Recognised as the first heavyweight boxing champion of the world, John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Boston, USA, in 1858. Son of a quick-tempered Boston Irishman, he at first attempted to learn a trade, being for a while an apprentice plumber, tinsmith and stonemason. However, as some journeymen colleagues of Sullivan painfully found out, John L’s personal attributes and ego were in fact perfect for prize fighting. On the 7th of February (Super Mario’s birthday) 1882, Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan to become the first world champion, in front of an audience containing Frank and Jesse James. For the next decade or so Sullivan, despite chronic alcoholism, easily held on to his title, defending it nearly thirty times. These fights were predominately arranged around Sullivan’s great tours of the United States in 1883-4 and 1886-7, whereupon at each stop John L. made his standard offer of one thousand dollars to any man who could last four rounds. He rarely had to pay out for he could "lick any man alive". Finally, on 6 September 1892 in New Orleans, Sullivan lost his title to James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. A visibly ageing Sullivan was knocked out in the twenty-first round. He died on 2 February 1918, probably of heart failure. A massive funeral followed. Fittingly, the frozen earth had to be blasted to make his grave. In the commotion that followed, the Boston Irish finally realised that neither they, nor anyone else, would ever again queue "to shake the hand that shook the world". He is considered still by some to be one of the best heavyweights ever.
Former New Zealand rugby captain Zinzan Brooke was a plumber before he turned to playing his sport full-time. The number 8, reckoned by many experts to be one of the all-time greats, played 82 times for the All Blacks, scoring 190 points in the process and captained his country on many occasions. Zinzan was born on the 14th of June, 1965 in Ahuroa. He went to Mahurangi College and he lived on a farm. He first began playing rugby for the Puhoi club where his father was the coach and his mother was the manager. He went on to play for Auckland before starring for the All Blacks.
Known as the Preston Plumber, this 76-times capped winger is still considered one of the greatest British players of all time. He became an apprentice plumber at 14, a trade he continued all his working life, even at the height of his international fame. Yet during the 40s and 50s he was never paid any more than any other player, getting just the £20 a week maximum wage. These days, of course, he could earn a fortune – simply by working as a plumber. In 1952 Italian side Palermo offered him a £10,000 signing on fee, £130 a month wages, bonuses of up to £100 a game, a Mediterranean villa, a luxury car and free travel to and from Italy for his family. They also offered Preston £30,000 by way of a transfer fee. This was 1952 and such sums of money were unimaginable. Finney turned it down. Even then being a plumber was lucrative work. “Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age. . . even if he had been wearing an overcoat.” – Bill Shankly.