Micheal Jordan to baseball, Paulo Maldini to tennis, Curtis Woodhouse to boxing. There has been some ambitious crossovers in the world of professional sports but possibly none more so than the day Heavyweight Champion of the World, Joe Louis, signed for Liverpool Football Club.
The road to his football fame had started for the ‘Brown Bomber‘ when he had beaten James J Braddock for the title in 1937. With this he started a run that would make him the most famous athlete on the planet.
He had made global headlines defeating Hitler's favourite fighter; Germany’s Max Schmeling on the eve of war in Europe. A monuments event that was shown in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic.
With other high profile wins over Europeans; Wales’ Tommy Farr and Italy’s Primo Carnera, Joe had become an iconic figure in the west.
When he enrolled in the US military in 1942 to aid in the war effort they could see that, as sports most valuable commodity, his greatest strength would not be on the battlefields of Normandy or Iwo Jima but in service of morale.
He fought Buddy Baer and Abe Simon in fundraising fights before he was even sent for basic training. These bouts raised $47,000 and $36,146 respectively for the US war effort.
He spoke at gala dinners and officers clubs. Not a natural orator he won over the crowd by repeating the refrain "We'll win, 'cause we're on God's side."
The most strenuous area of his work though was his touring. By the end of the war Joe had traveled more than 22,000 miles and staged 96 boxing exhibitions before two million soldiers.
On one of these tours is where you find the most bizzare episode.
Under the new management of former centre half George Kay Liverpool FC were chasing their 5th league title and, as they do today, had an enormous following.
Joe’s handlers in the army wanted to inspire the dock workers of the important port city, raise their moral after heavy bombing, and knew that the best way to their hearts was through the football club.
The appeal too, was not lost on LFC, who understood the massive commercial potential of having an American superstar appear at their club. Such was the magnitude of the event the clubs manger began to hatch a crafty plan to double the publicity of the event.
So when on July the 4th 1944, Joe eventually stepped onto the platform at Lime Street Station, he made a b line for Anfield, and the press junket that awaited.
Joe met players and staff, shaking hands and giving autographs as he had been doing now for two years.
Liverpool Manager George Kay
Right as he reached the end of his tour of the ground, Manager George Kay reached out and asked Joe to put his autograph on a Football League amateur signing-on-form.
When Joe had done so, Mr. Kay turned and informed the champ he was now contracted to play for the Reds.
A swell of laughter rose from everyone around in the press lapped up the stunt.
Then, to make it official, Mr. Harold Tudor of the British Football Council appeared to ratify the document and Joe was officially placed onto Liverpool’s books as a player.
I’m sure there’s a joke about being a great finisher that no one then, nor I now, would be crass enough to make.
It’s unclear for how long he stayed in the books but Liverpool, alongside all of their footballing accolades, can without lying, claim to be the only football club in the world to sign a reigning Heavyweight Champion.
Although nothing more than a short publicity stunt it is an anecdote that only boxing could produce. A fistic oddity that stands in the record books as a unique blip on the normality of mainstream sport.
Ewan Breeze for SimBoxx