicated not to a cigarette card set but to one from an old periodical, some of you may actually remember it, I don't but there again I'm a youngster who was brought up reading the "Beano" and "Playboy". Its name was "Boys Friend" and the set in question is "Rising Boxing Stars", so lets see what we can make of these cards and try to see whether they rose to stardom or got knocked out along the way. I've got 15 rounds to get through with different boxers, so forgive me if I get tired towards the end. Here goes.

I'm stood in the red corner (no particular reason - I just like the colour), I 'm a natural welterweight weighing in a few pounds over at 10 stone 10 pounds but what the hell this is just sparring. For added novelty value I'm wearing Shorts with a Sylvester the cat cartoon up the side (please don't ask) and I'm confident as all my opponents are merely pieces of card

Rising Stars: Is a series of real photos with the reverse of the card dominated by advertising Boy's Friend. It is nice the card is dated, to think that was the day many of these cards were taken from their hiding place within the magazine. The photographic process certainly gives some of these boxers the sort of brooding menace they deserve.
The set was issued in 1922 as a series of 15 cards.

My first sparring partner steps in, card numbers two to fifteen are busy skipping, shadow boxing and working out on the bag. His name is George Cook and he is billed as the Heavyweight Champion of Australia.

1 - George Cook - Hmmm, the card says "Heavyweight champion of Australia" and that is all. Not a very descriptive card to set off with so lets see what other form he has. With a (very) little piece of investigation I can see that this card was sent with the issue dated May 6th 1922 - indeed all the cards were sent a week apart up to including August 12th 1922. Now I know for a fact that the Great Jack Sharkey "whooped this boys ass" on May 25th 1924 and I think that was the start of his downfall. Even Primo Carnera the "Ambling Alp" himself, the mob managed giant, was able to beat him twice in July 1930 and March 1932... but there again he could have had his own reasons for losing - nuff said when the mobs involved )better watch my back now). Mr Cook has got some form in the Card world though, he has appeared in all the following sets!

Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prizefighters (No. 4)
Godfrey Phillips - In the Public Eye (No. 4)
Godfrey Phillips - Boxers
Amalgamated Press - Champion Portfolio of Sport
Bunsen - Famous Figures (No. 407)
Football & Sports Favourites - Sportsmen
Willards Chocolate (Canada) - Boxers

So a good round really for George Cook, he may not have been real world class but he's made up for it in the card stakes I think so first round to him, thats me 10-9 down.

2 - "Johnny Brown, of Hamilton in Scotland, the coming Lightweight, won the featherweight ABA championship under the name J.Fleming in 1920", so says the card back. This little fighter also appears in Ogdens - Pugilists in Action as Number 7. According to the Ogdens card he adopted the name Brown when he turned pro and won the Scottish championship as a Welterweight which he eventually lost to Tommy Milligan. He was also beaten in 6 rounds by Alf Mancini in a championship eliminator match. Now to lose to Alf Mancini is no disgrace as people will surely remember the Mancini family of boxers, however the lack of card exposure does not bode well so I think I may have shaded this one with him being older than me (by about 80 years) and the same weight. I make that 19-19 on the scorecard. For the record he beat Bugler Lake who I'll be sparring with later.

3 - "Johnny Basham, of Newport in South Wales. Won a lonsdale belt outright, lost the european and british middleweight championships to Kid Lewis in 1921". Johnny Basham! What a name! If ever you were going to be a boxer then this is the name you should have, it conjures up images of the school bully - ooerr better run, here comes Johnny Basham. He actually started out as a Welterweight I believe and won the British Title only to lose it to Tom McCormick in May 1915. A well respected fighter who has appeared in the following sets: -

Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prizefighters (No. 21)
Cope Bros - Boxers (No. 58) - under the name Sgt Basham
Ogdens - Boxers (No. 9)
Boys Magazine - Boxers
The Marvel - Johnny Basham v Francis Charles supplement
The Rocket - Famous Knockouts (No. 7)

Now with a name like Johnny Basham, together with the card appearances above AND the fact he actually got into a ring with Ted "Kid" Lewis then I am obliged to roll over on my back here and stay down for as long as possible before getting up. 10 - 8 round to him which brings the running total to 29-27... Damn I'm 2 points down.

