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Eddie Phillips

Boxer

Boxer

Born: May 23, 1930; Died: February 12, 2014.

Edmund "Eddie" Phillips, who has died aged 84, was a leading Scottish amateur and pro-welterweight boxer who became one of world middleweight champion Randolph Turpin's favourite sparring partners. In his early days, he also boxed regularly with Sean Connery.

He was born in the Warrender Park district of Edinburgh, the son of a Nigerian doctor who anglicised his name. Raised in a cultured, affluent background that was totally atypical of the usual social milieu of Scottish boxers in the 1930s, he learned his boxing during the Second World War in the amateur boxing section of the Sea Cadets.

It was in the cadets that he sparred with a youth from Fountainbridge called Tommy Connery who became famous as Sean Connery. Phillips often said that the future 007 could have been a first-rate boxer had he not chosen to take up acting.

"I sparred loads of rounds with Connery," he said, "and he was fast, skilled and tough. He could have gone all the way in boxing if he had chosen to."

For Phillips, joining the Sparta Amateur Boxing Club was the first step in a boxing career which would see this soft-spoken doctor's son play a key role in Englishman Turpin's epic world title win over American Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951.

At the Sparta between 1946-50, he won a clutch of amateur titles helped by mentors including Bobby Horne and Joe Fortune. Commenting on his friend's recent death, Fortune said: "Eddie was a cunning boxer and one heck of a body puncher - as well as a really smashing guy."

When Phillips' father relocated from Edinburgh to Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in 1950, Phillips could not have foreseen how fateful a decision that would prove, for near Nuneaton was Leamington Spa, home to leading British, European and world rated middleweight Turpin.

Turpin's manager George Middleton invited Phillips to become one of Turpin's main sparring partners in their drive for European and world middleweight title glory.

At a time when Turpin was sometimes knocking out opponents in under a minute, Phillips won the champion's respect as someone who was able to withstand his power.

Phillips and Turpin were both of Afro ethnic origin at a time when Boxing Board of Control enforced a colour bar that denied many British-born Afro-Carribbean men from taking part in British title fights until 1948.

When Turpin challenged Sugar Ray Robinson for his world title at London's Earls Court, Phillips played a key role by imitating Robinson's style in sparring bouts with Turpin. Their fights also cemented the personal and professional bonds between Turpin and Phillips.

In September 1951, Turpin sailed to the US to honour the contractual return-fight clause with Robinson, and Phillips went with him.

Although gutted that Robinson knocked Turpin out in New York so ensuring the Englishman's reign as world champion lasted just 64 days, Phillips was also thrilled to strike up a friendship with Robinson who introduced Phillips to his own ring idol, former world heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

On returning to the UK, Phillips resumed his own, rather more low-key professional career, winning 24 of 54 paid bouts with eight draws, although many of his losses were against men of the calibre of British and world middleweight champion Terry Downes and British 11stone 6lbs titlist from Birkenhead Pat McAteer.

In this connection, Fortune said: "I always believed that Turpin - by loading up on Eddie during their sparring sessions - stole Eddie's own potential to become a champion boxer." Whether true or not, Phillips later helped Turpin prepare for an unsuccessful bid for the vacant world middleweight crown against Carl Bobo Olson in New York in 1953.

By the end of his boxing career in 1957, Phillips had become a husband and father to three sons and a daughter so he started a chimney sweep business before taking up the role of doorman which he carried out at various Edinburgh venues until he was 65.

He then finished his working life in the somewhat gentler role as a popular school lollipop crossing man in Ormiston, in his adopted East Lothian home. Possessed of a pronounced soft, cultured voice and impeccable manners and a kind avuncular manner to children, Phillips shone in this peaceful role.

Having divorced his first wife, Phillips met and married Eileen in 1986. He is survived by her and his four children and grandchildren.

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