As the world celebrates Black History Month the story of boxer Desmond Morrison is a local inspiration.
Desmond Morrison came to Bedford from Jamaica in 1960 when he was 10 years old. His parents were already living in the town having moved to England in the mid 1950s.
His dad had been a builder at home but he found working outside in England so cold that he moved to working in a rubber factory in Huntingdon.
Desmond stayed in Jamaica with his grandmother where they lived in Enfield in the region of St Mary, about 15 miles north of Kingston, the country’s capital.
In January 1960 she put him on a plane and his father picked him up at London Airport and brought him to Bedford. His first memories of England was that is seemed to rain all of the time.
Desmond went to Goldington Road School. He was only one of two Jamaican children in the school. “I got on straight way with the children at the school”, he said. “I became close friends with a boy called Joe Bugner who also went on to become a champion boxer.”
He loved sport – when he was in Jamaica, he played cricket ‘with the big boys’ from eight years old.
But he got his first taste of boxing when he saw a film called Somebody Up There Likes Me starring Paul Newman.
“On Saturdays a projectionist used to come to Enfield from Kingston and show movies in the school house. I saw this film when I was nine years old, based on the life of middleweight boxing legend Rocky Grazian.
“After I saw it, I told everyone that that was what I wanted to be – a champion.”
Desmond was first introduced to Boxing by his PE teacher at Goldington Road School, Mr Rowe, who on a rainy day when they couldn’t play sport outside, put the boys into the changing rooms, cleared an area and made a boxing ring.
From there Desmond started training with Joe Bugner in Bradgate Road and began school boy boxing.
He won the Bedfordshire School Boys Championship, as a Lightweight, at 12 years old in 1962.
As well as training he left school in 1966 and was given an apprenticeship at WH Allen to train as a diesel engineer. This involved him combining training and studying at college.
“My grandmother said to me ‘Desmond, you cannot do two things at once.’ ‘I said, Grandma watch me!
“I do three things at once, and I did, train, study and work.”
At WH Allen he worked on the first British nuclear submarine – Dreadnaught. He left the company in 1984.
Des then moved onto fights across the region in amateur competitions and turned professional in 1969.
His first professional fight was in Bethnal Green, London which he won. Over the next 12 years he took part in competitions around the world including Denmark, France, America and Nigeria.
He became the British Light Welterweight Champion in 1973. He also fought in European competitions. He won 36 of his 50 fights.
After he retired from boxing, he went on to train boys at Bedford Amateur Boxing Club until the 1990s.
Des said, “The main thing that I learned from boxing was self-discipline to achieve your goals.
“My boxing hero was Cassius Clay, later to become Mohammed Ali a beautiful boxer and man but the greatest man was Nelson Mandela for bringing the different races and cultures together.”
Contributor: Michele Smith