Why boxing is back in the ring in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 10:44 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:46 09 April 2016
After a spell in the wilderness, boxing is back – and the sport is thriving here in Surrey. What is more, it is even being supported by the likes of the High Sheriff. Claire Saul learns the ropes
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2015
Its origins pre-date Ancient Greece, where it was a favourite sport, and it has attracted the favour of royalty and nobility. Yet, while it may have grand and enduring associations, boxing still hardly seems very Surrey, does it?
Well, think again. Surrey actually boasts a long-standing and highly successful history in the boxing ring, including an impressive track record of national and international champions. Nationwide, the sport has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, re-invigorated and brought to a whole new audience following British Olympic gold at London 2012. Indeed, it is hailed as the only booming sport for 16 to 25-year-olds, a group notoriously tricky to engage. In short, the boxing scene is thriving, with Surrey alone boasting over 24 busy clubs.
Gloves are on
One of the county’s best-known groups, Woking Amateur Boxing Club, dates back to the 1930s, a time when the sport was at its peak. Today, the club is very community-minded and considers itself a family-orientated organisation, with coaches and boxers alike carrying on in the steps of their fathers. Not that this friendly vibe prevents them winning medals, mind…
“Woking has had the only Senior Champions in the entire history of the Amateur Boxing Association of England,” says club coach and former boxer David Oliver, who is also an ABAE judge and referee. “We had Joe Awome in 1978 and then Matt Grainger in 2001 to 2002, who also won the National Novice Title. In addition, Joe Awome won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Canada, and Alanna Murphy who trains here won a bronze medal in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“Over the years, our club has had many schoolboy and junior champions too, including Danny Williams who won two Junior ABA championships and also bronze at the World Youth Championships. In the past two years, Nick Webb has been senior ABA finalist and semi-finalist and in the past six years Woking boxers have also competed both on international duty and club competitions worldwide.”
Aside from its competitive activities, the Woking club has also been involved in fund-raising initiatives to support local charities such as Woking Hospice. This community-oriented aspect of boxing is just one example of the way in which the merits of this sport extend far beyond the perimeter of the ropes. No wonder then that even the High Sheriff of Surrey, Peter Lee, a great advocate for the benefits of sport in general, is now a keen supporter.
“The great thing about sport is that it’s inclusive, and anyone can participate, regardless of their age or background,” he says. “It is also a way of engaging young people in a positive way; positive for them and for their communities, proven to cut crime and anti-social behaviour.
“Boxing is an excellent example of this. It can be for those who want to train, compete, take on a new challenge, learn a new skill or simply to work out. Like all sport, it is an effective diversionary activity that helps build self-esteem, confidence, discipline and personal achievement, not to mention fitness and better health. It also teaches values such as respect, enjoyment and sportsmanship.”
Keen to learn more, Peter recently visited Guildford City Boxing Club, which is believed to be the oldest boxing club in Surrey. The club has gone through many changes of name since it began in the 1920s, but has consistently produced champion boxers, including a particularly rich seam of success over the past two decades with over 40 national champions. What is more, Team GB boxing coach John Edwards is the lead coach at the club where the talent includes Rio 2016 hopefuls, Felix Cash and Jake Ball, who have also been distinguished by their role as young ambassadors for Guildford Borough Council.
“I watched a group of young lads spar, train and work out, and I could see what they were getting out of the experience,” says Peter. “I also saw photographs on the walls of the lads who have passed through the doors of the club, many of whom have turned professional under John’s expert coaching. Others go on to qualify as coaches and return to the club to coach and put something back. I am very proud to support boxing in Surrey and the many boxing clubs here.”
Get a round in
In fact, the High Sheriff is now such a fan of the sport that he is even hosting a Charity Boxing Dinner next month at Denbies Wine Estate. Taking place on Thursday March 26, this special event will showcase the talents of two organisations that have done much to support the development of young boxing talent in the county.
In one corner, there will be young representatives from Surrey Clubs for Young People, a charity that is dedicated to supporting and delivering high quality youth work for vulnerable young people in Surrey and south London. The organisation works with multiple sports disciplines, among them 18 boxing clubs across Surrey, helping with grants for equipment as well as organising regional championships and also assisting with their participation in the national championships. It is also part of the national Clubs for Young People network, which, incidentally, also facilitated the start of Amir Khan’s glittering boxing career.
