LATCHFORD boxing legend Ron Thurston’s sporting career will be best remembered for his Commonwealth Games medal but there was so much more to it than that.

Thurston, a father of two and a granddad, who died last week aged 77 after a long illness, won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966.

It was the highlight of a 120-fight amateur career, 97 of them as wins and 50 of those by stoppage or knockout for the former engineer at James & Nuttall Engineering Company who also boxed for England across Europe and in America.

In the Cheshire Cheese regular’s 23 losses he was never knocked out, with 20 defeats coming on points, two from cut-eye stoppages and one via disqualification.

“Not a bad record,” said former lightweight Thurston in the synopsis he wrote on his life and career - in which he revealed some ‘traumatic’ health experiences as a child through asthma until the condition gradually subsided.

It all started for the lifelong Latchford resident with the boxing team at St Augustine’s RC Primary School, where he contributed to league and tournament victories four years running.

Warrington Guardian: St Augustine's boxing team, 1957. From left, back row, David Green, Ray Taylor, John Cartledge, Colin Williams; front row, David Whitty, Ron Thurston, Mel Thorn, Barny Losh, David CrippsSt Augustine's boxing team, 1957. From left, back row, David Green, Ray Taylor, John Cartledge, Colin Williams; front row, David Whitty, Ron Thurston, Mel Thorn, Barny Losh, David Cripps (Image: Archives)

After rising to St John’s RC Secondary Modern, now Cardinal Newman High School, boxing in schools had become outlawed so he joined Raven Amateur Boxing Club aged 12 under the guidance of coach Herbie Goulden and their partnership flourished.

His first club contest, a win in round one, came when he was 15 and he soon became West Lancashire and Cheshire Junior A champion followed by North West and Northern Counties champion.

He progressed to the ABA Championships, where he was defeated by the eventual winner Jimmy Dunne who secured his selection for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Then four wins by knockout were rewarded with representing the West Lancashire team against a French Select in Paris, succeeding in his first overseas contest on points.

The wins kept coming and he had soared up the rankings while now considered an ‘open class boxer’, so his opponents got tougher and tougher.

After twice decking international Johnny Eales before stopping him in the third round, Thurston was handed his first England vest against Ireland.

“I boxed Irish legend Jim McCourt who had won the Olympic bronze medal. Despite losing on points I had truly arrived on the international scene,” said Thurston, who later took up crown green bowls with Grange Sports.

He suffered misfortune in the semi-finals of the ABA’s against London champion Johnny Head as Thurston had his man down and almost out when a collision of heads opened ‘a horrible’ cut above his left eye and the referee had no option but to stop the fight.

“The English selectors realised the cut cost me the victory and selected me for the 1966 Commonwealth and Empire Games in Kingston,” said Thurston.

Warrington Guardian: Cutting from Warrington Guardian, 1966Cutting from Warrington Guardian, 1966 (Image: Newsquest)

“This was to be one of the most memorable times of my life.

“What an atmosphere. It was electric, particularly in my first contest when I was drawn against- the home-based Jamaican champion Charles Bryant who had 15,000 supporters cheering him on at the Sabrina Park Stadium.”

He ran out the unanimous winner, as he did Canadian Art Jones in the next round before stopping Kenyan Steven Baraza in the second round of his semi-final.

“I was to meet the formidable Nigerian Anthony Andeki. Unfortunately, after three hard-fought rounds, I had to settle for the silver medal,” said Thurston.

“Disappointed? Yes, but not bad for a 20-year-old from Latchford.”

Warrington Guardian: Ron Thurston's letter of congratulations after winning silver for England in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in JamaicaRon Thurston's letter of congratulations after winning silver for England in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica (Image: Ron Thurston scrapbook)

He returned home to a hero's welcome, with crowds cheering for him at Bank Quay Station, his home in Reynolds Street and at the Raven Hotel.

Warrington Guardian: Warrington Guardian's report on Ron Thurston's return home to a hero's receptionWarrington Guardian's report on Ron Thurston's return home to a hero's reception (Image: Newsquest)

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The following year, and now first choice for England and ranked number one in Great Britain by The Boxing News, Thurston reached the ABA final against London champion Tommy Walker.

“After three competitive rounds the majority of the crowd thought I’d won, however the decision ultimately went to the Londoner,” said Thurston.

“I guess sometimes you have to knock them out to get a draw. I must admit I was gutted.”

The following season kicked off with good wins in Germany, Austria and Poland before beating Scottish champion Willie Burns at the Royal Albert Hall.

England call-ups then reached another level in Denmark.

“I was bestowed the honour of captaining my country and what an honour that is – a fantastic feeling,” said Thurston.

“That night I scored one of the finest victories of my career, knocking out the Scandinavian champion Erik Sivebeck with a left hook to the solar plexes.”

His ABA jinx struck again in 1969 when, after scoring three knockdowns against Jimmy Barnes, Thurston was disqualified for an ‘alleged’ low blow.

“I was bitterly disappointed and began to consider the numerous offers I’d received to turn professional,” said Thurston.

He duly signed pro forms with Bobby Neil but changed his mind and was successful in reapplying for his amateur status.

In 1970 he broke his right hand during the ABAs but after knocking out Northern champion Tony Russo in the first round of his comeback, Thurston was selected for his second Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

But with his training needing to be co-ordinated with organising his marriage and house hunting, as well as suffering three bouts of ‘chronic tonsillitis’ in the build-up, Thurston felt he did not do himself justice in Edinburgh.

“I was beaten by a fighter that I would normally have handled with ease,” said Thurston.

“Not only was I sick with disappointment for myself, I also felt I had let everybody and boxing down so badly.”

He was relieved when the England selectors kept faith in him and selected Thurston for the trip to USA, where he won his three fights against top star Norman Goins at the Ohio State Fair, against Kenny Snider in Indianapolis and then against Rudy Donato in New Jersey.

“That was probably one of the finest England teams to leave these shores,” said Thurston.

“John Conteh, Alan Minter (both to become world champions), Alan Richardson, Howard Hayes and David Needham (all British champions).”

England were victorious in all three venues and Thurston said: “After my below-par- performance at the Edniburgh Games I was more than happy and filled with renewed confidence at winning three times in America.”

It was then that Thurston decided to bow out as a fighter, though he returned to the scene as a coach at Raven ABC.

“I was setting up house and my wife, Marianne, was pregnant with our first child,” explained Thurston.

“This meant I was finding it harder and harder to devote 100 per cent of my time to boxing and I subsequently decided to go out at the top.

“I admit it was a wrench and I missed the buzz and exhilaration but many boxers, in my opinion, go on too long and suffer the physical consequences.

“It is with this in mind that I don’t regret my decision.

“I had many great times, made lots of good friends and will always have those memories.”

Warrington Guardian: Ron ThurstonRon Thurston (Image: Contributed)

He was very proud to be one of three members of the family to have competed for their country, with his daughter Kath having ran for England and his brother Tony (Tosh) having played rugby league for Great Britain.

Ron’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, August 9, at Warrington Parish Church, St Elphin’s, and then Walton Crematorium.

Afterwards, the family will welcome anybody who knew Ron at Grange Sports and Social Club for refreshments, to celebrate his life and bode a final farewell.


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Warrington Guardian: Ron ThurstonRon Thurston (Image: Contributed)