A legend and a gentleman

THURNSCOE boxing legend Billy Thompson, who passed away earlier this month aged 83, was as modest out of the ring as he was devastating inside it. LIAM HODEN looks back at the life and career of 'the Pocket Adonis'.

BILLY Thompson's funeral took place yesterday, with his golden Lonsdale belt displayed on the coffin in a fitting reminder to his wonderful achievements.

He captured the British and European lightweight titles in a time when boxers fought almost every other month in punishing 15-round contests for far less money relatively than the fighters of today. Admired by analysts and peers, Mr Thompson was certainly loved most by the people of Thurnscoe who treated him like a film star whenever he returned following a bout.

Despite all his success, Mr Thompson's son Peter describes him as being very humble. He said: "He never talked about boxing much. A lot of the stuff we've learned about him has been through the cuttings and photos we've found in the last few years. He didn't volunteer stories and didn't boast or brag about anything he'd done.

"He never changed anything about his personality, he was always the same Billy Thompson. He had this infectious personality and knew how to talk to people. I think he would have made a brilliant Michael Parkinson-like interviewer. I've never heard anyone say a wrong word about him. Even the younger generations ,who weren't about when he was fighting, thought a lot about him."

After his father was forced to stop working due to a chest infection, Mr Thompson bought his family a farm in Thurnscoe. He always ensured that his parents and five siblings were looked after.

He worked at Hickleton and Houghton Main collieries and for most of his life he lived on Clayton Lane in Thurnscoe. Son Peter said: "You couldn't get him away from Thurnscoe, he was definitely a Thurnscoe lad."

Mr Thompson is survived by his three sons, Billy, Stephen and Peter, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife Marjorie passed away in 1997.

Born in New Silksworth, Sunderland in 1925, Billy moved to Thurnscoe with his family at an early age. He took up boxing as a schoolboy, becoming a national champion at 13. Billy was a highly accomplished amateur boxer, losing less than ten bouts. He won the Northern Counties ABA flyweight championship and the Air Training Corps title while he was a member. In 1944 he won the ABA lightweight championship, beating Scotsman J Cassidy to secure the title.

In 1945 Billy turned professional and kicked off his career with a win over Billy Cunningham after moving to the famous Solomon's Gym in London where he trained alongside a young Henry Cooper. He remained unbeaten in his first 20 bouts before suffering a points defeat to Stan Hawthorne, one of the few to beat him as an amateur, in a contest for the Northern Area lightweight title at Liverpool FC's Anfield stadium.

Billy would have his revenge a little more than a year later as the two men met once more at Anfield, this time with the vacant British title on the line. An emphatic third round knockout gave Billy his first professional title at a most prestigious level.He picked up the moniker 'The Pocket Adonis' due to his impressive physique.

Four months later Billy beat Roberto Proietti to capture the European lightweight title. Photographs of his return to Thurnscoe show hundreds of people turning out to greet him and he was hoisted onto shoulders to be carried through the crowd. He successfully defended the European crown on three occasions before losing via disqualification after the referee adjudged he had hit below the belt. Billy received two shots to win his title back but failed to do so.

In July 1950, Billy successfully defended his British title for the second time by beating Tommy McGovern on points in Staffordshire. This allowed him to keep his Lonsdale belt, one of the last to be made of gold. Such is its value that it is currently kept in a bank vault.

During the high point of his career, Billy travelled over to America on the Queen Mary to meet world lightweight champion Ike Williams. Alleged mob involvement put paid to the contest and Williams would instead fight another opponent. Billy was still treated as a celebrity and ate as a guest on the captain's table on the Queen Mary.

In his later career Billy had trouble making the lightweight standard. He weighed in at the welterweight mark in the points win over Jackie Braddock and again three months later against Tommy Hinson. Therefore, heading into his British title defence against the man who he beat for the belt McGovern, Billy was the underdog. Reports from the bout described him as weak, pale and haggered. With the first real punch of the fight Billy was downed and was near defenceless as he rose to fought on. Seconds later McGovern knocked Billy out and brought to an end his near four year reign.

After a few more fights at welterweight Billy hung up his gloves at the age of 27. Legendary boxing commentator Harry Carpenter paid tribute in a birthday letter to Billy saying: "He was one of the men I most admired and enjoyed watching when I started out in the business of reporting boxing."