By Miles Templeton
THERE are certain British title fights that really stand out in the memory, both for the sheer quality of the match-up and for the excitement the action produced. Back when the British title meant far more than it seems to these days, some clear examples are the Eric Boon-Arthur Danahar lightweight contest in 1938, the great Alan Minter-Kevin Finnegan trilogy in the mid-1970s and the three contests between Jackie Brown and Bert Kirby between 1929 and 1931. Another one, that I have always been keenly interested in, is that between Stan Hawthorne and Billy Thompson at lightweight in 1947.
Thompson came from Hickleton Main, a pit village near Thurnscoe, in West Yorkshire. The area had a tradition of producing hard men, and Hickleton Main ABC was a top amateur club that turned out champions, including Thompson, who won the ABA lightweight championship in 1945, and Ronnie Latham, who won the same title five years later.
Hawthorne, meanwhile, was a big-punching fighter from North Shields, a fishing port 10 miles north of the Tyne from Newcastle. North Shields also produced its fair share of tough fighters, with Spike Robson and Paul Charters standing out. Hawthorne’s father, who also fought in the Great War, was rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk, his brother Ronnie took part in the D-Day landings, and Stan, who was born in 1923, spent 17 months in the Army himself.
Hawthorne fought Thompson seven times as an amateur, all bouts taking place in 1944 and 1945, losing six of them, but winning the last of them by knockout at Hickleton Main. After being discharged from the Army he wasted no time in turning pro, quickly gaining a big reputation in rings around Liverpool and Blackpool, where Stan had based himself.
Thompson also turned pro in 1945, but with manager Benny Huntman signing him after his ABA victory, Billy based himself in London. By the following year, he had won 20 on the trot and he was matched against Hawthorne for the Northern Area lightweight title.
At that time the Northern Area encompassed Lancashire and Yorkshire as well as the North-East, but it is still amazing to note that 18,000 people turned up to see an area title fight at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC. The bout was also given official recognition as an eliminator for the British title, held by Ronnie James. Hawthorne confounded the odds that night, outpointing the Yorkshireman in a bout which BN described as “one continuous thrill”.
James retired following his 1946 loss to Ike Williams for the world title, and so Thompson and Hawthorne were rematched for the vacant British title in October 1947, again at Anfield. Since the 1946 contest they had each engaged in plenty of contests with only two losses; Thompson losing out to Andre Famechon and Hawthorne to Josef Preys. With many more wins behind them there was keen anticipation for the return.
BN sat on the fence in stating that “There is no doubt that these two youngsters will provide another spectacular and thrilling battle that, if it goes the distance, will again be very closely contested.”
The two men could both punch and an inside the distance victory, one way or the other, was expected. This time, 20,000 turned up and Thompson was in no mood to give Hawthorne time to settle. He steamed into the North Shields man right from the off and the two traded hard blows in a sensational first round, with the honours going to Thompson. In the second, Billy blasted Hawthorne to the canvas three times with the bell saving him from a knockout at the count of eight. The third proved to be the last with a groggy Hawthorne, completely outclassed and badly battered, being rescued by the referee. Hawthorne fought on, with varying success, until 1951, whilst Thompson retired in 1953 after he had added the European title to his British crown.