If ever there was a ‘non-scouser’ sportsman who was taken to Liverpool’s heart it was the Nigerian boxer Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey. His was a classic ‘rags to riches’ tale. Having enjoyed considerable success in West Africa, he arrived in Liverpool three days before Christmas 1951 aged just 19 and in a city that contrasted in every way with his Nigerian homeland.
Bassey recalls in his autobiography Bassey on Boxing  that one of the first duties he had to perform was to pose for photos for the Liverpool Echo, in boxing kit and on the roof of the Echo building; “I have never been so cold in my life….even the people watching were freezing and they were in overcoats”. One of the men greeting him that first day was J E Wiggall, who wrote for the Echo on boxing under the name ‘Stork’. His column was to follow every moment of Bassey’s rise to fame over the years and this particular pundit must have known what he was about as in one of his earliest pieces on this diminutive young boxer he wrote “the more I see of Bassey the greater my admiration for his fighting qualities….He can fight and has courage. He will beat most of the Empire’s bantamweights.”
After winning seven out of eight fights in 1954 and notching up five victories in 1955, Bassey won his first title, defeating Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly for the Empire featherweight crown in November 1955. By the middle of 1957 he was fighting the French Algerian Cherif Hamia for the world featherweight title, the referee stopping the fight in the 10th round in Bassey’s favour. He successfully defended his world title in April 1958 against Mexican Ricardo Morena but then lost the title to Davey Moore in March 1959. After losing the return match with Moore in August 1959 Bassey took the sensible decision to hang up his gloves.
Bassey returned to Nigeria and became a physical training director and coach of the country’s Olympic boxing team producing medal winners at the 1964 and 1972 games.
Bassey was a modest and gentle man outside of the ring who was always approachable and prepared to offer his help for charity events. Many of those who lived in the Liverpool 8 area while he was resident there fondly recall his friendliness and good nature. He became close friends with Bessie Braddock, who took him into the House of Commons and introduced him to Winston Churchill, both men being suitably impressed.
Besides being the first Nigerian to win a World boxing title he was also the first man from that country to be awarded the M.B.E. In 1979 he received Nigeria’s highest honour, membership of the Order of the Niger. In a millennium ending poll he was voted Nigeria’s greatest ever athlete.
While living in Liverpool he married his first wife Maria Williams in December 1955 at St James’ church, Park Place. After they were divorced he married again in 1977. He had eight children from his two marriages. He died in Nigeria in January 1998 aged 65.
When Bassey arrived in Liverpool on board the ship Apapa in June 1953 his address was shown as 54 Grove Street L8. The 1955 Electoral Register for Liverpool has him living at 28 Mulgrave Street L8. Leaving Liverpool for Nigeria in October 1957 on the Elder Dempster ship Aureol his address was shown as 5 Beaconsfield Street L8. All these houses have since been demolished.
My prized if slightly bruised copy of Hogan Bassey's autobiography found in a tiny bookshop in Much Wenlock in Shropshire. You can usually find a copy on Abe Books website for around £15.
YouTube has some good material on Hogan Bassey, click here to see Pathé News account of his winning the world title. My favourite source is Bassey's own book Bassey on Boxing [Thomas Nelson 1963] .
© Liverpool Footprints