ON FEBRUARY 27, Joe Taylor of Leyland passed away just two days short of his 89th birthday.   Very few will remember Joe today, but he was the first man to put Howard Winstone onto the seat of his pants in a professional ring.

Joe was a throwback to the old school, and he turned pro in 1951 aged just 16. Shortly afterwards, the Board raised the minimum age for a professional licence to 18 and this remained the case until 1975 when it was reduced to 17. Today, it is 18. Joe, therefore, was one of the last 16-year-old pros.

Coming from Leyland, in Lancashire, Joe was naturally drawn to the Public Hall in Preston for most of his early contests. The promoter there was Fred Bamber, and Fred ruled the roost in that part of Lancashire.  As well as Preston, Fred promoted regularly at the King George’s Hall in Blackburn and at the Empress Ballroom in Burnley. In 1950 Joe featured twice on professional shows at Preston as a 15-year-old, boxing in three-round exhibition contests, with one and a half minute rounds.

Once Joe was old enough to get his licence, Fred was keen to feature him in regular contests, the first of which took place in November 1951 against fellow-debutant, Freddie Deaks of Hanley, who Joe outpointed over four rounds. Both lads came in at under 7st 6lbs. The local newspaper described how Joe, though shorter and narrower, attacked throughout, decking the Hanley lad for a count of ‘seven’ in the second round.  He was then matched with Cheny Barrington of Radford, a pro since 1943 and a veteran of 19 contests, 12 of which were victories. Joe was a throwback, a real one. He was still 16 and yet he was happy to take on a fully-grown man who had been around a bit. Barrington didn’t last long as Joe sparked him in two rounds.

Two weeks later Joe did the same to another Nottingham man, George Homer, hammering him in just three rounds.  At this stage Bamber could have been forgiven in thinking that he had a real prospect on his hands and BN confirmed this in a small entry entitled “KO king at 16”.  The article stated that Taylor, a grocer’s errand boy, was seconded by Harry Gent, a star performer from Chorley who boxed the great Len Harvey in 1925, and that he was being brought along carefully but was a great prospect.

Joe boxed regularly throughout Lancashire until 1953, winning 13 of his 16 contests before stepping out of the game for a couple of years.  He came back in 1955, boxing twice as a bantamweight, and then took another couple of years out before returning as a featherweight in 1957. After winning two more contests at this weight, he then took another couple of years out before his September 1959 contest against Winstone.

Howard Winstone was one of the finest boxers to have come from these shores since the second world war. He won the 1958 ABA title at bantamweight and then won the Commonwealth Games gold medal three months later. He turned pro in a blaze of glory, winning his first eight contests very easily before being matched with Joe. As we all know, Howard won everything, and the finest night of his career came in 1968 when he beat Mitsunori Seki to win the world featherweight title.

Winstone got his come-uppance against Taylor when he was dropped in the first round by a crisp right-hander. Winstone then turned it on, dropping Taylor five times before the referee intervened in the fourth. It was Taylor’s last contest. He stayed in Leyland, working as a motor mechanic and training boxers at his local gym in Worden Park. He was one of the last of his kind and will be greatly missed.