Boxing club fights its way back off the ropes

TWO years ago it faced closure but today Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club is thriving at its new headquarters in a famous former clothing factory in Leeds. Charles Heslett reports.

WALK into the new Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club and you could be on the set of a Rocky movie.

Heavy bags hang from steel roof girders, young pugilists shadow box in front of mirrors and photographs of ex-fighters line the whitewashed walls of the converted warehouse, which looks more like a Bronx gym.

You half expect Burgess Meredith – who played Rocky's grizzled trainer Mickey Goldmill – to emerge from the changing rooms.

Instead, the athletic frame of 65-year-old Tony Foster darts around one of the two boxing rings with a young charge jabbing away.

Tony knows the fight game inside out, having spent decades training amateurs at the club before teaming up with John Durkin to coach ex-Burmantofts ABC fighter Carl Johanesson in the American pro-ranks for three years.

He said: "I decided to come back to the amateur game to look after the kids.

"I'm from Burmantofts myself and this has always been a good club.

"We've never had our own premises so that's always been a bit of a problem.

"This club is very important for the boys as it teaches them discipline, but also friendship and how to be part of a team.

"There are so few youth clubs around these days so this is somewhere for them to go and a good way of keeping fit."

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings scores of young boxers work up a sweat at the club's new headquarters in the former clothing warehouse on the massive Montague Burton's site in Harehills.


But just two years ago the club was fighting for survival.

A basement in the former Burmantofts Liberal Club in Cromwell Mount had been its home since it was founded by Brian Rose in 1981.

When the bulldozers moved in, manager Phil Sellers feared the worst.

The 36-year-old said: "We didn't have anywhere to go, I thought that was it.

"We moved across the river to Hunslet Boys Club and were there for three months. It was all we could afford but a

lot of the kids lived on the other side of town.

"Then our secretary Frank Johnson wrote to Tony Warren, who manages the Burton's site.

"It was really a begging letter. It was just a shot in the dark."

In early 2005, Tony convinced the site's owners, the Arcadia Group, that the club had a vital role to play in the community.

He said: "I think Frank had seen the old sports and social club sign on a building in Compton Road and wondered if the club could use it.

"We built a wall to cordon off the area for the new gym and removed ceiling railings used to transport the suits around the factory floor.

"When you think of the history of what Montague Burton did in his time, setting up works' sports teams and a factory gym, it's a continuation of his legacy."

For Frank, 66, the move answered all his prayers. He said: "Tony Warren has been a gem of a man. Without him we simply wouldn't be here.

"But there was a lot of work to be done after we moved in last year and we've had a lot of support.

"PTS Plumbing put in three toilets for us for free and Fernville Sports Centre gave us their weights for a knock-down price and the local councillor David Hollingsworth has been very helpful as has Alison Bartrum from the council.

"It's been a team effort.

"We brought Mickey Vann (Leeds-based boxing referee) down and he said 'It must be one of the biggest gyms in the north of England'."

Now everyone is concentrating on the future.

Leeds boxing legend Henry Wharton's cousin Henry Robshaw, 14, along with Jack Bateson, 12, and Terry Palmer, 13, are among the brightest prospects developing under the volunteer coaching team which includes the founder's son and former Leeds RL player Gary Rose and ex-Leeds pro Shaun Hendry.

The gym, which charges seniors 20 a month and juniors 12, also offers training space for local Gaelic football teams, rugby squads and a ladies' football side.

Phil, whose day job is a council contracts manager, said: "From our perspective we couldn't have wished for anything better. Our next boxing show is on December 8 at the Leeds Irish Centre.

"We've got 28 carded boxers aged 11 to 25 and the competition will raise some funds, but what we really need now is some sponsors so we can continue the good work."

Call Frank Johnson on 0113 2887753.