A KNOCK AT THE DOOR By Geoff Shaw, ex Professional Boxer
Having just received the week before my British Boxing Board of Professional Boxers Licence, it was 7.00 pm on Monday night Feb 1968. I was watching TV. There was a knock at the door. I opened the door to Billy Tansey my boxing trainer and Norman Hill a very good singer, a tenor and general dealer who had sang with the Black & White Minstrels and also on the radio. Later he was to sing at my wedding.
It was not gym night, which was Tuesday and Thursday nights and Sunday dinnertime. Norman came on, you are boxing tonight, a John Joyce from Huddersfield. It was at the Anglo American Sporting Club, I thought he was kidding; I was apprehensive, so soon without any warning. No time to prepare for my first contest, or to build up to it. Billy; “i’ve got you a dressing gown”. He pulled it from a black bag. It was granddad, check in colour, down to my ankles with a piece of rope to hold it together, “I have no shorts Billy”. He said use your football shorts and socks. “What about boots?” “Your pumps will do, we will borrow a protector for your meat and two veg” I had not got a gumsheild , no matter. Four fights later I made my own out of gutter pursher, purchased from the chemist. We set off in Norman’s comer van, it stuck of horse manure, a good job as I was shitting myself.
We arrived at the Piccadilly Hotel Manchester, the home of Anglo American Sporting Club, a gentleman’s club. The reception informed us to go to the 6th Floor. Out of the lift, a boxing board steward pointed us to two bedrooms, which were boxers changing rooms. I noticed a piece of paper on each door. I looked for my name Geoff Shaw and entered the door. My full name if Geoffrey Shaw Woodhead. I decided to box as Geoff Shaw. My mother’s maiden name was Shaw. If I would of used Woodhead I thought the crowd would be shouting timber, or some other comic crack. The smell from the changing rooms was like a hospital, looking at some of the contestants, partly changed, nice shorts, boots, dressing gowns with their names on the back, looking at the walls, plaster tapes and bandages covered them. Vaseline, bottles of rubbing oil it was like emergency ward 10, my arse was really twitching. I was to be the last on the boxing bill of for fights. I started to change, I was a bit embarrassed. They borrowed a protector from Amos Talbot, from our gym. I loosened it; it was a bit tight round the goolies. Billy Tansey and Albert Marchant had just arrived, my part manager, they started to cut bandages and tapes, they were for my hands. I thank god for that. My hands now taped up ready for the gloves. They asked me to punch their open hands to see they were not too tight, they felt good. I was rubbed down with Albert’s homemade rubbing oil; it smelt of wintergreen and white spirit. Vaseline over my face to help punches slide off. A boxing board inspector stamped my hands and passed for the contest.
A knock at the door, next contest ready. Billy picked up the dressing gown, opened it hung on me like a tent, tied the rope round me. “Lets go Geoff”. Taking the lift to the 4th floor above the Peacock lounge. The last fight finished, we walked down the steps to the ring, I did not look a pretty sight, something out of steptoes yard. We got to the red corner; I took a swill from a bottle of water and spat into a bucket full of blood and snot. Billy removed my gown; I went up the steps into the ring. A box was thrust through the ropes with resin to make your feet stick to the canvas to stop you from slipping, with me having pumps I don’t think it mattered. First round, Billy said to use a stiff jab, hands up. I practiced my jab with a steel bar in my left hand being orthodox. Shove off your back right foot; your punch comes from your feet. The referee called us together telling us to keep punches up, no use of head, break when I say break, good luck to both of you.
The bell rang; I walked to the middle of the ring. We both jabbed together. The first thing you do is to measure you opponent, for bigger punches the right hand. If you don’t hit him with the left you will be lucky to hit him with the right. He missed me. I hit him with a jab having shoved off my back foot; it hit him on the Vera Lynn (chin). Down he went, the first punch of my professional career. The referee shoved me back, the count reached eight, and he got up. We started again. I did not have the same success the rest of the round. Round two, I was trying to hit him with big punches, right hands thrown from the gods to no avail, I was a complete novice, round three and four the same. I was just ahead, my corner informed me. Round five, I forgot the jab, I was like a street fighter, I was running at him hands down. He threw a right hand, it hit me on the chin, I was on my arse. More shocked that hurt I was up right away. A bit stunned back to my corner end of round. Billy and Albert not pleased, they instructed me to box back to the jab, both very tired given all. Billy said to make the last round a good one. We threw a few jabs at each other, a big last effort. I shoved off my back foot. The jab hit the target, the chin. Down he went he took a full count. A win, a good start, a knockout with a left jab.
The crowd appreciated the contest. I have won my first fight. We got £1-10 shillings each nobbins. My purse for the fight was £25, less 25% my managers cut; bandages, tapes etc left me £18. I was working as a painter for Manchester Direct Works on £17 a week. Still not bad for a nights work, I thought I’ll have some of this.