AN old photograph today gives us the excuse to look back at the career of one of Sunderland's great old characters, Jack "Cast Iron" Casey, and to ask readers if they recall his appearances at charity events – or indeed, if they recognise themselves in our picture.
IN his heyday he was a hero, and long after his fighting career ended, Jack Casey was one of the best-known figures around Wearside.
To his fans, he was "Cast Iron" Casey, the boxer no one could knock out, but he had a heart of gold – as shown by this great old picture passed on to us by his son John.
The picture, in which Jack and his friend Douglas Parker are pictured with their accordions, was taken at a children's Christmas party in the East End in December, 1933.
Now John is wondering whether any of the children in this picture recognise themselves or can say where the event was held.
Although he was born in Southwick and lived in Bright Street, Roker, at the time of his death, Jack was the pride of the East End where he also lived for some time, and his packed funeral service was held in Sunderland Parish Church of Holy Trinity in Church Street East.
He had a hard start in life and first came to the limelight as an Echo boy in bare feet, selling papers at the corner of Burleigh Street and High Street East in the 1920s. It was at this time, at the age of 13, that he had his first fight in Holmeside Stadium.
In that era when hungry fighters queued for jobs, Jack was recognised as one of the bravest fighters of his day and wherever he boxed – this was a time when every town had its own boxing ring – he attracted thousands of supporters.
According to Echo reports at the time, his technique (if it can be called that) was to take all the punishment his opponent could give and then, when his opposite number was tiring, to deliver the knock-out punch.
When he died aged 71 in 1980, Echo boxing correspondent Fred Charlton wrote: "There was only one Jack Casey, a man who annexed the Northern title, and to his faithful followers that was all that mattered.
"He evaded a brass band reception in Sunderland the day he defeated Jock McEvoy, the Rochdale Thunderbolt. "He was a modest man who preferred to go home quietly and catch up on his sleep."
And, said Fred, although many boxers set out to try to knock him out, Jack was a fighter who could "take it on the chin".
In our obituary, the chairman of Sunderland and District Ex-Boxers' Association, Tom Parker, was reported as saying "Jack was one of the greatest fighters in the world".
But perhaps one of the greatest tributes came in his lifetime, when the association held a This Is Your Life social evening in his honour in Ford and Hylton Lane Social Club.
It was attended by 2,000 people and several hundred had to be turned away. He fought in more than 200 boxing contests, beating some of the best fighters of the day.
They included Jock McAvoy, middle-weight champion of Britain who defeated Len Harvey, the heavy-weight champion; ex-British champion Harry Mason in three rounds; Canadian champion Del Fontaine in four rounds; Australian champion Lee Badious in seven rounds; South African champion Eddie Maguire in three rounds and London champion Archie Sexton in nine rounds.
Cast Iron Jack met the British heavyweight champion Jack London and lost on a close points decision.
According to the Echo's boxing expert, his finest hour was a breath-taking contest against Len Harvey for the British middleweight title.
At one point, he had Harvey over the ropes and one punch would have given him the title.
But Harvey recovered and Jack lost on points.
So maybe he was the greatest fighter never to have the recognition of a title.
Publish Date: 11 March 2005