The last fight of a club of champions

FOR SIX decades it was one of Leeds' best known sporting secrets.

Tucked away at the back of a Roman Catholic Church just off York Road, one of the jewels in the city's athletic crowns was hidden.

A no-frills, no-nonsense place where heroes were made.

Not everyone could be a champion, but all were welcome.

St Patrick's Boxing Club also prided itself on being a haven for young lads who may otherwise have opted for a more anti-social path in life.

But during its heyday of the 70s and 80s, the names of local and national champions from the East Leeds club would roll off the tongue.

Under the eyes of legendary trainers such as Terry O'Neill, John Daniel, Kevin Cunningham, Harry Hare, Mick Thompson and Jim Crawshaw it became a conveyer belt of boxing talent.

It was where a young Henry Wharton learnt the trade which would see him become a world super middleweight contender.

St Pat's also produced Leeds's first schoolboy champion, the first junior ABA champion and the first senior ABA champion in Peter Wakefield.

Among the dozens of other talented boxers were Paul and Michael Daniels,Terry Petersen, Liam Coleman, Tony Waite, John White, Gerry Daly, Harry Myers, Shaun Roberts, Phil and Paul Duckworth, Terry Kavaghan, Carl Goodyear, Peter Sorby, Robert Bryson and James Iwenjiora.

The amateur club was also where pro Richard Dunn sought solace in 1976 before the biggest fight any Yorkshireman has ever fought.

Dunn chose St Pat's as his bolt-hole to steel himself before heading to Munich for his world heavyweight title fight with Muhammad Ali. The Greatest won, as he had predicted by writing the result on the inside of his gloves, after felling Dunn in the fifth round.

But in 2002 St Pat's was rocked by a knock-out blow of its own.

The club could no longer rely on the sanctuary of the church due to dwindling congregation numbers.

Authorities sold the church, priest's house, and St Patrick's social club because it no longer needed them. The buildings were bought by West Yorkshire Playhouse. The boxing club ceased to function in December, 2002, when the social club was sold. West Yorkshire Playhouse uses the church for storage of theatrical equipment.

The boxing club's equipment – including the ring, punch-bags, gloves and more – is also stored in the church.

Now it has to be removed.

Unless new premises can be found the equipment will be lost, and any hope of re-opening the club will bow out of the sporting arena forever.

Leeds City Councillor Bernard Atha (Lab, shadow cabinet member for leisure) whose parents were married at St Patrick's, is heading the last-ditch appeal for a new home.

Counr Atha is also chairman of West Yorkshire Playhouse.

"St Patrick's Boxing Club did a lot for young lads and for girls in the area," he said. "It was a valuable social service. It is no longer functioning. There is all the equipment for a boxing club."

Dave Tuohey, 59, was a boxer and acted as trainer at the club.

"We have nowhere else," he said. "All the stuff has been here since we closed.

"What we really want is a benefactor with a bit of space. If we do not find premises we will just not re-open."

Coun Atha can be contacted via email at bernard.atha@leeds.gov.uk