Norfolk’s tribute to Sir Henry Cooper

Norfolk's tributes to British boxing legend Sir Henry Cooper have been led by the county's King of Sport who remembers being at Wembley to see him floor Muhammad Ali.

Sir Henry, a former British heavyweight champion who was known affectionately as Our 'Enry, died on Sunday just two days before his 77th birthday.

The heroic fighter, who famously floored Muhammad Ali, twice won BBC Sports Personality of the Year - and remains the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale belts outright.

He shot to world-wide fame by flooring the seemingly invincible Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, with his trademark left hook, known as Enry's Ammer, in a bout at Wembley in 1963.

Sir Henry lost that bout and a rematch three years later but it was the never-say-die attitude and gentle personality of the man, who also held European and Commonwealth titles during his 17-year-fight career, that made him such a much-loved figure.

Les King, Norfolk's 'King of Sport' and patron of Norwich Lads ABC, has met Sir Henry several times over the years and witnessed the punch which felled Ali in 1963.

He said: 'I was at Wembley when he fought Ali and I did go into the dressing room because at that time I had a professional boxing licence. It was a terrific punch which he almost knocked Muhammad Ali out with but unfortunately Henry Cooper did suffer with cuts.'

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Mr King who has written about Sir Henry in one of his three King of Sport books, said he was not only a great fighter but a gentleman too.

He said: 'I'm a member of the Ex-Boxing Champions Golf Society and Henry Cooper was the president. I've played golf with Henry Cooper and met him several times and he was always a gentleman. He encouraged people in boxing - always giving people advice. I'm sure everyone in boxing who knew Henry Cooper will be sad because he was a gentleman. Lots of people looked up to Henry Cooper, he was an icon.'

Former Norwich boxer Jon Thaxton, who was British, European and world lightweight champion during his own 17-year-career said Sir Henry would be greatly missed.

He said: 'People still remember and talk about his fights even today - he made a hell of an impression on the world of boxing and was one of the true greats. I've never met him but I delved into the history of what he did. He fought the best, didn't always beat the best, but always gave it his all. One thing that hindered his career was his cuts - he always got cut quite badly.'

Another Norwich boxer, former Commonwealth heavyweight champion Sam Sexton, said: 'It's like Muhammad Ali dying in America, there's going to be a lot of messages and the funeral is going to be a very big deal.

'Other than maybe Frank Bruno, he was the greatest boxer we have ever produced. I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him at Wembley a few years ago and he was a really nice bloke.

'He was always up for a laugh and had a lot of time for people, he was a gent.'

But it was not just in the ring that Sir Henry, who was knighted in 2000, proved to be a hit - the much-loved boxer was a national treasure who found another career as a TV personality after he finished boxing. He became a team captain on BBC's A Question of Sport and starred alongside other sporting heroes Kevin Keegan and Barry Sheene in the Brut cologne adverts.

In fact his aftershave campaign took him to Norwich on a visit to the plastics factory where the bottles were made in 1978.

Sir Henry was a frequent visitor to Norfolk with other trips to the county over the years including a visit to an office equipment store in St Stephen's Street, Norwich in 1986, a visit to Thetford in 1990 to visit 11-year-old boxing hopeful Rocky Dean and a another appearance at the former Airport Ambassador Hotel in Cromer Road, Helllesdon, in the same year.

Recently Sir Henry's health had began to fail with friends saying he never really recovered from the death of his Italian wife Albina in 2008 and that of his twin brother George last year aged 75.

Tributes to Sir Henry, who died of heart failure at his son's house at Oxted in Surrey, have poured in from the world of sport with David Haye, the current WBA world heavyweight champion, former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis among those to pay their respects.