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the boston belt

GERRY BURNS

Trainer of champions of champions and a champion trainer. That’s Birkenhead’s Gerry Burns, whose devotion and skill in the gymnasium have steered

Hundreds of Mersey fighters along the paths to fistic fame. Yet, surprisingly , Gerry was never a fighter himself — if you discount the time he spent during his  youth performing with Sam Barton’s booth at Seaforth and later with Nipper Plant’s booth.

now 68, and living in Rock Ferry, was introduced to the sport by a former Pudsey Street professional, George Boyce. He took him along to the Conway Boxing Club at Conway Street, Birkenhead, which was run by Fred Snell  (later to become Mayor of Birkenhead) and Dick Stading. In les tha a year his coaching skills were recognised and he became a trainer at the club, which later came into the hands of Bob Foster, tragically killed in  a motor-cycling accident.

“We trained under oil lamps and always had a bucket of water warming on an open fire for a wash down. We had some great lads there, Charlie Tonner, Frankie Price, Teddy Tierney and Arthur Holsgrove, a fine heavyweight prospect who unfortunately turned to Rugby League with St. Helens, we had to get out of Conway Street and I moved on to a club in Adelphia Street run by coal merchant Harry Neish. The old Conway set up was in our blood, however, and Dick Stading, determined to get the  team together again, found a gym in Cooke Street which he opened and called the Charing Cross Boxing Club.

“ I went there as a trainer along with Billy Quinn and we built up a huge stable travelling the country with lads like Bernie White, Charlie Smith, Bernie  Lavery, Larry Hammill, George Boyce, Peter Wilson, Newsboy Boy McCann and Jimmy Moore. I have always believed that but for the war Jimmy Moore would have been our first champion. I also had great hopes  of Boy McCann who I felt had a great chance of beating Peter Kane at one time. Unfortunately, the match never came off and McCann later developed leg trouble. I also trained Bob Nelson to beat Ernie Roderick in 1934.

“When I came back after the war, I looked round for a gym and joined Boys’ Club in the old Engineers Hall in Price Street. This was where Pat  McAteer started and I took him for his first contest to Byrne Avenue where he lost to Ronnie Doyle. This was the first time in my life I had worked with amateurs and had built up a good group when I heard that Johnny  Campbell who ran the Provincial ABC, was without a trainer. I moved over to join up with him, taking half a dozen good lads along, including  McAteer.

“Altogether, I spent 10 years with Johnny Campbell and followed him into the professional ranks when he started up his famous Whetstone Lane Gymnasium. Between us, we turned out a series of champions Pat McAteer, Wally Thom and Joe Bygraves. But we also had a host of good class fighters Leo Molloy, Billy Dean, Billy Boyd, Micky Flanagan, Peter Fenwick and Liverpool’s Eddie Burns, a grand little fighter whom I was glad to visit recently when I discovered he had been so ill. While Mr Campbell travelled the world with our fighters, I ran the gym for him.”

Gerry eventually quit the pro scene but wanted to stay in boxing and got the chance to take over the Oxton Amateur club, which he ran successful with secretary Ray Johnson. Vandals severely damaged the Woodchurch  Road gymnasium, however, and now they have new headquarters Thomas Street, Birkenhead and a new name Beehive ABC. He delighted with the professional success of his former Oxton protégé, Tim McHugh.

As befits a man who has given a life-time of devotion to the sport, he never forgotten by fans and fighters alike at any Wirral boxing event. And pride of place among his many souvenirs are the coloured family photographs that ex-champion Pat McAteer sends him every Christmas from America where he now lives.