Former British champion and Sheffield United midfielder Curtis Woodhouse floored by Queen’s honour

GIVEN he likes a bit of a wind-up himself, it is no surprise Curtis Woodhouse thought it was some sort of elaborate hoax when he was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours list.

Curtis Woodhouse  who has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours. Picture: Gary Longbottom
Curtis Woodhouse who has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours. Picture: Gary Longbottom

The fiery former Sheffield United midfielder, who went on to become British light-welterweight champion in 2014, received it for services to football and boxing.

Currently managing Gainsborough Trinity in the Northern Premier League, he told The Yorkshire Post: “I got an email and it was a bit dodgy as it said we’ll contact you by email when normally it is by letter.

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“Straight away I was waiting for someone to ask for my sort code and bank number!

Curtis Woodhouse on his way to beating Mansfield's Matt Scriven in April 2014

“There was a number to ring and I rang it. I explained to the guy but at first he couldn’t see my name so I did think someone had had me on. But it must have been in alphabetical order as eventually he said he’d found me and offered his congratulations.”

Beverley-born Woodhouse, who was raised in Driffield in East Yorkshire and lives in South Cave, conceded: “It was definitely a surprise. When you sit down and process it all you think ‘wow’.

“It is nice to have my 20-year career in two different sports to be recognised by the Queen.

“I always think these things are for people on the telly so to get the award was really humbling and good for my kids.

Curtis Woodhouse.

“I’m looking forward to taking them down there and enjoying the occasion – I think we get to go down to a tea party at Buckingham Palace – so they won’t just see me as an overweight slightly balding man!

“They might realise I used to be actually quite good at sport as when we have a kickabout in the garden now I’m the worst player in the family! And it kind of puts a full stop on my career. I am really, really proud of it.”

That should, of course, be ‘careers’. It is rare, although not unknown, for anyone to excel in two professional sports especially two as markedly different as football and boxing.

From the Broad Acres, Peter Squires did play first-class cricket for Yorkshire in the 1970s while also representing England’s rugby union side, the winger even touring New Zealand with the British Lions in 1977.

New Zealand superstar Sonny Bill Williams went from rugby league to union before becoming a heavyweight boxing champion.

A combative midfielder, Woodhouse emerged from York City’s academy to sign for Sheffield United.

He represented England Under-21s – “we had Jamie Carragher, Frank Lampard, Jonathan Woodgate Paul Robinson, Joe Cole so when I look at that picture I stand out like a sore thumb” – before joining Birmingham City in a £1m deal.

It was with City that he briefly played in the Premier League in 2002-03. However, after spells with Rotherham United, Peterborough United, Hull City and Grimsby Town, he became disillusioned and quit the professional game aged just 26. At that point, Woodhouse started his boxing career, having loved fighting as a child.

However, he explained; “It wasn’t because I particularly enjoyed it; it was more out of necessity.

“I was brought up in a market town – Driffield – which was not very multi-cultural. Our next-door neighbour but one had a black labrador called nig*er.

“I went out every day and kids would call me names. My dad said that people would always do that if I didn’t stand up to them.

“I’m only five foot six now. I’ve always been small and really sleight. Probably in my first 50 fights as a kid I didn’t win any. I don’t think I landed a punch.

“I just used to run home crying. But the same as everything, the more you do it, the better you become. To move into boxing seemed like the next thing to do.”

After winning his first bout in 2006, he progressed to become British light-welterwieght champion eight years later.

Of all his achievements, that ranks highest.

“For me, winning the British title is something that will never be surpassed in anything I do,” insisted Woodhouse, who has “no intentions” of boxing again and hopes to move into managament in the Football League.

“That’s just because every boxer grows up and wants to be the British champion.

“I remember the week before I made my debut, the rankings in the Boxing News were out and I was 189th out of 189 in Great Britain. I was literally the worst fighter but I was there on merit because I was the worst. And it took me eight years to go all the way from 189th to ranked No 1 in Britain. So, it wasn’t just the fight. It was the whole journey of getting beat, getting knocked out, getting beaten up every day in sparring, the whole journey came to that one night in Hull when I managed to win the title.

“Without sounding overly arrogant I don’t think something like that will ever be done again from the level of football I played to then be the British champion.”

An obvious question is how high could he have risen in boxing if he had made the switch earlier? Woodhouse responded: “Everyone asks me if I think I’d have been a world champion if I’d have started younger.

“The answer for me is a simple one; no matter what I’d have done at a young age it would not have worked out for me. People mature at different rates.

“I got into the Sheffield United first team at such a young age and I did find it difficult; before I knew it I was earning a shed-load of money, living on my own in Sheffield in an apartment bachelor pad, out every night and it all just happened too quick.

“I see it as fortunate I never went into boxing at a young age as it is a dangerous sport to be half-assing it about. I could do that in football and still get away with it as I had enough natural ability to handle it and there’s another 10 players on the pitch.

“But in boxing you can’t mess about. You can lose your life. So, whatever I’d done at a young age, I’d have probably crashed and burned like my football career.”

Woodhouse “massively under-achieved” in football due to his own short-comings but is helping others get on the straight and narrow now.

He runs a boxing gym in Driffield and said: “I’ve fallen into working with kids that have fallen out of the school system or fallen off the tracks a little bit.

“I love working with them as it wasn’t too long ago that I was one of those kids; I’m from the same place these are from, the same council estate.

“Hopefully, I can inspire them to think ‘bloody hell, there is more to it all than just getting in trouble all the time’ as that is what I used to do.

“I’m also working in schools in Hull, Driffield and Bridlington so, by getting this award, now I’m hoping it enables us to branch out; sometimes, with a few letters after your name, people respond to your emails!”