He hit me - and I thought I was in a field
Carl Crook is a well known face around Chorley, but unlike any other window cleaner, Carl is a record-breaking former British and Commonwealth boxing champion who has had an illustrious sporting career... as Mike Day finds out.
IF you look around the home of Carl Crook you will see no boxing trophies or memorabilia ... probably not what you would expect from a former British and Commonwealth champion.
If you look closely you may see one poster promoting a Chris Eubank fight at the Albert Hall.
Carl said: "It's the only thing I have on display. I was on the same card, so Carl Crook and Pavarotti have both shared the same venue! It's the one venue I am most proud to have fought at, so I treasure that poster."
Boxing has always been in the Crook family with young Carl and his two brothers Peter and Nigel all enjoying success in the ring.
But it was Carl who went on to the biggest successes. After 117 amateur bouts he turned professional and went on to capture two lightweight titles.
As a member of Bolton Lads Club at the age of eight, Carl took to the sport well, even though he wasn't able to take part in any competitions.
Carl and his family moved to Adlington from Bolton and it was in Chorley that he made his boxing debut.
He said: "You weren't allowed to fight until you were 11-years-old, so I had to wait until January 27 1975 before I could have my first bout.
"I fought a lad called Pearson and stopped him in the third round. I can still remember it quite clearly."
From then on Carl, a pupil at St Michael's High School, battled his way through the youth ranks to claim the National Schoolboy Championship title at the age of 15.
He said: "The first time I really got hurt was when I was fighting for England Schoolboys against the Welsh Schoolboys.
"I was fighting against a lad called Billy Byron. He hit me with a good punch and I actually thought I was in a field on a summer's day!
"I was still standing, but didn't have a clue where I was for a few seconds. That's when I knew what a hard game boxing was."
After finishing school, Carl joined the army in 1980 where he was able to continue his love for the sport.
He added: "I was Combined Services Champion three years running.
"There were some good fighters and it was a very hard competition to win, because you had to fight a lot before you got a chance to win the title.
"You would fight for your battalion or regiment. I was in the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment."
It was after four-and-a-half years in the army that Carl's boxing career really took off.
In 1984, he narrowly missed out on a chance to represent Britain in the Olympic Games when he lost in the ABA Finals.
Carl said: "The winner of the tournament went on to fight at the Olympics, so I missed out, but I was selected for an England team that fought in Finland, where I shared a changing room with a very young Mike Tyson, but of course no-one knew him then."
A second ABA final followed, as Carl fought for Chorley ABC, but he was again beaten, and his final amateur fight was against the World Number 1 Andreas Otto.
Carl said: "That was a very hard fight, but against the number one in the world it was always going to be."
In 1985, Carl signed the papers to become a professional and made his pro-debut in Bradford where he won on points against George Jones.
After four years on the pro circuit, Carl teamed up with promoter Barry Hearne.
He said: "Barry was ambitious and prepared to put the money in to get fights against the bigger names in the sport, which was great for me, because it gave me a chance to climb the ranks quickly.
"I had been ranked number one for a while, but it wasn't until I went with Barry that things really started happening. There's a lot of politics in boxing when it comes to promoting fights."
It was with Barry that Carl got his first title shot against Morrocan-born Najib Daho at the Preston Guild Hall, in 1990.
Carl said: "He was a bit of a boxing hero at the time. Everyone knew him, so it was a great atmosphere for the fight. It went the full 12 rounds and it was a real hard fight. I eventually won it on points.
"I had always looked up to people like Jim Watt who was a champion and I always wanted to be a champ just like him, so winning my first major title was one of the best moments of my career.
"Jim used to commentate on Fight Night on television, so I had the chance to chat to him on several occasions. He gave me advice and help on anything I wanted, and when that comes from someone like him you really listen."
Carl added a British title and successfully defended his Commonwealth crown against Tony Richards, Ian Honeywood, Daho again, then Brian Roche, at Earls Court.
The victories ensured he secured the Lonsdale belt in a record breaking 161 days, which was entered into the Guiness Book of Records the following year.
Defeat followed in December 1991 against European (EBU) lightweight champion Antonio Renza in Rossano Calabro, Italy.
Carl bounced back with further successful British and Commonwealth defences against Glaswegian Steve Boyle, in Preston, in May 1992.
Yet a showdown with Luton-based Billy Schwer signalled the end of his British and Commonwealth winning run at the Albert Hall in October 1992.
And that knockout was followed by Carl's memorable last pro fight, a knockout at the hands of Jean-Baptiste Mendy, in Levallois, France, in his second European title attempt in April 1993.
Carl added: "It was a voluntary title defence, so they were expecting an easy win, but they got a tough time.
"I took him to the eighth or ninth round. He was just too much for me. He was such a good fighter.
"At the end of the fight they lifted me up and paraded me round the ring, because they were so impressed with the fight. It was a fantastic atmosphere. Even at the airport on the way home people were coming up to me asking for autographs."
Despite 13 knockouts among 26 wins in a 31 fight pro career, Carl said he would have not wanted a comeback: "There was talk of various fights, but I didn't want to carry on. It was so hard to stay at the fight weight of 9 stone 9. I was always dieting, sometimes only eating one meal a day. If you ask any boxer they will tell you how hard it is."
Carl still stays in shape training at Natbridge Boxing Club, in Leyland, and is always happy to offer advice to younger fighters.
He added: "I don't miss boxing. I still hold the record for most title defences and I'm happy with that.
"I do sometimes spar with the younger fighters and give advice."
So what advice does Carl have for the next generation of boxers?
"I suppose the best piece of advice would be that if you have the dedication you can achieve anything.
"If you look at the likes of Michael Jennings, he has shown great dedictaion and ability to get where he is today."