1 October 2007
That Sir Henry Cooper does not have any kind of major monument dedicated to him seems to be one of the more puzzling anomalies of the modern world.
Sir Henry, a south London man through and through, was born alongside his twin brother George (in Westminster but we'll let it slide) on May 3rd 1934 to proud parents Lily and Henry.
Until he reached the age of six, he was brought up at his parents’ much loved and happy home on Daneville Road alongside George and his older brother Bernard.
However, when the Luftwaffe became regular visitors to London nights, Lily and Henry decided to evacuate their twins to the south coast rural idyll of Lancing.
Whilst Henry was in Sussex, his parents’ house on Daneville Road suffered a direct hit from a German bomb and was entirely destroyed. His parents decided they had enough of city life for the time being and moved to a countryside cottage, allowing Henry and George to return to their parents’ side.
With the war over, Henry and his family moved back to their rebuilt house in Daneville Road and the twins began to realise the fun that could be created in post war London.
It's easy to imagine how the engrained toughness of a man who put Muhammad Ali on to the floor could be created by a childhood of playing in bomb craters, building sites and other post-Blitz wreckage.
It's also easy to imagine how that hard edge needed to channelled positively. Enter Bellingham Boxing Club, which met locally every week in the British Legion Hall.
The Cooper twins were introduced to the club by Robert Hill, an amateur boxer neighbour who saw the pair sparring in the street with socks on their fists. Noticing their massive potential, he paid for their first year's tuition.
Both Henry and George continued boxing throughout their youth, eventually joining the Eltham and District Amateur Boxing Club at the age of fifteen.
After leaving school at sixteen, Henry eventually became the apprentice to a plasterer called Reg Reynolds, a great friend of his amateur trainer George Page.
His main focus in choosing a career was to make sure he was still able to box and, just a year after leaving school, Henry outpointed Joe McLean to claim his first ABA title. This led to him travelling to the Soviet town of Helsinki, Finland to represent the United Kingdom at the Olympic Games.
After being given a bye through round one, Cooper was defeated in his first contest, a tough battle with Soviet fighter Anatoli Perov, which he controversially lost on a split decision.
Shortly after returning from the Olympics, Henry signed up for his mandatory military service, joining 4th Battalion RAOC, the 'Boxer's Battalion'.
Henry continued boxing throughout his military career and won his second ABA strap in 1953. After an extension in his army responsibilities led him to curtail his boxing, the Coopers called time on their amateur careers. Henry had an exceptional record of 73 victories from 84 bouts.
Henry signed professional forms with manager Jim Wicks, basing himself at Wicks' HQ above the famous Thomas à Becket pub on the Old Kent Road.
His first contest was against Harry Painter at the Haringay Arena. Despite Wicks pre-fight advice of "take it easy and relax, don't try to over-impress", Henry dropped Painter with a tough left. When his opponent dragged himself up he was promptly hit with another left and this time stayed down.
By April 1955, Henry's professional record was 9-0, with seven victories coming inside the distance. His first defeat came at the hands of Italian Uber Bacilieri but it was swiftly avenged and Henry soon moved onto a British title eliminator against old amateur foe Joe Erskine.
Despite being outpointed by Erskine and then knocked out by another British rival Joe Bygraves, Henry was soon travelling to Stockholm to take on the Swedish European champion Ingemar Johannson.
The fifth round knock out he suffered in Stockholm caused many boxing pundits to predict the end of Henry Cooper. However, the Camberwell boy was made of stronger stuff than that and on the evening of November 17 at Earls Court, Henry Cooper took his first stride to greatness, comprehensively knocking out old foe Joe Erskine to take his British and Commonwealth titles.
Despite abandoning the Camberwell homelands for a modest suburban pile on Ledway Drive in Wembley, Henry was still a south Londoner at heart and continued to train every day on the Old Kent Road.
With the titles around his waist he continued onwards and upwards, beating Texas state champion Roy Harris and defeating Erskine for a second time in 1961. After being knocked out by Zora Folley, Henry bounced back with a crushing victory over Tony Hughes, the "wildly windmilling" much fancied protégé of Rocky Marciano.
Following another defeat of Joe Erskine, Henry was eventually granted the chance he had been waiting for.
Wembley Stadium was booked for the night of June 18 1963 for him to take on the great American Cassius Clay.
Despite Clay's claims that: "This will be an annihilation; if the bum don't fall in five; I won't come back to this nation", both Cooper and the British public were confident in his ability to do the job. And it was so nearly to be.
Right at the end of the fourth round, Cooper found probably the greatest punch he had ever thrown, a gigantic left hook which caught Clay flush on the cheek. Clay crumbled to the canvass, with Cooper the Camberwell Kid set to become champion of the world.
Clay was saved by the bell and came out in the next round to nearly jab Cooper's head off his shoulders. With blood pouring from his wounds, referee Tommy Little stopped the fight.
This loss prevented Cooper from ever facing Sonny Liston (possibly a blessing in disguise).
After his first defeat by Clay, Cooper continued to campaign, dominating the domestic scene but always just failing to make the step up. He was stopped by Clay (now Muhammad Ali) at Highbury in 1966 and was also knocked out by Floyd Patterson.
Following a controversial defeat to Joe Bugner in 1971, 'Our 'Enery' as he was known by then, decided to call it a day.
Whilst a legendary fighter in his own right, it is in retirement that Sir Henry Cooper (the first and only boxer to ever be knighted) has endeared himself to the United Kingdom.
On top of his punch that laid one of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen flat on his back, Cooper's much loved adverts for Old Spice, massive amounts of charity work and team captaincy on A Question of Sport have cemented his place in sporting folklore.
He remains one of only three people to have won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice (in its inaugural year of 1967 and again in 1970).
Other than Sir Henry Cooper Way in Downham there is no permanent memorial to his great achievements.
To vote for that to be changed and for Sir Henry to receive one of Southwark's blue plaques either visit www.southwark.gov.uk/blueplaques, send an e-mail with your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org or pick up a voting card in any one of Southwark's public libraries.
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