Boxing champion’s special ‘birthday’ celebrations in Liverpool

July 4, 1944
Joe Louis, the world heavyweight champions, celebrated a “birthday” in Liverpool yesterday. Before going to the Stadium to delight the thousands of Allied Service men and women with a three rounds exhibition, the champion stopped at the US Army headquarters for a special picture to be taken with Col. Harold R. Duffie, Col. Carl E. Nesbitt, Capt. J. Brooks, Mr. Johnny Best, managing director of the Stadium, and myself.

Joe Louis.
Joe Louis

During our little “get together” in Col. Duffie’s office, suitably decorated with flags to celebrate Independence Day, the Colonel and Mr. Best recalled that it was 34 years ago yesterday that Jack Johnson defended his title against Jim Jefferies. And Joe said, “Yes, and it is exactly ten years ago tonight that I began my professional career.”

So the Stadium had the honour of entertaining Joe on his boxing “birthday.” I find that Joe set out on his wonder career by knocking out Jack Kracken in one round on July 4, 1934.

Joe did no knocking-out last night, but as he punched away at sparring-partner George Nicholson, who wore headgear to “kill” blows, I always felt that here indeed was a punching-machine perfection. Louis showed flashes of real brilliance and was always ideally poised for delivery. I noticed particularly that whenever Joe let go a punch he had the leverage of the back foot. Further, everything was timed to the fraction of the second with the body so positioned that the shoulder went into it.

There is much of the old traditional English style about Louis. His left-hand work, fast and accurate, would lead one to believe he had been schooled in the English rings. It gives him that classic stamp, while his facility for hooking with either hand is a true characteristic of the American style. Yes, Louis, fast and mobile with a gliding foot action and feet never more than two feet apart, proved a fine example of poetry in motion.

Two more boys of the Louis “troupe,” James Edgar and Jackie Wilson, also treated us to some fine exhibition fare. Edgar – in line for the world middleweight title – is the boy who gave Freddie Mills such a worrying time when they boxed an exhibition in London recently, and I can well imagine that to be so. Edgar actually had his opponent Earl Watson, almost through the ropes at the end of their third round. Wilson reminded me forcibly of Al Brown not only in style but in movement and built. Wilson certainly is a nice welterweight proposition.

Top thrills of the night, apart from the sight of Louis in action, were provided by Walter Thom, one of Mr. Jack Peel’s Birkenhead 400 Squadron ATC boys, who outpointed P. Jelley, of Bury, over three rounds. Thom is a “southpaw” and for sheer action and fierce hooking will take some beating. Thom laughed off a cut eye, and went through to a fine win. Thom is just the boy who would be of considerable help to Ronnie Clayton in Ronnie’s preparation for the bantamweight title eliminator with Jack Paterson. I hope it can be arranged.

Cadet V. Harrison (ATC) outpointed Cpl J. Highton (ACF) and Cadet F. Leyland (ATC) outpointed Cpl. R. Hunter (ACF), while in the bouts between American Army boxers Billy Mason outpointed Johnny Stevens, K.O. Brown knocked out Joe Love in two rounds, and Jerry Meslin outpointed Pte Ferres.

To revert to Joe Louis. In the afternoon Joe went to meet British Council in Basnett Street, there to meet and greet the boys of the Merchant Navy from all parts, and leading sportsmen. Lord Leverhulme was the host, and I had the honour of presenting to the champion the many personalities from the boxing and football fields.

Joe was particularly interested in Ernie Roderick, the British and Empire welterweight champion, who, curiously enough, won his title the same year as Joe won his. Joe was tickled to death to know that Ernie’s hobbies were breeding rats and training racing pigeons.

Naturally, Louis wanted to know about Ernie’s world title battle with Henry Armstrong. “Henry is a great fighter,” said Joe. “Yes,” replied Ernie. “I thought after the second round that he was mine, but then Armstrong came in at me with stuff I’d never before encountered.” “No,” sagely replied Joe, and maybe you’ll never meet it again. Armstrong was a great puncher, one of the best we ever had. They don’t come often like Armstrong.

During our little chat, in which Lord Leverhulme joined, Joe proved that the stories he does not talk and will say nothing about boxing is purely a figment of the imagination. Joe, take it from me, is not only a talker, but an intelligent talker.

After the little speech of welcome by Lord Leverhulme, it was almost assumed that Joe would not say anything in reply, but to everyone’s delight Joe took charge and got up and said: “I am delighted to be here not only on Independence Day but on a day which is really Freedom Day for all nations.” Once again Louis had stolen the thunder. It was a grand sentiment beautifully expressed.

While the champion was signing his autograph to pound notes, dollar bills, and even the will form in one soldier’s pay book. Mr. George Kay, manager of Liverpool Football Club, produced a Football League amateur signing-on-form. With the help of Mr. Harold Tudor of the British Council, they induced Joe to sign it. So the world champion became a signed player of Liverpool! What a souvenir.

George Kay.
George Kay, Liverpool manager

The form was duly witnessed, and were it sent to Preston Louis would be registered as a Liverpool player. The only snag is that as a US Soldier Joe is not allowed t sign, and besides Joe is more interested in boxing and golf. Still, hand it to Mr. Kay for thinking of the scheme.

Joe will still be in the Lancashire area for a few days, but so far as our Liverpool affair is concerned the curtain is drawn. I would like to assure the champion that we have been delighted to have him; that he has created many new friendships by his quiet earnestness, and that our hope is that Joe will be back here in peace days to have a serious fight.
(Evening Express: July 5, 1945)


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