One of Derry’s sporting legends was honoured on Friday when a plinth to Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly and his father Jimmy was unveiled in Fahan Street.
Billy, who passed away at the age of 78 in 2010 will always be remembered as a sporting icon in Derry and well beyond here for his pugilistic prowess.
Kelly made history in October 1954 when he emulated his father Jimmy by winning the British Empire featherweight title at Belfast’s King’s Hall.
The Derry man won the British title three months later before losing a European title bout against France’s Ray Famechon on points in Dublin.
Kelly went on to lose title bouts against Nigeria’s Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey and Charlie Hill.
The Derry man’s defeat by Hill in February 1956 led to a riot at the King’s Hall as Kelly was denied the British title belt despite having the Scotsman on the canvas on two occasions.
Kelly continued to box until 1962 and finished with a career record of 56 wins, 24 defeats and four draws from 84 professional bouts.
The name Kelly is synonymous with boxing and sporting achievement in Derry.
The Kelly family hailed from Fahan St and lived there until Jimmy Spider moved the family to Hamilton Street in the Brandywell.
The idea for the plinth honouring the father and son pair came from a series of sources including the Triax Neighbourhood Partnership Board working in partnership with the Kelly Family, Derry City Council, Department for Social Development and NIHE.
Charles Lamberton Strategy Manager at Triax said: “Triax is delighted to have been part of developing this project, remembering and honouring sporting heroes from our past is very important as it demonstrates to our young people that a bit of hard work and dedication and you can achieve in sport or any other field.
“Triax is keen to develop the tourist product and trail throughout this community as an economic driver for the regeneration of this area and small but significant projects like this allows us to continually to add to the product on offer.”
Jim “Spider” Kelly fought at feather, light, welter and middleweight during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, winning the Irish flyweight title, British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) Northern Ireland Area featherweight title, BBBofC British featherweight title, and British Empire featherweight title.
Billy uniquely emulated his father’s 1930s triumphs by winning the Commonwealth (British Empire) featherweight title in 1954 and the British title at the same weight in 1955.
Billy boxed amateur for the Derry Sports Club and the St. John Bosco Club in Belfast, winning two Ulster juvenile titles in the 8st and 8st 7lbs divisions.
He gave up the painting and decorating career, moved to work in England, and made his paid ring debut in August, 1950, at 18 years of age, and in Morecambe Winter Gardens, Lancashire.
During the 1950’s, this supreme master of defensive boxing skills, was a matinee idol.
He attracted record gates at the Belfast King’s Hall.
He was an amazingly gifted glove artiste, and there was every reason to believe he could follow Belfast’s Rinty Monaghan to a world crown.
Billy worked until retirement age in the DuPont factory on the outskirts of Derry.
His late brother, Patrick, was also a professional boxer.