4 - "Charles Penwill. The ex-guardsman who is the most promising heavyweight boxer in England". Bring him on! Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough! For someone who WAS the most promising heavyweight - what happened. I tried to find at least something on this guy but..... nothing. Never appeared on any other card that I know about and can't have fought anyone of great substance. I pronounce myself a comfortable winner of this round - I can't knock him down cos he's a heavyweight but I'm sure I can dance in and out without getting caught. Could this bloke have been the fore-runner of Frank Bruno and Gary Mason etc.....? 38-37, I've pulled an easy point back

5 - "Charles Ledoux - The bantamweight who, next to Carpentier, is Frances greatest boxer. He has won many fights in England". Damn the little Frenchman, upon investigation he won the European Bantamweight title in 1915 and seems to be a little bit of a crowd pleaser. To be mentioned next to Carpentier in boxing terms is pretty good, and his card statistics say it all :-

Franklyn Comment:
Cohen, Weenan Famous Boxers #19. Fills in a bit of detail and it would seem the omens were not exactly great for European boxing even back then. Seems he was capable of knocking most Europeans spark out but when he sailed over to America the card describes it as, 'where he was unsuccessful in every encounter.' Given this set was issued in 1912, ten years before the Rising Stars set it makes you wonder how much more Rising the fellow had to do.
Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prize Fighters (No. 50)
Cohen & Weenen - Famous Boxers (No. 19)
Above set produced as Hudden & Co, and Teofani & Co
Cope Bros - Boxers (No. 23 and No. 77)
Boys Magazine - Sportsmen Strip Cards (USA) - Athletes, Aviators, Movie Stars & Boxers (No. 50)

Purely due to the facts that he appears twice on the Cope Bros - Boxer series and he was one of Frances greatest I think he would have peppered me with his Bantamweight jabs and I wouldn't get close to him. Back to 2 points difference I'm afraid 48-46.

6 - "Jim Higgins. The popular Scottish boxer who is the holder of a lonsdale belt record." Popular he may have been but unfortunately his information is a bit hard to discover. I even tried to look at the Lonsdale Belt record but couldn't figure out what it was. It would probably be smashed to smithereens now anyway. Not a bad show on the card front but not the greatest either:-

Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prizefighters (No. 38)
Boys Magazine - Boxers
Boys Magazine - Sportsmen

Bit of a lack of evidence of quality if going by the above, certainly not the greatest amount of card shows either. I'm going to give this round to myself mainly because I can and I will and I want to judge at the next Holyfield-Lewis fight whilst picking my nose and staring in the opposite direction. So my scorecard now reads 57-56 and I'm on a roll.

7 - "Seaman James Hall of Peebles in Scotland and the Royal Navy. Is generally regarded as one of the best lightweights in Great Britain and is likely to win the championship this year. Holds the welterweight championship of the Navy". Yeah, Right! Never heard of the bloke, I think he just likes dressing as a sailor boy. Only thing I could tell you about him is he was knocked out by Matt Wells, the ex-welterweight champion of the world, and his card appearances total a big fat zero. This was a resounding round for me, I really had him on the ropes but couldn't put him down - he must be used to all of that rocking and rolling on the ships. 66-66 now we're level - Wahey - "Full Steam Ahead" captain........

8 - "Bugler Lake. The young west countryman who won the bantamweight championship of the imperial services in 1920 in which year he did not lose a single contest. Bugler Lake is in the Royal Marines". Hmmm..... Royal Marines, I have pictures of men who could rip your throat out with a bent needle in my mind. Couldn't find much about "Bugler" Lake except that he fought Ledoux , had a couple of great fights with Teddy Murton (D and L) and had a brother named Percy. Oh yeah, he was also beaten by Johnny Brown of round 2, and had some great tear-ups with Charles Ledoux (Round 5) . I may have found a card though I'm not totally 100% sure :- Gallaher - Island Sporting Celebrities (No. 19) - under Billy Lake

May be the same person, may not, nevertheless this is a tricky round to call so I'm going to hedge my bets and call this round a draw..........76-76

9 - "Soldier Horace Jones. The Canadian Heavyweight who recently beat ex-guardsman Penwill in one round". Beat Penwill in one round eh! I'm not surprised, I nearly had him myself in round 4 you know! Found a couple of things about this guy but the funniest is that he beat George " 1 round" Davis in ........ you guessed it, 1 round. What a name eh! George "1 round" Davis, can't see anybody calling themselves that nowadays can you. Anyway, apart from obviously being in the army he also appeared on some cards:-

Cope Bros - Boxers (No. 56) - under Corporal Jones
Boys Magazine - Sportsmen
Willards Chocolate (Canada) - Boxers

Seen as he was a heavyweight and beat George "1 round" Davis, I'm going to say that he hit me once and I spent the rest of the round running away from the big sod... 86-85

10 - "Arthur Wyns - The best boxer Belgium has produced. Won the Featherweight european title in 1920". Now this is a man of mystery for me, Belgian boxers are few and far between and you would have thought I could come up with something on him - unfortunately not. If he had no other card entries then I would surmise that he was merely a large chocolate in disguise as a boxer. Other cards are present though, I wonder what they say about him :-

Cope Bros - Boxers (No. 110)
Boys Magazine - Sportsmen

I really can't decide whether to beat him or eat him, best boxer in Belgium....hmmmm. I think I'm going to be a little unfair on myself here call this round a draw because the amount of time that it would take to figure out what he was the bell would have gone for the end of the round 96-95. For the anoraks out this card and the Eugene Criqui one can be found with inverted backs.

