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Name: Dick Burke
Career Record:click
Nationality: British
Hometown: Liverpool, Merseyside, United Kingdom
Division: Featherweight

  

 Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, Tuesday, February 27, 1996

This Thursday the Baths Hall will echo to the noise of fight fans cheering home favourite Trevor Meikle to victory in his clash with Hull’s Kevin Toomy for the vacant Central Area Welterweight Championship of Great Britain . In the build up to the fight which promises to be the biggest boxing event in the towns history, Evening Telegraph reporter DAVID ATKIN looks back at the towns most successful exponents of the noble art and joins today’s fighters in the gym. Tonight he takes a look at the career of the late Dick Burke whose hard hitting action and likeable personality won him the respect on both sides of the Atlantic during the first half of the century.
 
A much loved character of the boxing fraternity

  Dick Burke postcardScunthorpe Evening Telegraph, Tuesday, February 27, 1996

This Thursday the Baths Hall will echo to the noise of fight fans cheering home favourite Trevor Meikle to victory in his clash with Hull’s Kevin Toomy for the vacant Central Area Welterweight Championship of Great Britain . In the build up to the fight which promises to be the biggest boxing event in the towns history, Evening Telegraph reporter DAVID ATKIN looks back at the towns most successful exponents of the noble art and joins today’s fighters in the gym. Tonight he takes a look at the career of the late Dick Burke whose hard hitting action and likeable personality won him the respect on both sides of the Atlantic during the first half of the century.
 
A much loved character of the boxing fraternity

Home to a thousand and one sporting heroes, the city of Liverpool was birthplace to the legendary Dick Burke. As a boxer few could match his hard hitting, all action style whilst outside the ring he mixed with ease with his fans and peers alike. He was a man  for the people, one the supporters loved to cheer and the boxers used to respect – a British hero in an era of fighting legends.

Born in the tough  Everton district of Liverpool in 1912, Dick had a hard up bringing but he kept a fond love for his home town after moving around the world with the RAF before settling in Scunthorpe in the 1960’s.

Despite his great achievements including flooring world champion Panama Al Brown and beating European champion Dominic Bernisconi, both in non title fights, Dick didn’t start fighting until he left school. His wife, Marie, who still lives in Scunthorpe along with two of their  five children Michael and Peter, takes up the story of her late husband’s entry into the fight game.

School

“ He started just after he had left school “ she said. “He had a proper gym and really only did it as a hobby to keep fit. “Ritchie always used to do a lot of running but decided to try boxing – I don’t really know why. He had his first fight and won. It was over 10 rounds, which was usual for a first fight but it grew from there. He just kept winning.

Running and rowing were some of his favourite ways of training. He’d also push heavy grass rollers – anything to build his muscles up. It was really hard work”. Mrs Burke continued “Most people think they just get in the ring and have a go at each other but it takes a lot of   determination and effort . A lot would be worn out after training but he was always fresh. It was rewarding for him and he enjoyed it”.

In a near 70 fight career Dick mainly fought around his home city of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and  Leeds. The nearest he came to Scunthorpe was when he fought Brown for a second time at Blundell Park, Grimsby. In his first 56 contests Burke only lost eight times and rarely spent time on the canvas. His biggest fan, wife Marie, said “  I used to go to all his fights and had a ringside seat. I really enjoyed it and egged him on to win.

“He was a straightforward boxer with a really good punch and big heart. The fans used to love wedding watching him fight and once, when he beat the Little  Minor in Sheffield, the crowd were in uproar as they wanted their man to win but he was very popular. Although he never won a professional title, Dick fought several eliminators without getting a championship contest but he had an impressive record against some of the top boxers of his day.


“I am sure he would have given a lot of today’s fighters a run for their money “ Mrs Burke said “ He floored Al Brown and went the distance with him when he was world champion. In one of his two fights with Al Brown his eye was cut. The referee thought it was a 15 round contest and so stopped it. It was really over and afterwards the referee apologised.

