Terry Lawless memories by Eddie Copeland
I learnt of Terry Lawless’s passing via a text from Kenny Baker early on Christmas Eve morning. The news of Terry’s passing brought memories flooding back from when I was one of Terry’s stable of fighters during a golden era of British Boxing and because we now have our newsletter back up and running I thought I’d share my memories with you.
Terry Lawless was to British boxing the equivalent of what Bill Shankly and Brian Clough were to football. Terry’s gym above the Royal Oak in Canning Town was nicknamed the fight factory, and with good reason, for it seemed Terry had the knack of producing champions off a conveyor belt.
Terry was part of a successful team which included Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire and Mike Barrett. Every manager needs the help of good promoters, particularly promoters with TV bookings and there were none better than Mickey Duff at that time, he had contract with the BBC and his shows at the Albert Hall and Wembley arena were regulars on Sports night and Grandstand. Terry found and developed the fighters and Mickey got them the exposure, and between them they turned fighters into household names.
My first contact with Terry Lawless came via Manchester United’s then (1979) Manager Dave Sexton. My uncle Ray was head wine waiter at United’s executive club and he followed my career and would talk to Dave Sexton about boxing and of course Dave Sexton’s father was Archie Sexton a former good class professional boxer. After winning the ABA title in 1979 I wanted to turn pro, Dave Sexton contacted Terry and Terry contacted me. I arranged to meet Terry and he took me to his house in Romford where I met his wife Sylvia who incidentally was born and brought up on Valance Road (where the infamous Kray twins lived). Terry was forthright and honest, he didn’t offer signing on fees as he felt it meant that a manager would look to get a return on his investment and possibly make decisions based on return rather than bringing a fighter along steadily. Terry’s philosophy was to develop a fighter to top level and that’s when he would get his rewards. I had 11 fights with Terry and he never took a penny from me, he only takes his percentage when you became a champion.
After signing with Terry my first appearance at the gym was to meet Harry Carpenter and the BBC crew who were doing a documentary on the British Boxing Board of Control who had reached their 50 year landmark in 1979 and as a young man turning professional they used me as an example of what the board do in regulating the sport. I was interviewed, filmed shadow boxing and skipping and taking a mock medical with the boards doctor Adrian Whiteson at his Harley Street practice.
I moved to London with my new wife Glennis and Terry got us fixed up with a council flat in Bow in the East End of London a couple of miles from the Gym. When I joined the stable, it was like walking into a who’s who of British boxing. At that time the stable consisted of John H Stracey WBC welterweight Champion, Jim Watt WBC lightweight champion, Maurice Hope WBC Light Middleweight champion, John L Gardner British and European Heavyweight champion, Charlie Magri British and European champion (and future World Flyweight champion), Ray Cattouse British lightweight champion, Mark Kaylor British and European middleweight champion, Jimmy Batten, British and European Middleweight champion, Kirkland Laing British Champion (the gifted one who beat Roberto Duran (Duran went on to win 2 more world titles), Sylvester Mittee British and Commonwealth Welterweight champion, Jimmy Flint Southern area featherweight champion. During my time at the gym other fighters joined the stable notably Lloyd Honeyghan and Frank Bruno both who went on to win World titles.
My very first week of sparring saw me with a young amateur (commonwealth games gold medallist) who was in London for some sparring, none other than Barry McGuigan. I sparred with Jim Watt who was preparing for his first title defence, Jimmy Batten (what a left jab he had), Kirkland Lang (what a talent he was) and Sylvester Mittee.
Terry had a way about him that made all the lads feel special, he was a master of psychology, he knew when and who to give encouragement to or give a bollocking when it was needed (Kirkland Laing got the most bollockings, it was the only way to get Kirkland to train).
Terry laid great store in the unity of the gym and any bad apples he got rid of, when I first went to the gym I took my new wife with me and a certain former British Featherweight Champion (who will be nameless) who was training fighters was bringing his lads down for sparring and while I was in the ring sparring he tried chatting up my missus and asked her out. When I found out later I told Terry and the following day Terry banned him from the gym (apparently others had complained of the man’s arrogance also).
Terry helped me in many ways. When I bought my first house I got the keys on the Monday, fought George Feeney on the Tuesday at the Royal Albert Hall and suffered my first defeat as a pro, I suffered a blow out fracture of the eye socket which kept me out of the game for over 12 months, with our first child on the way and unable to box times were hard but Terry and his wife gave us some furniture for the house and lent me some money so we could carpet the stairs and hall.
I had total trust in Terry as a corner man and as a coach and in fact I employ his methods in my own coaching and corner work. One of the main reasons I decided to turn pro with Terry was that I believed he would put my health before money and he proved it when I came back after the fourth round against Feeney, I knew something serious had happened to my eye and I informed Terry I couldn’t see properly, Terry didn’t hesitate, he called Harry Gibbs over and retired me, this was a fight I was winning and would have taken me on to a final eliminator for the British Lightweight title but Terry was true to his word and the Boxers health always came first.
Terry’s gym had a buzz about the place, the boxers helped each other prepare for fights and there was so much success it rubbed off on others and everybody benefitted. The gym banter was as sharp as the jabs, once in the changing rooms after a hard session Sylvester Mittee who always used the Queens English to its full said to Jim Watt, “I don’t know about you Jim but Im perspiring profusely after that session” are you? Jim Watt replied, “No, but Im sweating like a bastard’.
Terry was the consummate professional, he paid attention to detail and made sure all was in place so that preparation before during and after a fight was attended to. I remember when I was having my 3rd fight in Manchester at the Poco Poco club in Stockport, me and the wife would come home on the Saturday for the fight on the Monday night and Terry and Frank Black would drive down on the Monday. On this particular occasion Frank had persuaded Terry to go in his car rather than Terry’s, Franks fan belt went on the M6 and they arrived with minutes to spare before I went on, after the fight Frank told me he got a right bollocking of Terry for not getting his motor serviced and checked before winter so that fan belts etc don’t go on the way to a show (Terry had told him to get this done only a couple of weeks before and Frank hadn’t bothered). Terry never left anything to chance.
Terry has been described as a father figure to his boxers, an iron hand in a velvet glove and a compassionate manager who always put the safety of his boxers first. Whatever people may say about Terry, to me he was a great manager who produced many champions including taking Jim Watt at the tale end of his career, making some adjustments to his style and turning him into a credible world champion. God Bless you Terry, thanks for the memories and farewell old friend.