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Horsham ABC: The Ring Leaders

Lee, Dan and Sam

John Essex (Trainer): We were based at the Youth Club on Hurst Road for the first few years before we came here to Horsham Park. This gym used to be a toilet block and initially we only had part of the building, but
gradually we extended. It’s named after Bob Morris, who was one of the founders of the club. Bob did a hell of a lot for the club and was Chairman for many years, up until he died. He was also very generous and bought a lot of equipment for the club; without him I’m not sure if we’d have survived.

Lee Cole (Coach): It needs several people to run the club, and it’s always been a joint effort as it’s a small club. I’m down as head trainer and Dan is down as matchmaker, but we need Sam and John and others to keep the club running. Sadly, we have just lost Shaun Stepney who was a good trainer, as he has moved.

John: We have a picture up in the gym of our first group of youngsters, 28 years ago. The group included Mark Thornton, who went on to be a professional, and my son Danny Essex; he won an IBA title in Malta. Other good boxers included Ian Cragg and Jason Matthews, who was a heavyweight. Another Horsham boxer, Alan Gilbert, was a very good light middleweight and he still comes here on a Thursday. We’ve had some great boxers come through for a small club.

Lee: I’ve been involved with the club, boxing and training, for about 20 years. I boxed in the army before I came here. When I reached 28, I decided I didn’t want to box competitively anymore so I took a training course. When the former coach left, along with Kevin Piper I took on the coaching at the club. At that time, we only had four or five senior boxers and just a handful of juniors, as it has always been quite a small club. It’s a council building but we have a long lease on it, so we try and keep it looking as nice as we can. We are totally self-funded, although we are fortunate in that the council give us a very good rate.

Dan Purchase (Matchmaker): I didn’t get involved until I was about 23. I was very sporty at school but I moved to Brighton and did very little sport. When I moved to Horsham, one of my friends, Mark Thornton, was a very good boxer, so I started coming along with him, just for fitness at first. After a while, I decided to give boxing a go. I stopped boxing recently after about ten years and became a coach.

Lee: We have junior sessions for 10-17-year-olds on a Monday and Wednesday from 5.30-7pm, and every night from Monday to Thursday we have senior sessions, with a fitness session on Fridays too. We only charge the boys £3 a session to box, whether they are juniors or seniors, so it’s a cheap sport. It’s just pay as you come. We also have a club for 7-10-year-olds from 9.30 -10.30am on Saturday mornings. These sessions are a bit of fun. It’s just about gently introducing kids to sparring and giving them confidence.

Sam Knight, Coach: I used to train here, but then I moved on to the coaching side. I work with the juniors and the seniors, and run the fitness training with the senior boxers on a Wednesday. They have a lot of boxing training from the other coaches, and I like to break it up so it’s not quite so intense for them.

Dan: People don’t know if they are going to be able to box when they first come down here. You give them a chance, and if after a while we don’t think that they could box we will say ‘We don’t think boxing is for you, would you come to the fitness classes?’ They are run on a Tuesday and Friday, in a very similar way. It’s a tough workout, but without the sparring and contact. This is because we don’t want to cloud our concentration on the boxing side.

Lee: It is a frightening prospect being hit for the first time. But boxing is a sport with rules. We are not here to see people being beaten up; we want to turn people into boxers, and grow their confidence through the art of
boxing. A trainer’s first job is to protect the boxer, and once they trust us they move forward.

Dan: The senior section is in good health in terms of numbers, but it is light on experience. We’ve had a couple of good boxers head off to the army, one or two of us are too old to box now and a very good boxer recently moved away from the town, so we haven’t got that experience. In general the club is in a transitional period, so it is important to bring the juniors on.

George Carbone, 14: I’ve been
coming here for about a year. It was probably the Rocky films that made me join! I have a few friends who had been here and they thought I might be good at it. I came along with my brother and two of our friends, and the coaches started us on the basics and I felt good. At the start, the coaches just get you used to moving around the ring in the right way and learning basic jabs and defence.

Lee: Numbers here go up and down in fits and spurts. At times we’ve had 14 or 15 juniors boxing for us and then we’ve gone down to half a dozen. We are looking for new members just to keep the club vibrant. On an average night, we might have 20 juniors at a session, but for every one that is good enough to box, there are two or three that won’t reach that level.

