A Knock at the Door

By Geoff Shaw, ex Professional Boxer




I had no amateur boxing experience of any kind as a young man but I enjoyed the grit and hard toil of Billy Tansy’s boxing gym, I worked hard in the gym and despite my lack of experience I could hold my own in that gym. So much so that Billy encouraged me to jump in at the deep end and apply to the British Boxing Board of control for a Professional Boxers Licence. I was only 20 years old but I was confident if I caught them right on the night I could chin anybody!

I had the medical, filled out the forms and sent off the application to the board of control.


Not long after I was watching Z cars in our house with our kid, it was 7.00 pm on a rainy Monday night in February 1968 and there was a knock at the door. Our Derrick answered it and shouted “its for you Geoff” It was my trainer Billy Tansey and Norman Hill, Norman was a good singer in his day, a tenor and general dealer who had actually sang with the Black & White Minstrels. He would later sing at my wedding.


I wondered what they wanted as I walked to the door. Gym night was on Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday dinnertime. Norman said; get your kit your boxing tonight! How? What? Where? I said, Billy told me my licence had been approved and there was a fight available tonight if I wanted it, there was a kid from Huddersfield called John Joyce who was around my weight and his opponent had pulled out, I thought he was kidding; I was apprehensive, so soon without any warning. No time to prepare for my first contest, or to build up to it. I didn’t really have a choice Billy and Norman had made their mind up for me, I was fighting, that was that.


The show was at the Anglo American Sporting Club in Manchester, Billy said I've got you a dressing gown and he pulled out an old chequered grand dad dressing gown from a brown paper bag he had under his arm. I was a big lad but this dressing gown hung from my shoulders right down to my ankles like a woman’s dress and had a thick corduroy piece of rope to hold it all together! In desperation I said to Billy “I’ve got no shorts Billy”. He said “use your football shorts and socks. “What about boots?” “Your pumps will do, we will borrow a protector for your meat and two veg when we get there” I also had no gum shield and no bandages for my hands, never mind, I grabbed my kit bag and my shorts and socks which were still wet from training the day before. A few fights later I made my own gum shield out of gutter purser, I got from the chemist.


We set off in Norman’s “comer” van, it stunk of horse manure, this was good as I was shitting myself!

We arrived at the Piccadilly Hotel Manchester, the home of Anglo American Sporting Club, a gentleman’s club. The reception informed us to go to the 6th Floor. As we walked out of the lift, a boxing board steward pointed us to two bedrooms, which had been transformed into boxers changing rooms. There was a piece of paper on each door and one had my name Geoff Shaw written near the bottom so I went in. My full name is Geoffrey Shaw Woodhead so I decided to

box as Geoff Shaw, my mother’s maiden name was Shaw but Billy told me if I used Woodhead the crowd might be shouting “timber”, or some other comic crack, charming!

The changing rooms smelt like a hospital, the walls had plaster tapes and bandages stuck to them and Vaseline and bottles of rubbing oil lay about, it was like emergency ward 10! It was alien to me that night and I remember thinking “what am I doing here” my arse was twitching, but it became a situation I would get used to over the coming years. I looked round at some of the contestants, partly changed with nice ironed shorts on, fancy boots and dressing gowns with their names on the back, I felt out of place.

I was billed to fight last and I started to get changed into my borrowed kit, I was a bit embarrassed but what could I do? I had arms and legs just like the rest of them. Billy had borrowed a protector from my gym mate Amos Talbot; it was a bit tight around my wedding tackle so I adjusted the straps.

Billy Tansey and my manager Albert Marchant had arrived and they started to cut bandages and tapes for my hands, they taped me up ready for the gloves and asked me to punch their open hands to see they were not too tight, they felt good, I started to get that feeling I would feel many times after this night, the feeling which would keep me in this game from that day to this.

I was rubbed down with Albert’s homemade rubbing oil; it smelt of wintergreen and white spirit, they smeared Vaseline over my face to help the punches slide off and a boxing board inspector stamped my bandages and passed me for the contest.

There was a knock at the door, “next contest please” somebody shouted, I was ready. Billy picked up the granddad dressing gown, opened it up and hung it on me like a tent; he then tied the rope around me. “Let’s go Geoff” he shouted with much enthusiasm. We took the lift down to the 4th floor above the Peacock lounge. The 3rd fight finished and we walked down the steps towards the ring, I can’t have looked a pretty sight, think of Steptoe’s yard. We got to the red corner; I took a swig from a bottle of water and spat into a bucket full of 3rd party blood and snot.

Billy took of the dressing gown and I went up the steps into the ring and was told to step in a box full of resin to make my feet stick to the canvas which would stop me from slipping on the ring canvas, I had pumps on so I don’t think it really mattered. There was John Joyce from Huddersfield in the opposite corner, he looked awkward and gangly, I tried to look at him with my toughest face!

Billy shouted “first round, keep your hands up and use a stiff jab” I had practiced my jab a lot back at the gym with Billy, he had made me hold a steel bar in my left hand and shove off my back right foot, “your punch comes from your feet” he told me.

The referee called us together before the bell rang “keep your punches up, no use of the head and break when I say break, good luck to both of you.” The bell rang and I walked to the middle of the ring and we both jabbed together. Straight away I was trying to measure him for a big right hand and my left jab was the tape measure. I thought if I can’t hit him with my left jab I’d be lucky to hit him with my right.

He missed with his jab but I caught him with a mine and I made a good shove off my back foot like Billy taught me, it hit him flush on the Vera Lynn and down he went, the first punch of my first fight and I’d dropped him! The referee shoved me back, the count reached eight, and he got up. We started again, both of us jabbing at the same time followed by that right hand I was aiming to catch him with, John boxed his way back in and was starting to give his share and I didn’t have that same success for the rest of the round.

Round two soon came around, I carried on trying to hit him with big punches, right hands thrown from the gods without connecting, the jab had been forgotten, I was a complete novice and had much more determination than skill, it was an even match as John Joyce did much the same, we spent round three and four on even terms as we literally tried to chin each other!

Billy told me I was just ahead going into round five, I was like a street fighter running at him hands down with my chin in the air, it was Joyce’s turn to throw a right hand haymaker out of nowhere, it hit me flush on the chin and I was on my arse! I was more shocked that hurt and jumped up at the count of 2, the bell quickly went and I strutted back to my corner making out I was in good form.

Billy and Albert were not happy and read me the riot act, “get behind your jab” they both shouted almost at the same time. We were going out for the last round and I was breathing heavily, I looked across the ring at John Joyce as the ref warned us it was the last round, he looked worse than me, we had given all we had.

Billy said “its all on this round, make sure you win it.” We were both throwing jabs at each other, so I gave it one big last effort, I shoved off my back foot as Billy had shown me in the gym and that jab hit the target, bang on his chin and down he went for the full count!

I was amazed, I had won my first fight with a knockout, this was a great start, a knockout with a left jab. The crowd appreciated both our efforts and we got £1-10 shillings each as the nobbins came in.

My purse for the fight was £25, less 25% as my managers cut; bandages, tapes etc left me with £18 which was a lot of cash back in those days. At the time I was working as a painter for Manchester Direct Works on £17 a week.

Not bad for a nights work, I thought I’ll have some of this.