Shropshire Olympic boxing legend Tommy dies at 89

Boxing legend Tommy Nicholls, who won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympic Games and led one of the nation's most successful Olympic boxing teams ever, has died at the age of 89.

Tommy Nicholls, right, in the final at the 1956 Olympic Games at Melbourne, where he missed out on the gold in a split decision, coming home with a silver medal
Tommy Nicholls, right, in the final at the 1956 Olympic Games at Melbourne, where he missed out on the gold in a split decision, coming home with a silver medal

Tributes were today paid by friends and family to a Telford man who enjoyed a remarkable sporting career.

"We were very proud of him and all his achievements," said son Mark.

"Dad was a local sporting legend. He was a really lovely man, a great dad, and will be much missed."

The Shropshire boxing legend with some of his memorabilia

And Burt Morris, a former sports editor of the Shropshire Star who was a good friend of Tommy's over 60 years or so, said: "He was very affable and self-effacing, with no swagger or anything like that.

"He won a silver medal at Melbourne where he was captain of the most successful British Olympic boxing team up to that time, and the year before he won the European championship and was voted best boxer in the championship."

Tommy lived at the time of his Olympics success at a cottage at Brandlee, Dawley, but later lived in Wellington. He only fought two or three more times before retiring in 1957.

He was to recall of his Olympics exploit: “I lost in the final to a Russian, Safronov. I can remember being very disappointed at not getting a gold. On the night he was better than me."

Tommy Nicholls.

Tommy, who was fighting in the featherweight division and had lost on a split decision, was feted on his return home from Melbourne as captain of one of Britain’s most successful ever boxing teams.

“There were seven of us and we collected five medals – two golds, a silver, and two bronzes, which was pretty good going.”

A southpaw, he had also won four National Championships. He had also fought at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a bantamweight.

He died on July 31 at the Lightmoor View care home and is survived by his children, Mark, from Wellington, and Carol Strangwood, from Shifnal. Tommy was a widower, wife June, nee Clift, whom he had married in 1955, passing away at the age of 49.

Burt says Tommy became a national sensation when fighting for England against an American at Wembley when he landed a knockout left hook just as live television coverage switched to the event.

"It couldn't have happened better as people all over the country were just tuning in to the boxing and bang – he knocked him out."

This seems to have caught the eye of one viewer in particular, as Mark explains.

"He had the odd anecdote, and was fond of saying that on one of the occasions that he went to Buckingham Palace a royal flunky came up and said 'somebody wants to meet you' and he was taken into a room to meet Princess Margaret, who had an eye for handsome young men, and my dad was a very handsome young man.

"He had knocked out on live TV the American Golden Gloves champion Harvard Lancour when GB were fighting the States in London and I think that was what landed him the Princess Margaret meeting."

This is thought to show the moment when Tommy knocked out American Golden Gloves champion Harvard Lancour at London live on television in 1955.

His father Jack was a miner and Tommy was born at South Elmsall, Yorkshire, on October 12, 1931.

He was about seven or eight when the family moved to Roseway, Wellington.

Tommy recalled: “I had a friend who did a bit of boxing, Joe 'Clal' Bytheway, who is in Canada now. They opened the boxing club at Sankeys and he said 'why don’t you come down?'. I went down, and it went from there. I was 15-ish.”

As for his boxing style, he said: “I was not a slugger. I never tried to stand and punch people out. I hit and run.”

Burt says when he and Tommy were in their 50s they decided to try and get a bit fitter.

"We went to Sankey's on one of the nights the boxers had the dance hall to train. We did not train with the boxers but did a bit of exercise and a bit of sparring. In the changing rooms I picked up a copy of a magazine called The Ring, which was the bible in those days, which strangely enough had a list of the European amateur champions, including Tommy for 1955."

A young boxer, aged only about 13 or so, came in to get changed.

"I showed him this list and said: 'That's him' – Tom was sitting next to him – and this boy turned to Tom and said: 'Are you Tommy Nicholls?'

"Tom said: 'I used to be.'"

Giving his many trophies a polish in 1966 with children Carol and Mark.

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