At the age of 15, Marylebone-based boxer ‘Nipper’ Pat Daly was winning bouts against older, stronger men. Alex Daley, his grandson, recalls an amazing career cut tragically short
Published: 6th May, 2011
IMAGINE a boy of 15 beating full-grown men in professional boxing matches, over distances of 10, 12 and 15 rounds.
Now imagine that these fights took place on a near weekly basis and that the boy’s opponents were among the best fighters in Europe. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Well, this is not a work of fiction. That boy was my grandfather, a world-renowned child boxing star of the 1920s who lived in and boxed out of Marylebone. He was once hailed as the greatest teenage boxer the world has ever seen. They called him Nipper Pat Daly. He grew up in Hatton Street, a tiny byway nestled behind the Edgware Road, in a gas-lit terraced house with no bathroom and no hot water. Like most working-class lads of that area, Pat’s favourite sport was boxing, and professional fighting men were the heroes he looked up to. Though a niche sport in Britain today, in the 1920s pro boxing was a sport of the masses.
Fights were held all over London and across Britain several nights a week. Fans flocked in their thousands to cheer on local fighters and every national newspaper had its own dedicated boxing expert.
Some time around 1922, Pat’s father took him to 241 Marylebone Road – a famous gym run by one of the country’s top trainers, the self-styled “Professor” Andrew Newton, an ABA champion as far back as 1888 and 1890.
After a few boxing lessons Newton spotted Pat’s extraordinary natural talent, and was soon dedicating most of his time to training and developing the youngster.
Astoundingly, the Professor entered Pat into his first professional fight at the tender age of nine. Although it beggars belief, back in the 1920s boys in their early teens – and some even younger – were entered into professional boxing matches, often conceding age, weight and experience to their opponents. Pat’s pro career began without having had a single amateur fight.
He soon made a name for himself in the small halls of London, beating older, stronger lads and dazzling crowds with his uncanny skill. By the age of 14 he was topping bills at prestigious venues, such as Whitechapel’s Premierland, in contests of 15 rounds, several times a month.
In 1928, at the age of 15, “The Marylebone Wonderboy” – as he was now regularly billed – defeated some of the finest flyweights in Europe, themselves full-grown men. Among those he defeated were a future British champion and the reigning champions of Italy and Germany.
In 1929, having moved up a weight, he beat a former British bantamweight champion, a future British champ, a future European champ, plus the reigning champions of Germany and Belgium. These displays earned him global recognition and, although just 16, he was ranked in the world’s top 10 by America’s The Ring magazine.
But Pat was being rushed along and entered into fights at an astonishing rate. He’d had 25 contests in 1928 and another 33 in 1929. He won the majority but the strain of making weight and fighting grown men week-in and week-out took its toll on his undeveloped constitution.
In April 1930 – by then a lightweight – Pat suffered a brutal stoppage defeat at the hands of future British champion and world title challenger Seaman Tommy Watson.
Left with severe concussion, he was unable to walk for weeks, but Professor Newton, no doubt missing his regular income, entered him into another fight before he’d fully recovered.
The result was another stoppage loss at the hands of an opponent far beneath his class.
Shortly afterwards Pat split from his money-hungry manager and took a four-month rest from the ring to recover. He briefly tried a comeback but proved a shadow of his former self. He could no longer produce the ring magic that had once been his trademark.
Nipper Pat Daly, Marylebone’s boxing wonderboy, was burnt out at age 17.
Realising that he would now never win a world title, he retired from the fight game three weeks before his 18th birthday. He hoped one day to make a comeback but, sadly, he never did.
Despite his harrowing boyhood experience, Pat devoted much of his life to training boxers and ran his own gym. Although his career ended tragically early, he was revered in boxing circles for the rest of his life, and remembered fondly for the singular skill and excitement he brought to the sport.
• Alex Daley is the author of Nipper: The Amazing Story of Boxing’s Wonderboy. www.nipperpatdaly.co.uk or phone 07982 713 112 for more information