11 - "Tommy Harrison. The British boxer who, by conquering Charles Ledoux, became a champion of Europe". Bloody hell, he beat Ledoux, the geezer who I couldn't get near in the 5th. Now its a good job I know that as I couldn't find out anything else about him, and couldn't spot his face on any other card. I think the only thing I can do is put this down to an absolute fluke win over Ledoux and go in for a tear-up. Then again I can imagine thats what poor Ledoux thought and did so I walk back to my corner a bit black and blue with 4 rounds to go.... I guess he must have learnt his lesson when he was KO'd by the great Jimmy Wilde back in 1916. Oh Oh - 106-104

Dick Smith: Rising Boxing Stars: "Boys Friend"

12 - "Dick Smith. Winner of the lonsdale cruiserweight belt and the most stylish boxer in England". Actually, Dick Smith won that Cruiserweight belt off one Joe Beckett in 1918, then he must have moved up in weight as supposedly he made George Cook, who I fought in round 1, look like a complete novice until the referee stopped it! Cardform, not brilliant but not bad, appeared in :-

Cope Bros - Boxers (No. 68)
Ogdens - Boxers (No. 6)
Union Jack - Monarchs of the Ring (No. 5)

Therefore not really a lad I relish fighting cos he's obviously a bit handy, I think I'll stop away from him to try and get my breath back for a round ready for a big finish.....116-113

Just look at those boxing gloves , they look designed to enhance the pain of being punched rather than softening the blows but I suppose it was an improvement. Mind you in the good old days of boxing there was an element of defence involved which, to an extent, has been removed by the fact the modern boxing glove softens the blow. There is also an arguement that the modern glove hardly improves things as it just allows a chap to take more of a prolongued beating before being knocked senseless.

13 - "Eugene Criqui. The famous French flyweight who has knocked out more opponents than any other living boxer". Flyweight? Knockout? You can't put them two words in the same sentence can you? Well in this case you can, he went on to win the Featherweight Championship in 1923 by knocking out Johnny Kilblane, only to lose it to Johnny Dundee a little later. He even fought Panama Al Brown in 1927! Card frontage is quite amazing :-

Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prizefighters (No. 24)
Godfrey Phillips - Sporting Champions (No. 19)
Bunsen - Famous Figures (No. 411)
Football & Sports Favourite - Sportsmen Strip Cards (USA) - Boxers (appeared in error under the name Joe Lynch)
Willards Chocolate (Canada) - Boxers

So although he's given me quite a weight advantage and I had a rest in the last round we both end up toe to toe in the middle of the ring and its scored as a draw....126-123. For the records this card can be found with an inverted back as per Arthur Wyns.

14 - "Frank Goddard. The well known heavyweight who recently defeated Bombardier Billy Wells at the Crystal Palace". Damn, I need to knock one of these last two guys out now! Well Mr Goddard may have knocked out the great Bombardier Billy Wells but I know he was knocked out by Frank Moran in 1920 who was the great white hope of the teens. Must have been well liked though as his other cards show!

Bursten & Isaacs - Famous Prizefighters (No. 15)
Singleton & Cole - Famous Boxers (No. 3)
Amalgamated Press - Sportsmen (No. 29)
Boys Magazine - Footballers & Sportsmen
Boys Magazine - Sportsmen Chums - Sports Gallery (No. 5)
The Rocket - Famous Knockouts (No. 4 and No. 9)

So a bit of a dilemma with this round, I need a knockout and I don't know which version of the fighter is going to come to the ring. Unluckily for me I think he would have been a bit too good and I would have ended up on my back again as the crowd goes wild. I stagger up to my feet as the bell goes...10-8 round to him which makes it 136-131.

15 - "Bermondsey Billy Wells. The holder of the Welterweight championship of Canada, who is one of the most discussed boxers of the present day". Well its the final round and I'm up against a fighter who was very, very active. He fought Pete Latzo to a no decision in 1922, the lost to him in 1924 and 1925, before having another no decision late in 1925. Were these two friends or what? He also lost 3 times to Young Jack Thompson in 1929,1930, and 1932, as well as drawing with the great Joe Gans in 1924. Early in his career he lost to Matt Wells. Alternative cards are :-

Boys Magazine - Sportsmen
Willards Chocolate (Canada) - Boxers

If ever I was to be knocked out it was to be by this man. Obviously he fought hard and often and made his living out of this game the hard way. Although his stats aren't particularly impressive I think because I've been beaten up by almost everyone along the way ,and that he's the same weight as me, he could have pushed me and I'd have fallen. The ref finishes counting and I'm seeing stars - if it had gone to the scorecards I'd have lost anyway - Bah Humbug! Better get back in training for the next.

Terry McGarr.