I used to enjoy a bit of boxing as a teenager, but farm life didn't allow me enough time. Ernie Ray was my coach, though I never fought in an official bout. I was on the card to fight at Denbigh, but a ferocious nose bleed the night before persuaded Ernie that I should not fight without my nose being 'cauterised' - whatever that meant. Anyway, this is just a preamble to a post about Sir Henry Cooper, who died today. The sporting heroes of my early teens were boxers. There were some great Welshmen - Howard Winstone and Dai Dower being two of the best. But we all loved 'Enry. It wasn't just his boxing. He was a thoroughly good all round 'gent'. And hugely popular.
As a fighter he was not the greatest. Bit small for a heavy, and not quite good enough at the very top level. Mind you, he almost the best of them all - the magnificent Cassius Clay, later to be known as Mohammed Ali. I loved him as well, and watched his fights over and over again. When 'Enry fought Clay in 1963, the great man was too cocky, and was caught by 'Enry's 'Ammer close to the end of the fourth round. Many of us thought he'd never have survived if it had been at the beginning of the round. Cooper was a good 'finisher'. Clay's corner managed to delay things a bit, and he came out in the 5th and smashed 'Enry all over the place. The fight was stopped with a cut eye, a weakness that dogged Cooper's career. I remember enjoying all those fights between Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Brian London and Dick Richardson - all world class British heavies. Through it all, Sir Henry won three Lonsdale belts. Don't think anyone else managed that - not before all these Micky Mouse titles came along anyway.
He was so much more than just a boxer. I remember him as a captain on Question of Sport - with Cliff Morgan I think, though my memory could be playing tricks. I feel a bit sad that Sir Henry Cooper has died. The thing was, we all felt we knew him.