Fights

“Al’s manager wanted him to go to America and fight there, but he didn’t want to. He loved England to much.” After hanging up his gloves Dick joined the RAF as a physical training instructor and he travelled the world. He helped  train British, Australian and New Zealand airmen to box in the Far East but when he returned to this country his active links with the sport diminished.

Although he kept in touch with friends in the fight game and went to the odd match, he no longer trained fighters when he moved to Scunthorpe with his family in the early 1960s .He took up a post as a welfare attendant  pitside at the Normanby Park works before retiring for a well earned rest. Unfortunately, he became ill and after a long battle, typical of the courage he showed in the ring, Dick Burke passed away in August 1989, aged 76.

His family, the town and the fight game had lost one of boxing’s greatest and much loved characters, but his wife Marie still has a soft spot for the sport and believes her husband would have enjoyed watching some of today’s fighters. “I think he would have really liked NaseemHamed. They would have got in the ring together and had a good fight. He was the sort of fighter Hamed would have respected” Mrs Burke said.

She added: Ritchie supported all talent and he would have probably have gone to see this local lad fight had he been alive today. It would be nice if he could .”


 Evening Express Tuesday, October 9, 1934
The Gong Has Gone
A fighter says good bye to the Ring

By
Dick Burke


Dick Burke the Liverpool Whirlwind has fought his last contest….the red haired Irish battler, at the age of 22, has received doctors orders to hang up the gloves for ever.

“You must give up boxing”

No sentence pronounced by a judge in court could mean more to any man than the above words said to a boxer by his doctor.I know because I have just heard them. I have got to give up the game. I have heard the count from the  most inexorable referee. I shall miss the ring more than I dare think. I suppose I would not mind so much If I had had a long innings  ;  had managed to claim some of the golden rewards that a boxing career can bring. But I am, so far as boxing goes, still very young.

Twenty two   is not a great age, and when I think how very near I have been to having the rich prizes of the game within my hands I sigh for my lost opportunities. Somehow the really big rewards have always eluded me. I have defeated many champions and stopped many others on their way up the championship ladder.

But I have always missed the title myself by a hairs breadth. Still I am not complaining one little bit. It has been a great time. My only fault I suppose I must attribute to my Irish blood is that I have always been too impulsive. In all my fights I have always swung into my opponent, taken terrific punishment needlessly,  because  I have always been terribly anxious to make a “Go” of it and satisfy my supporters who have come to see me live up to the nickname they have given me. It is that which has finished my boxing career.

After my last fight with Albert  Roothooft, Rotherham I was taken to hospital where the doctor told me how for the last six months I had courted death   by going into the ring.  I was left with partial paralysis and although   I am now fit and well for ordinary life,  I am forbidden to enter a boxing ring. Looking back now, it seems ages since I first dropped into the Red Triangle Lad’s Club, in Everton,  one night five years ago.  I was seventeen,  and for the first time donned a pair of boxing gloves. I suppose I must have had some natural qualities as a boxer.

I know I felt a strange thrill as I weighed into my first opponent. I became an enthusiastic   amateur and won my first seven fights. Then over confident I tackled a much  bigger fellow and received a real hiding. That set me back for a few weeks.  I wondered if I was really as good as I thought .   I thought I was. So I asked for another fight. I won it so easily, and felt so gloriously confident after it that I decided there and then to go in for the game professionally.  

 The one day I was invited to call in to the gymnasium kept by Mr. Charlie Phillips, who had handled every Liverpool boxer of note. I got my first big chance through him when I was brought to the attention of Mr. Johnny Best. It was the usual custom for a beginner to be given a six round contest, and I suppose it was a tribute to my abilities that I started off in a ten round fight.

That started me off.  I went anywhere and everywhere for a fight ,  the harder the better. I was determined to get there, and to do it quicker than anyone had done it before. I suppose it was this over anxiety  which had so much to do with the punishment I took. I believed that real boxing was ninety percent attack.  I looked down on those boxers who relied only on defence; dodging and swaying and feinting and holding. I still believe that my idea is right and that more points should go to the man who takes the fight to his opponent.

