Playboy, womaniser and boxing legend: Book tells ‘warts and all’ story of Chatteris hero Eric Boon

PUBLISHED: 12:27 05 July 2012 | UPDATED: 14:58 05 July 2012

Eric Boon from Chatteris, British Lightweight Champion.

Eric Boon from Chatteris, British Lightweight Champion.

Archant

IT was 1930 when an 11-year-old boy called Eric Boon was caught fighting with a bully twice his size in the playground of King Edward School, Chatteris.

‘Minor scrapes with the law’

AFTER one famous victory, Boon’s manager Jack Solomons presented him with a gift of an open-top sports car.

In the book, Bob describes this as “not the most sensible object to give an 18-year-old country boy”.

The boxing star “spent much of his time racing around the Fenland lanes often taking local boys for rides”.

He appeared in court several times for offences on the road and was fined £5 by magistrates in Ely in 1939.

He was not in court to receive the fine, however, as he was a special guest at the National Sporting Club, in London, the same day.

Bob said: “Eric did have a few minor scrapes with the law. There was one guy who told a newspaper reporter that he drove like he fought: fast and furious.”

He was told that if he wanted to fight he should join the boxing club. He did. Eight years later he was welcomed back to the town as Britain’s youngest champion.

Boon was a playboy, a womaniser and one of the most colourful characters ever to step into a ring. His epitaph describes him as “A Legend in his own Lifetime”.

And now boxing biographer Bob Lonkhurst has told the story of the Chatteris Thunderbolt, in what is his sixth book.

Lifelong boxing fan Bob said: “On the material I’ve got this should be the best book I’ve written. I’ve told his story warts and all.

“Eric was massive in Chatteris. The railway companies used to have to put on special trains so that his thousands of fans could get from the Fens to London.

“I would go as far as to say that he is the biggest sporting personality Cambridgeshire has ever had.”

Bob, who started work on the book more than two years ago, has gathered information from archive newspaper reports from across the world. He has listened to stories from fans who watched Boon fight more than 70 years ago.

The book’s appendix lists all Boon’s traceable bouts, with schoolboy and exhibition fights included alongside his 141 professional contests.

‘A real little demon’

BOON grew up living in Burnsfield Street, Chatteris. He worked for his father Reg, who was a blacksmith, and spent hours at the forge he owned in Station Road.

At school, his fighting, mischief and practical jokes earned him a reputation as a “real little demon”.

After being caught fighting at school, teachers had to hold Boon down so the headmaster could cane him.

Boon concluded the punishment by saying that “the next time they treated him like that he would take each one on individually”.

In later life, he relished the London playboy lifestyle that he had earned in the ring - but this left him in financial turmoil.

Bob said: “He opened two nightclubs in Soho but he didn’t realise there was a thing called the licensing act so they were closed within a few weeks.

“He was always on the bread line because he said money left his hands ‘like red-hot bread’”.

“Researching it was exciting because I was finding things I didn’t know,” said Bob. “Eric was just special. He was knocking out grown men when he was 16.”

Boon was given the Lonsdale belt after he successfully defended his British title against Dave Crowley and, in what was hailed as ‘the fight of the century’, Arthur Danahar.

His hopes of claiming a world title were scuppered by the outbreak of the Second World War. He lost his British title in 1944 and retired soon afterwards.

But Boon’s playboy lifestyle continued to drain his finances and, without a trade to turn to, he was forced to return to the ring.

After heavy defeats in exhibition fights across the world, Boon’s boxing licence was taken away for his own protection.

As Bob writes: “In the end he was taking hidings purely for the money.”

Boon spent his final years living in Soham. He died aged 61 from a heart attack.

“My only regret is that I never saw him fight,” said Bob.

"Never have I witnessed such delirious scenes as those which occurred when Boon’s gloves were raised in victory. Scores of his Fenland supporters jumped wildly into the ring and roared their delight while the Lonsdale belt was handed to the youngest champion Britain has ever had.
John Thompson, writing in the Daily Mirror after Boon beat Dave Crowley in December, 1938."

John Thompson, writing in the Daily Mirror after Boon beat Dave Crowley in December, 1938.

• BOXING legend Dave ‘Boy’ Green became great friends with Boon after meeting him as a teenager at Chatteris Amateur Boxing Club.

Bob, who also wrote Fen Tiger: The Success of Dave ‘Boy’ Green, has dedicated his latest work to Green, who was awarded an MBE this year.

The dedication reads: “For Dave ‘Boy’ Green MBE. A great fighter and special friend whose contribution to charity and the sport of boxing over many years has been immense.”

Green has also written the foreword, in which he describes his determination as a young boxer trying to emulate Boon’s achievements.

He writes: “A book about Eric Boon is long overdue because his success in the boxing ring put our town on the map.

“People adored him and still talk about him today. He had an eventful life and should never be forgotten.”

"Boon was the man I set out to try and emulate. He was my inspiration, but the difference is that I train much harder than he ever did.
– Dave ‘Boy’ Green following Boon’s funeral in January, 1981."

Dave ‘Boy’ Green following Boon’s funeral in January, 1981.

CHATTERIS Museum is set to host the book launch of Chatteris Thunderbolt: The Eric Boon Story on August 9, from 2-7.30pm.

The book is available in hardback, priced at £19.95, and paperback, priced at £15.99. To reserve or buy your copy contact author Bob Lonkhurst on 01707 659756.

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