By Miles Templeton

LIVERPOOL STADIUM played host to many great fights in its 53-year history and opened and closed with British title eliminators.

At the top of the bill on its last night in 1985, Horace Notice knocked out local hero Noel Quarless in seven rounds in a heavyweight bout. Notice went on to win the British title the following year after stopping Hughroy Currie on the Isle of Man. When the hall opened in 1932 it replaced the old Stadium, which had been situated in nearby Pudsey Street. The new venue could seat 4,000 and every seat was taken on that opening night to watch Stoker Reynolds of Portsmouth stop another local hero, Alf Howard, in an eliminator for the British welterweight title.

There was a very loyal fight crowd within the city who regularly turned up each Thursday evening to watch whoever was on the bill, local or not. Occasionally, two men from the city reached the top at the same time and the resultant contest really brought the venue to life. One such bout took place in 1956 when Pat McAteer fought Billy Ellaway.

McAteer was the reigning British middleweight champion and came from Birkenhead, just across the Mersey from the city centre.  He was always known as PatMac and he had a huge following.  The McAteer family produced many good boxers, including Gordon, Les and Neill, all active during the 1960s. Pat was also the uncle of Jason McAteer, the Liverpool footballer of the 1990s. He had won his British title the previous year and he retired as undefeated British champion in 1958 after winning a Lonsdale Belt outright.

Billy Ellaway came from Bootle, in the north of the city, and with each lad coming from opposite sides of the river the rivalry between the two became even more intense. Ellaway had been boxing since 1950, two years longer than McAteer, and they were both born in 1932. Ellaway was a sensation at the Stadium, he never seemed to be in a dull fight. When the two met, in August 1956, Billy was rated number two in Britain.

He had recently been beaten by Lew Lazar in a final eliminator for McAteer’s title at the Stadium. McAteer watched from ringside as Lazar “served up a sparkling display of speedy, skilful and efficient defensive boxing” to outpoint the Liverpool fighter. All Liverpool wanted to see McAteer fight Ellaway for the title, so Billy’s defeat was a great disappointment not only to himself, but to the whole city. Nevertheless, the two men were matched in a 10-rounder, which served as a warm-up for McAteer’s defence against Lazar which took place two months later.

The two men met at 11st 8lbs, two pounds above the championship weight.  McAteer, who was due to leave these shores for an American tour shortly afterwards, was in no mood to do so with another defeat under his belt. He had recently been outpointed in a 10-rounder by Tiberio Mitri in Rome and only victory would now do. He received the shock of his life, therefore, when Ellaway, after a fast start, caught PatMac with a big shot. BN reported that “Billy broke inside with a neat left hook, and then within a flash he struck with his haymaker right cross. It caught Pat partly on the nose and the left cheek.  Down he went on one knee for eight, severely shaken, and with blood trickling down his nose”.   This was just the sort of punch for which the fans loved Ellaway and the Stadium was in uproar as they returned to their corners.

For the next nine rounds McAteer took no more chances, outboxing his rival with a champion’s performance. At the end of the contest referee Fred Blakeborough inadvertently raised Ellaway’s hand. After realising his mistake, he put things right and raised the hand of McAteer. It had been, we reported, “Merseyside’s greatest Derby battle for many years.”