Fighter behind the face of a boy
Terry Spinks was nearly omitted from a British boxing team because he still looked twelve years old when he was already 18.
Not long after that he won an Olympic Games title and set off on an outstanding career that ended as tragically as many others in the sport.
The former Olympic Games gold medallist and British professional featherweight champion was 74 years old when he died in Essex, England, recently.
Spinks is still remembered as the teenager – he was 18 at the time – who won the flyweight gold medal in Melbourne in 1956, becoming the youngest British fighter to win an Olympic title.
He beat a Romanian, Mircea Dobrescu, in the final. In one of the reports it was said he looked like a 12-year-old.
It was revealed later that the British selectors had reversed an initial decision to omit him from the British squad “because he looked like a child”.
Spinks was the only Briton who won a national schoolboys championship (1953), an Amateur Boxing Association title (1956), an Olympic gold medal (1956) and a British professional title (1960). He won 22 out of his 26 bouts a senior amateur.
Even though he won many boxing medals as a schoolboy, his dream was to be a jockey. He spent two years at the Newmarket racing stables before he had to quit because of weight problems.
Terry George Spinks was born on February 28, 1938 in London’s East End. He began boxing when he was ten years old.
He turned professional at the age of 19 and in his first fight – on April 9, 1957 – he stopped Jim Loughrey in the fourth round at Harringay. He remained unbeaten in his next 18 fights.
By then a real crowd pleaser, he suffered his first defeat against a Scot, Billy Rafferty. Their bout at the Paisley Ice Rink was stopped in the fifth round because of a cut above Spinks’s right eye.
He won his next nine fights before he was knocked out in the ninth round by another Scotsman, Bobby Neill.
'THE MIRACLE MAN'
The fight, presented by Jack Solomons at Wembley, drew a sell-out crowd. Neill was known as “The Miracle Man” because he had twice broken a leg in motorcar accidents and his movement around the ring was restricted.
Spinks then lost on points to Derry Treanor and John O’Brien before beating George Dormer, Junior Cassidy and Johnny Kidd, drawing with Roy Jacobs and beating Dave Croll.
On September 27, 1960 he met Neill in return match for the British featherweight title. They fought at the Royal Albert Hall in London and Spinks was ahead when Neill was cut above the left eye in the seventh round; the result of a clash of heads.
Referee Ike Powell immediately stopped the fight and Spinks became the new champion. Reporters noted that Powell had not asked for the blood to be wiped away to inspect the cut. He also did not give Neill’s corner an opportunity to work on the cut. When the bout was stopped the bell had already sounded to end the round.
The British Boxing Board ruled that Neill should be given an opportunity to regain the title. The third fight between the two was held at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on November 22 the same year.
Spinks won by knockout in the 14th round of another gruelling battle.
In his next fight, Spinks won by disqualification against a Canadian, Dave Hilton. But he lost the title to Howard Winstone, a Welshman, when he retired at the end of the tenth round on May 2, 1961.
Winstone became one of the best boxers Britain ever produced.
DRINKING AND GAMBLING
Many years later, when Spinks was asked about the fight against Winstone, he said: “When I fought Howard, I
fought years of drinking, gambling and refusing to go to bed. And then there was the constant weakening as I sweated off the weight. Suddenly it all caught up with me. I don’t make excuses for my performance against Winstone. I got what I deserved.”
Spinks won seven of his next nine fights and finished when he beat Johnny Mantle on December 11, 1962.
He retired six days later at the age of 24, with a record of 41 wins and a draw in 49 fights.
His love of horse racing led to him opening a betting shop. It failed and he was declared bankrupt in 1964.
He then took up a job with John Branch’s company, Antique Bronze Limited, which had contracts to preserve and maintain statues in and around London. He also helped with the coaching of boxers.
From 1981 he managed The Crown pub at Upchurch, a village near Rainham in Kent. In 1987 he took over The Coach and Horses in Worthing.
After being divorced from his second wife, he drank heavily and his health deteriorated. He also suffered from depression and the brewery decided not to renew his pub licence.
By 1993 Spinks was in such poor health that he could not even wash or dress himself. His cousin Rosemary
Elmore then took care of him.
He was always overlooked when sports stars received OBE and MBE awards but after representations to members of parliament he was made an MBE in 2002.
In 2002 Bob Lonkhurst's book East End Idol – The amazing story of Terry Spinks MBE was published. I am privileged to have a copy of the book, signed by Spinks.
While living in London in 1961, I recognised the boyish face of Terry Spinks from my seat in a double-decker bus as he drove past in an open car.