In the opposite corner will be the police. Boxing has played a key role in the relationship between the police force and local communities in recent years. During the 1990s, the inaugural organisers of the first Police Community Club in north London were disappointed when sports such as football and basketball failed to deliver the anticipated results, but when Olympic-style boxing was introduced, it was a different ball game. In fact, one that didn’t require a ball at all.
“The change was staggering,” says Barry Jones MBE, the founder and CEO of Police Community Clubs of Great Britain. “Clearly, boxing had ‘street cred’ and, in spite of having the word ‘police’ over the door, the club now proved to be an instant and resounding success. In a centre of inner-city deprivation, families cried out for a facility where their children would be safe, learn discipline and obtain a purpose in their lives, together with participating in sporting activities. We provided that facility.”
Packing a punch
The number of affiliated clubs quickly spread far beyond the boundary of the Metropolitan Police Service, into Surrey and elsewhere – and today, the similarity of their goals with those of Surrey Clubs for Young People is clear. However, victory will be the only thing on the minds of those in the ring at next month’s showcase – an event which, as with all SCYP activities, draws on the support of the local community.
“Surrey Clubs for Young People has been working across a wider area and broader network of clubs than ever before,” says Joyce Quinnell, the CEO of the charity. “We couldn’t do this without the hard work and dedication of our Surrey volunteers, trustees, coaches and youth workers in the clubs and the collaboration of our donors, funders and local partners for which we are very grateful, including organisations such as the Rotary Club of Guildford District who’ll be helping at our boxing event.”
So it would seem that boxing in Surrey packs a real punch: clubs stretching back over the last century, highly regarded and experienced coaches continuing to produce national and international champions, and two young local boxers looking ahead to glory with team GB. And that’s not to mention the engagement of the county’s youth and the good deeds that benefit our local communities. It’s nothing short of a knockout.
Need to know:
The Charity Boxing Dinner will be presented by Surrey Clubs for Young People at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking on Thursday March 26. The charity will be represented by boxers aged from 11 to 17 years from their affiliated boxing clubs across Surrey, who will be squaring up to a team from the Police Community Clubs of Great Britain. Tickets for this three-course, black tie event are £55 each and a table of ten guests is offered at a discounted price of £500. The bar opens at 6.45pm, dinner will be served at 7.30pm and the boxing will begin at 8.45pm. To book, call 01737 668120 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A-bout boxing in Surrey
Here, a few of our county’s boxing pioneers share their views on the scene
“I am extremely proud of all the boxers in Surrey,” says Leah Jackson, secretary of the Surrey division of the Amateur Boxing Association. “I love my volunteering role working with them, the coaches and officials and am proud to call them my friends. I want boxing to progress with the changing times and I am determined about the sport growing and being available for all to enjoy.”
“Here at Foley Boxing Club in Thames Ditton, the feeling of the club as a family has continued through the years with the youngsters learning respect and self-discipline,” says Paul Dawson, head coach at the club, which has consistently punched above its weight, producing a long line of amateur champions, including English champion Lee Cook. “There has been no change to the club’s ethics since its start. It continues to encourage young people to excel and push themselves to achieve their very best.”
“Surrey Clubs for Young People has done a great deal for boxing, both in Surrey and south London, and the boxing clubs themselves are working very hard,” says Terry Gillam, executive committee member of the London Amateur Boxing Association. “Successes include Earlsfield, which has recently produced ABA champions and has Joe Joyce on the GB Olympic Squad, and South Norwood Victory ABC with Josh Buatsi who is the ABA Light Heavyweight Champion and a GB squad member.”
“I love the sport of boxing and I love to support the young people in this journey, as it is a journey that teaches respect, discipline and self-control – all of which are crucial in personal development,” says Matthew Barney, president of Turners Boxing Academy in Camberley and former Southern Area, World Boxing Union and International Boxing Organisation title holder. “Turners is a fantastic club, which offers classes for all ages, abilities and educational needs, and I am proud to be part of a sport that helps young people develop such skills.”