THE corner of Randlesdown Road and Bromley Road in Bellingham can’t exactly be described as a fashionable London address.
Yet that particular nondescript location in Lewisham is about to become the home to one of British boxing’s most symbolic landmarks.
Because the long-awaited statue of Sir Henry Cooper — the only fighter ever to have received a knighthood — will be unveiled there on October 12.
And John Conteh, former world light-heavyweight champion and one of Cooper’s best pals, will have the honour of unveiling it.
Cooper, who grew up in that area of ‘Sarf London’, reigned as British heavyweight champion from 1959 to 1971 and won three Lonsdale Belts outright.
They are records that will never be broken.
Known as Our ’Enery, there hasn’t been anyone who laced on a pair of gloves held in more affection by the British public.
With all due respect to men like Frank Bruno, Ricky Hatton and now Anthony Joshua, Cooper — who had his last fight 48 years ago — remains a national institution and he’s been dead since 2011.
He never allowed his fame to go to his head and he was just as popular with men, women and children who never even saw him fight.
Warm-hearted outside the ropes, he possessed down-to-earth Cockney charm, great integrity, and his priorities were his family and raising money for charity.
Cooper, who died aged 76, was for a long time Europe’s best heavyweight — but could never be described as world-class.
His greatest moment came when his feared left hook — ’Enery’s ’Ammer — exploded on loudmouth Cassius Clay’s chin and dumped him on the canvas.
That punch landed 56 years ago at Wembley Stadium but Henry’s army of fans have never forgotten the moment that nearly changed the course of boxing history.
Clay survived, became Muhammad Ali and won the world title eight months later. That was the beginning of a remarkable friendship between Cooper and Ali, born out of mutual respect.
Whenever I bumped into Ali afterwards he always asked me: “How’s Henry Cooper doing?”
Carl Payne, the award-winning sculptor, has done Henry proud.
He allowed me a preview of Henry’s statue before it was cast in bronze. It’s nearly 8ft tall, weighs more than 30 stone and the likeness to Cooper is uncanny.
It has cost more than £100,000 and — if it was not for Carl’s philanthropy plus the generosity and dedication of members of London’s Ex-Boxers Association — this project would never have got off the ground.
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Carl agreed to do the work for half price and LEBA spent the last seven years raising money.
Cooper’s statue deserves to be a special attraction in one of central London’s parks or squares. But the bureaucrats at City Hall and Westminster didn’t want to know. So beautiful down-town Bellingham it is.
If Our ’Enery had been asked, he probably would have wanted to stand among his own — as he didn’t want to make a fuss.
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