I had 72 fights in under four years,  have won 54, drawn 6 and lost 12.This works out at about one every three weeks for four years.

 It has been uphill work too because at first I wouldn’t tackle anyone unless he was worth  while  and above me in class and reputation; later no one but men well up in the game would tackle me.Johnny Peters, Little Minor, Phineas John ,Freddy Webb, Mendiola , Boy Edge, Bert Kirby, Johnny King,  Bernasconi, Dick Corbett right up to Al Brown the world champion himself; I have fought them all and I think I can say without conceit that nearly every one of those fights stand out in boxing history.

al brownLet me tell you of one of my fights with Al Brown, that extraordinary coloured world bantam champion the freak boxer the “six foot” bantam. I was matched with him first at Sheffield , nearly two years ago It was the chance of a lifetime. The fight was not for the title, but I knew that if I could beat him nothing on earth would prevent me getting a shot at the title. I would visualise the glittering prize of the ring coming my way at last. I piled into him from the start, trying to break through his extraordinary defence.

 He was an amazing fellow ,light as a feather on his feet,  forever moving and flashing his long arms in at unexpected moments. It puzzled me at first, but I kept at it and gradually I think my persistence began to count. Every round was a ding dong affair, and the crowd  round the ring were going mad with excitement. When the gong went on the last round,   there was a dramatic pause. Then Al Brown’s arm was raised and I knew I had lost on points, and he rushed over to me to congratulate me on one of the hardest fights he had had.

The most dramatic moment in my career came when I got a return contest with Brown six months later. It was at an open  air show in Grimsby. This time I knew my Brown better and I put everything I knew into it. I knew I was scoring well and I felt strong and confident. Then my bad luck started towards   the end of the fight when I verily believe I had piled up a lead in points. A cut over the eye started to bleed.

The fight was nearing the end and I carried on. It was the last round and with blood streaming down my face I slashed into Brown as if possessed .  I could hardly see what was happening but I saw someone step between us. It was the referee. He had stopped the fight thirty seconds from the last gong. It was a terrible disappointment, for which even the congratulations of men famous in the boxing world could not atone.

I had another great battle at Bell Vue against Dominic Bernasconi  the Italian bantam champion. A few weeks before I fought him I had seen him knockout Johnny then the British champion. He had a peculiar over arm swing and when it connected it had a deafly effect. I decided the only way was to fight him hard,  and went in with a set purpose. It was a terrific battle all the way, but I had the satisfaction of beating on points the man who had vanquished the champion..

Here I would like to pay a tribute to Mr. Johnny Best and to thank him for the chance he gave me at the stadium to climb the boxing ladder; and Mr Harry Fleming who later managed me.He was more like a father than a manager and I was very happy in his Manchester”camp”. And know I am out of it, but still have a lot to fight for. I have a good companion in my wife who married me when I was just starting out on my boxing career with high hope in my heart.

We had worked together at a Liverpool upholstery factory – Guy Rogers of Soho street  -and I used to tell her of my ambitions. We got married when we were eighteen with nothing much more than ambition and courage to start on We have two little girls – Sheila, who is now two and a half, and Maureen, born on my twenty second birthday a week ago.

The principal of the old firm where I used to work has kindly offered me my job back. So I still will be “leather pushing” although there will  be no crowds or applause where I work among chairs and chesterfields. But at least I will have memories,  and as I watch from the ringside other Liverpool boys climbing up the ladder of fistic fame, I will recall the four glorious yeas in which I topped the bill,  fighting my way through every difficulty to find the prize swept away as I neared he summit.

And at least I will have some satisfaction in knowing that my name will go down in boxing history alongside those of Nel Tarleton, Dom Volante , Alf Howard and a hundred others who have kept Merseyside’s name bright in boxing annals.

burke-tarleton-volante

Dick Burke                                       Nel Tarleton                                Dom Volante