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The brief but thrilling career of Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle
Alex Daley on Barnsley’s Blonde Bombshell, Shaun Doyle

CERTAIN UK towns produce more than their share of British titlists, but for others the wait can be a long one. In June 1917, Charlie Hardcastle became Barnsley’s first British champion, but he lost the title in his first defence that November, and it was 19 years before another Barnsley boxer even fought for a national crown. That was Chuck Parker, who in April 1936 lost to Dave McCleave for the vacant British welterweight title. It was over 30 years before anyone else from the South Yorkshire town got a shot at British honours.

Shaun Doyle, an all-action battler nicknamed “The Blond Bombshell”, was that fighter. Born in January 1945, Shaun left school at 15 to become a miner at North Gawber Colliery and learnt to box in a gym at the back of Barnsley’s Junction Inn pub. After just five amateur National Coal Board contests, Shaun turned pro under Peter Bates, an ex-heavyweight who’d beaten Henry Cooper in 1956. He made his pro debut as a late substitute at the Liverpool Stadium on September 12, 1963. Despite his lack of experience and a five-pound weight disadvantage, Doyle demolished his opponent, Tommy Waterworth, inside a round. A duly impressed Boxing News reporter called Shaun “a first-class crowd-pleaser”.

In his 19th paid bout, Doyle outpointed Liverpool’s Gordon McAteer for the vacant Central Area belt before an enthralled Yorkshire crowd at Sheffield City Hall. “The blond, tattooed Yorkshireman, who is only 20, emerged as a future British title challenger and a personality who will add colour and clout to the national fight scene. Winning this vacant crown has put him – and Yorkshire – on the boxing map,” enthused our reporter. At the time, Britain’s reigning 147lb titlist was the Swansea maestro Brian Curvis, who the previous year had gone the distance with Emile Griffith in a world title bid.

In his next fight, in February 1966, Doyle lost over 10 to the experienced American James “Silky” Shelton. But a month later Shaun outscored future British super-lightweight champ Des Rea in a British welterweight title eliminator. There was talk of Shaun facing Curvis for the title at Barnsley FC’s ground, Oakwell, but instead he was matched with Liverpool’s Johnny Cooke in a final eliminator in June 1966. Meanwhile, Doyle had found a new manager, the London-based ex-European featherweight champ Al Phillips. But former manager Bates had already arranged a June match for Shaun with Swindon’s Ricky Porter. An irate Doyle claimed he knew nothing about the Porter fight, but was ordered to face Ricky by the BBBofC.

Shaun outpointed Porter in Liverpool, but taking the fight effectively lost him the final eliminator. A few months later, Curvis retired and Cooke beat Brian McCaffrey for the vacant crown in February 1967. But Doyle at least got the first crack at the new champion. They met at the Liverpool Stadium in May 1967, and despite a gallant effort by Doyle, the seasoned 32-year-old Cooke outboxed him to secure the verdict.

Shaun was still only 22 and looked to have a bright future in boxing. However, the outcome of his next fight left him disillusioned. In November 1967, the hard-hitting Islington-based Letchworth welter Peter Cragg inflicted Shaun’s only inside-schedule defeat, when referee Bill Williams intervened in the fourth of a scheduled 10-rounder while Doyle was still on his feet. Shaun resented the ref’s intervention and never fought again. Later, he returned to the game as a promoter, and in 1976 was instrumental in bringing Barnsley its first British title fight when Henry Rhiney fought Billy Waith at the Civic Hall. Shaun was said to be delighted when in 1995 another Barnsley boxer, Chris Saunders, won the British welter crown he himself had battled for.

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