Norfolk pays tribute to Sir Henry Cooper

British boxing legend Sir Henry Cooper has been hailed as a gentleman, inspiration and icon by Norwich's sporting stars who loved and knew him.

Sir Henry, a former British heavyweight champion who was known affectionately as Our 'Enry, died on Sunday, just two days before his 77th birthday.

The heroic fighter, who famously floored Muhammad Ali, twice won BBC Sports Personality of the Year – and remains the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale belts outright.

He shot to worldwide fame by flooring the seemingly invincible Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, with his trademark left hook, known as 'Enry's 'Ammer, in a bout at Wembley in 1963.

Sir Henry lost that bout and a rematch three years later, but it was the never-say-die attitude and gentle personality of the man, who also held European and Commonwealth titles during his 17-year-fight career, that made him such a much-loved figure.

Les King, Norfolk's 'King of Sport' and patron of Norwich Lads ABC, has met Sir Henry several times over the years and was at Wembley to witness the punch which felled Ali.

He said: 'I'm a member of the Ex-Boxing Champions Golf Society and Henry Cooper was the president. I've played golf with Henry Cooper and met him several times and he was always a gentleman. He encouraged people in boxing, always giving people advice. I'm sure everyone in boxing who knew him will be sad.'

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Mr King, who has written about Sir Henry in one of his three King of Sport books, said he was not only a gentleman, but a great fighter too.

He said: 'He was a very good boxer. It was a terrific punch which he almost knocked Muhammad Ali out with, but unfortunately Henry did suffer with cuts.'

Former Norwich boxer Jon Thaxton, who was British, European and world lightweight champion during his own 17-year-career said Sir Henry would be greatly missed.

He said: 'People still remember and talk about his fights even today. He made a hell of an impression on the world of boxing and was one of the true greats. I've never met him, but I delved into the history of what he did. He fought the best, didn't always beat the best, but always gave it his all. One thing that hindered his career was his cuts – he always got cut quite badly.'

Mr Thaxton said Sir Henry, who even up until quite recently could be seen or heard giving advice through pundit slots on TV or radio, would be greatly missed.

He added: 'He won the Sports Personality of the Year Award twice which takes some doing – an outstanding achievement.'

But it was not just in the ring that Sir Henry, who was knighted in 2000, proved to be a hit. The much-loved boxer was a national treasure who found another career as a TV personality after he finished boxing. He became a team captain on BBC's A Question of Sport and starred alongside other sporting heroes Kevin Keegan and Barry Sheene in the Brut cologne adverts. In fact, his aftershave campaign took him to Norwich on a visit to the plastics factory where the bottles were made, back in 1978.

Sir Henry was a frequent visitor to Norwich, with other trips to the city over the years.

But recently Sir Henry's health had started to fail, with friends saying he never really recovered from the death of his Italian wife Albina in 2008 and that of his twin brother George last year, aged 75.

Tributes to Sir Henry, who died of heart failure at his son's house at Oxted in Surrey, have poured in from the world of sport.