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King of the ring was our very own Henry Cooper

PUBLISHED: 09:30 03 May 2011

Ginger Sadd with big hitting Jim Boatwright, another Lads Club and Corn Hall favourite in the 20's and 30's

Ginger Sadd with big hitting Jim Boatwright, another Lads Club and Corn Hall favourite in the 20's and 30's

Archant

In the latest in his series celebrating the Norwich Lads Club, Derek James pays tribute to city boxing legend Ginger Sadd.

The pride of Norwich, our very own ‘Enry Cooper, leaned forward in his favourite armchair and slapped his left fist into the palm of his right hand. “I caught him right on the chin,” he said.

Then his face broke into a smile as he recalled: “He didn’t think I’d go further than four rounds.”

But Ginger Sadd went the full distance – 15 punishing rounds against the Rochdale Thunderbolt, Jock McAvoy, and many said he was robbed of the British middleweight title in Manchester back in May of 1939.

Ginger, a man who once had his own fan club, was talking to the Evening News more than 25 years ago about that extraordinary night. In his prime, there is little doubt, Ginger was one of the greatest boxers never to have been a national champion.

But the kid from humble Oak Street who helped to put the Lads Club on the sporting map, was a champion to all of Norwich and Norfolk – and further afield.

He emerges as one of the stars in the glorious story of Norwich Lads Club, the first club of its kind in the world.

When I last spoke to him at any length back in the 1980s he told me: “I think I’m a little punch drunk.”

His left arm, once his most powerful weapon, was shaking and his speech was slurred.

His wife Hilda said the doctor told them it was “the boxing” which was causing the problems. Later, Ginger was told he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, which eventually claimed his life at the age of 78.

It had been an honour and a privilege to spend some time with Ginger before his death nearly 20 years ago.

He has been described by Dick Futter, Evening News boxing writer and a man who knew the sport inside out as: “The master ringcraftsman. The perfect professional boxer.”

Long after he retired, Ginger couldn’t walk down the street without people coming up to him, wanting to shake his hand and slap him on the back.

Ginger was a true legend in his own lifetime. A man of the people.

He boxed professionally from 1932 to 1951, often topping the bill 15 to 20 times a year. With a lightning fast left jab and two nimble feet he had the ability to make opponents miss by a whisker. Ginger, real name Arthur, was one of six brothers and nine sisters. He and his younger brother Dick, joined the club in its early years.

Both became professional boxers. Both loved the club and Dick helped to run the boxing section for many years and Ginger inspired and taught so many of the lads over the years.

Ginger had 216 fights, won 158 (38 within the distance), drew 14 and lost 43. He held various titles, but his biggest fight of all was against McAvoy.

Ginger, who had been fighting six opponents a month, took a month off to prepare for the fight in Manchester.

Just like the football fans of today, Ginger’s army of yellow and green followed him on the road.

“The crowd were absolutely brilliant. The Norwich fans were singing right from the start,” said Ginger.

“I had a yellow canary on my green shorts and they were shouting ‘Come on the Canary’ and singing ‘On the Ball City.’”

The Thunderbolt went for the canary. “He tried to bite your lugs in the clinches. It was just to make you lose your sense of humour and your concentration. But I just pushed him off,” he said.

But, despite his art and speed, Ginger didn’t have a knockout punch. “I had the speed, I had the science, but I didn’t have a punch,” he said.

By the end of the fight the Thunderbolt was battered and bruised, but his arm was raised in victory.

“No, I didn’t think I’d won it, but I thought I’d just done enough to get a draw,” Ginger said.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Norwich to see Ginger on his return to Norwich. In their eyes – he was a winner.

Three years later, in the middle of the war, the pair were matched to fight again. This time at Carrow Road and this time around the money was on Ginger to take the title.

A fortnight before the fight the Thunderbolt pulled out – and Ginger was denied his chance of being a national champion.

Ginger went on to be wounded at Normandy when he was serving with the Royal Norfolks. He returned to the ring and continued fighting until he retired in 1951.

A lorry driver with the scrap metal firm of A King & Sons, he was given a gold watch for 21 years with the firm.

He was a familiar sight around the city and wherever he went people would call out to him and say to their friends. “That’s Ginger. The boxer.”

It was during the 1970s that Ginger and McAvoy met up again. By then he was suffering from polio and in a bad way. “I was crying, and so was he,” Ginger recalled.

The two old warriors were finally friends.

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