History | Issue | Premium | Nov 11 2019

Yesterday’s Heroes: The tragic tale of the 14-year-old boy who died in the ring

Alex Daley looks back on one of the saddest tragedies the sport has ever known, from an age when boxing was poorly regulated
Larry Braysher

IT’S not well known today but before the Second World War it wasn’t uncommon to see children in professional boxing matches.

Many skipped the amateurs and boxed pro straight away, usually for tiny purses and their share of any nobbins (money thrown into the ring by spectators). Some boys were fairly matched against others at or near their age. But the less scrupulous managers and promoters pitted youngsters in their early teens against lads in their late teens and even grown men. Some boy boxers were relatively well handled and came through unscathed – Len Harvey (a pro from age 12), for example, achieved his full potential. Others, such as Nipper Pat Daly (a pro from age nine or 10 but “burnt out” by 17), did not.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy to stem from this era of child prizefighters involved a lad from Bristol.