IN many ways the 1920s and 1930s were a British fight fan’s dream. The sport enjoyed mainstream popularity, boxing plastered the sports pages of the national press, there were several times as many active British pros as there are now, and shows were put on multiple times a week in cities and towns nationwide. London was a particular hotspot, with venues in every part of the city open for weekly, twice or thrice-weekly cards. Plenty of exciting talents emerged, but with relentless fight schedules being the norm, many were burned out before their peak. One such fighter was Kid Pattenden, a British champion whose rapid rise was followed by rapid decline.
Born Alfred Edward Pattenden on November 21, 1907, the “Kid” hailed from Bethnal Green in East London. At 14 he joined the Webbe Institute, where ex-pro Joe Goodwin taught boxing classes. A superb all-round sportsman, within six months Pattenden was the idol of the club, excelling at all sports, but especially boxing. Each year he was a London Federation of Boys’ Clubs champion, and at 17 he outpointed future pro lightweight champ Fred Webster in the season that Webster won the first of three ABA titles. Pattenden could have gone far as an amateur, but times were tough and he needed to earn money.
On the advice of Goodwin, he left his job at a boot and shoe factory, and Joe, who was whip at the famous Premierland in Whitechapel, got him a 10-rounder there. Having suitably impressed, Pattenden was signed for a string of fights, and pretty soon one of the hall’s promoters, Victor Berliner, was managing him. Joe’s brother, Jack Goodwin, was brought in to train him. Within two years, Pattenden had KO’d Kid Nicholson of Leeds to become British bantamweight champion in his 27th paid fight. That was in June 1928 when Pattenden was 20.
But the Kid’s success was built on a style that was not conducive to longevity – particularly in an era of relentlessly harsh matchmaking. As former BN Editor Gilbert Odd observed: “Pattenden made his rise to fame with the whirlwind way in which he used both hands, and kept them going in non-stop fashion from first gong to last… [He] was unbelievably tough. He could absorb punches that would knock the average fighter cold; he could trade blows with harder hitters than himself and be the last to break off a rally. His jaw had a granite streak in it; his body was trained to the texture of teak; he had the fighting heart of a tiger.”
Pattenden victims included the great Nel Tarleton, Frankie Ash, Kid Socks and Johnny Brown (British champ at the time), and he boxed a draw with the world-class American Archie Bell. The Kid defended his crown against Young Johnny Brown – another KO win – but then lost it to Teddy Baldock in a May 1929 thriller described by Odd as “one of the greatest battles ever seen in any division.”
Two months later Pattenden was given a boxing lesson by 16-year-old prodigy Nipper Pat Daly. Afterwards he continued to win fights but by 1930 he was on a downward slope. Pattenden lost 17 of his last 24 bouts before realising he was finished. He could not time his blows with his accustomed accuracy, nor could he duck or sway away from punches as he once had. In his last fight, he was led from the ring completely blind. He recovered his sight but his eyes suffered nerve damage. Once the most feared ‘little man’ in British boxing, the Kid was a spent force at 24.
Pattenden, and many others of that era, were victims of unenlightened times, when lack of regulation allowed rife exploitation and ruined many budding careers.