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Former boxing champion dies in Islington care home

Son pays tribute to father who was 'very popular' figure in the Holloway area

27 April, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Johnny Howard 

A FORMER boxing champion has died in a care home after contracting coronavirus.

Johnny Howard, 85, was southern area featherweight champion and ranked 3rd in Britain in his heyday.

His son Anthony Howard told the Tribune that his father had died this month while he was living in the Highbury New Park care home with the cause of death being Covid-19 and other health complications.

Anthony said: “I cried for about two minutes when I found out and then a few days after I sobbed for half-an-hour solid. I was sitting there on my own and I just started sobbing.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better dad to be honest, as a kid or an adult. Whatever we wanted he would help.”

Johnny was brought up in Crayford Road, Holloway, with his twin Alan and older brother Pat by his parents Joe and Ellen Howard.

He was evacuated for part of the war to Leicestershire. When he returned he spent his childhood playing among the bomb craters around Islington and dodging neighbours who shouted at him and his friends to “keep quiet” as they played noisy games of football in the street.

Johnny Howard as a young man 

Dixie Dean, who ranked 6th in the featherweight division at one point, lived in the adjacent Carleton Road after the war.

He told the Tribune: “We were one of the only houses that had a fridge in those days. Everyone else had those pantries. So Alan and Johnny used to come round and my mum would give them bags of ice.

“Licking ice was a treat back then.”

Dixie added: “We had a green square of grass in the back garden that was the perfect shape for a boxing ring. Alan and Johnny would take me out back and teach me to box.”

Johnny spent two years in the army when he turned 18 as part of national service.

He entered the army boxing championships and reached the semi-final before he was disqualified.

But his boxing career took off when he returned as he became the Southern area featherweight champion, boxing in all the major London arenas like York Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Anthony said: “My dad was never knocked out. He was a brawler. He lost a few fights on TKO but never knocked out.

“He went and travelled the world with his boxing. He went to Australia to do a run of three fights but he came home after one because he became home sick.”

Johnny didn’t approve of the aggressive pre-match bragging and shouting that has become a mainstay of professional boxing since the great Muhammad Ali made it popular in the 1960s.

“When I see them (boxers) get in the ring now and give it all this nonsense I can’t believe it,” Johnny once told a documentary crew.

“We used to get in the ring and go over straight away and shake hands with one another before the fight started. We’re all still cmates now, us boxers.”

When he wasn’t boxing he helped out with his dad’s fruit and veg business. They had stalls in Seven Sisters Road and then expanded to sell in boroughs across the capital.

Johnny married Freda Hicks in 1959 and had two sons Anthony and Lee. He later became a grandfather of eight.

Anthony said: “He said his proudest moments were when we were born. He was a great grandfather.

“Dad was firm but fair. He had a terrible sense of humour, but he thought he was funny.

“Like whenever he was driving along in a lorry he would make out he was whipping a horse and he would keep pretending to whip it to make it go faster. That would make him laugh every time.”

Johnny retired from the fruit and veg trade about 20 years ago and started driving a cab until he was in his mid-70s.

Anthony said: “Dad always worked. It kept him busy and fit. He was the same weight he had been when he was a featherweight champion up until when mum died.

“We were all devastated after she died and dad went quickly downhill.”

Anthony moved into the family home in Crayford Road from his flat in Kings Cross to take care of his father after Freda died in 2016.

Johnny moved into Highbury New Park six months ago. He died on April 4.

As the Tribune previously reported, two workers and another resident have died in Highbury New Park after contracting the virus.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that 15 people have died in Islington care homes with Covid-19.

Deliana Katsiaounis, regional director at Care UK who run the Highbury home, said: “Our team is deeply saddened by Mr Howard’s death and we send our thoughts and condolences to his family and friends. The team in the home are working incredibly hard to provide the best quality care for residents.

“We are doing all we can to maintain effective lines of communication with relatives. It is not uncommon for the health of older and frail people to deteriorate very quickly when they have symptoms of coronavirus. However, without yet having been able to investigate Mr Howard’s case in detail, I can only offer our sincere apologies for any additional distress his family may be suffering.”

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