By Nick Kelly: Imagine if Joe Louis after joining the army during the Second World War decided to give up boxing for a life as a soccer player?
Hard to imagine the 200 pound Heavyweight champion tearing around a football pitch isn’t it? But in fact Louis did sign for and participate in a training session for Liverpool Football Club during a tour of the UK.
It was Independence Day 1944 when Joe Louis became one of the esteemed names to have joined Liverpool Football Club, as they pipped their cross city rivals Everton to his signature. Liverpool manager George Kay produced a football league amateur form for the champion to sign, after which Louis was photographed training with the squad.
“What a draw this would be should he be called upon one day to lead the Liverpool attack,” said the Liverpool Daily Post following the massive coup. The form however would not be officially registered, instead framed and hung in the club’s boardroom.
Louis had already spent six weeks in the UK before he arrived in Liverpool on July 3rd, and enjoyed his first day off in weeks, spending it playing golf and sleeping. The Liverpool Echo followed Louis on his round at Formby golf course and said: “Despite the handicap of playing with borrowed clubs, on a strange course, in ordinary army boots and for the first time in months he did an 84 on this testing course,” with a “nigh perfect” short game.
The following day saw Louis charitably visiting local hospitals in the area before the PR event with Liverpool FC in the afternoon.
In the evening Louis was again treated to a “tremendous reception” this time at the Liverpool Stadium, as he participated in a three round exhibition bout against Sergeant George Nicholson his first string man since he lifted the Heavyweight title seven years prior.
“Louis gave a perfect demonstration of left hand work but rarely used his right – maybe it was tired from so much autograph signing but he gave glimpses of his ability and power which won him the world crown,” said the Liverpool Echo the following day. Nicholson however, “was not only protected by a well padded helmet but took the additional precaution of back peddling most of the time.”
Not surprising as they were due to visit North Wales, Manchester and Warrington in the forthcoming days.
The bout was a “treat for the service lads” and not open to the general public. Jackie Wilson, the No.2 welterweight at the time and Corporal James Edger, who dropped a close split decision to Jake LaMotta in his last bout, also captured the eye on the bill.
The whole event was an unquantified success for one of the few cities that continued to stage boxing weekly events throughout the war. Louis himself said, “I am a man of few words but I just want to say I’m glad to be here,” paying testament to Liverpool’s notable boxing heritage and the hospitality of its citizens.
May 14, 2008