Dan: We have a lot of parents who are worried about their child being bullied, so they bring them down. They will learn good discipline here and confidence too, but it’s not about teaching them to fight back. Often the new confidence they have will negate any situation.

Sam: My son is 11-years-old and he comes to the club now. I have no problem with bringing my child here. I see a difference in him, especially in terms of discipline. In my view, boxing helps you become a more respectable human being. Some kids don’t have much discipline in their home life so it’s good for them to have it here. I do see some children and think ‘You could really do with coming down to the boxing club!’

Lee: With the juniors, we make it clear that they will not spar until they know what they are doing. When they walk through the door, we don’t throw gloves on them, push them in the ring and say ‘Go for it!’ We teach technique, footwork, attack and defence, and work on fitness. When we feel they are ready for the ring we put them in with an experienced boxer in a conditioned fight. Normally, the experienced boxer will tap the boxer and encourage them forward.

George: People are worried about going to a boxing club as they think they will be beaten up! But I’m not scared of getting hurt as I know that, if anything happened, the trainers would step in. I didn’t have much confidence when I came here; the first time I came in through those doors they were holding a senior session. The boxers were huge and I must admit to being terrified! But everyone was very welcoming.

Dan: If they do want to box, they are going to have to step into the ring and get punched, and that’s quite a challenge to have to face up to. We introduce them gently, but there’s no way around it! Some simply just don’t like it, some take a while to grow into it and some can really surprise you in terms of how much they change.

Lee: One of our biggest problems is with the perception of boxing and parents hear horror stories and make up their mind. We know that boxing is statistically one of the safest sports and we have strict rules to ensure that all competitors are evenly matched in terms of age and weight. Have you ever heard of a junior being badly hurt in a boxing ring? At the first sight of a nosebleed we stop the fight, and if you look at the injuries compared to rugby and football, boxing is safe.

Harry Orsini, 15: I’ve been at Horsham ABC for five or six years. My grandad, John, brought me along at first. He used to be a professional boxer, and other people in my family have also boxed in the past. My grandad helps train the senior boxers and helps me a lot with my head movements especially. All the coaches have different styles, and Lee has improved my footwork especially.

John: Boxing is in the family really. Harry came here when he was ten and he took it up quite easily, but what has made him good is that he is dedicated too. He lost his early bouts but you have to learn slowly and he’s

Harry: I lost my first four fights, but then I started improving and winning most of the fights. Last year, I went to the Southern Counties Novice Championships and won. That led to me joining up with some members of the Crawley Boxing Club and heading out to Germany for a short boxing tour. I’m hoping I’ll go to the Schoolboy Championships this year and go to the Amateur Boxing Championships (ABA). I’d like to go abroad and maybe, one day, I’ll make the Olympic team. You never know!

Lee: We host a show at the Holbrook Club once or twice a year and without that we probably wouldn’t survive. It means we can pay our bills and buy a bit of new kit and keep going until the next show comes around. Boxing is like a big family, in that we need another 10-12 clubs to send boxers to our show and support us. If they do, then that’s another dozen shows we need to go to in order to support the other clubs. Without that support across clubs, the sport dies.

Sam McCelland (Female Boxer): I’m having my first competitive bout at the Holbrook Club. I think they’ve had one girl who fought for the club, but it’s not something we see much of. I had been training with the club for about a year, but then I broke my leg. I’m a stable lass and I broke my leg riding out. Unfortunately, I then had Compartment Syndrome and so they effectively had to cut the leg open to remove the dead muscle and stitch it up. There was a chance I was going to lose the leg, but I’ve been back for a few months and the leg feels strong now.

George: I’ll be fighting in the showcase at the Holbrook Club. I am nervous, but I’ve been practicing with some longer rounds of three minutes. Because I’m only 14, our competition rounds are only one and a half minutes long, so now I’ve done longer rounds I feel ready!

Sam M: The showcase has helped me recover as it was something to work towards. You could sit down and feel sorry for yourself, but I was down the gym doing weights with my leg in a cast as it kept my mind active. I’ve got a bit more strength than most girls because I work at the stables, grafting every day, so hopefully that’ll help me too.

Lee: When you step in to the ring in front of 500 people at the showcase, you are a changed person, no matter how old you are. To step up and fight in front of that many people gives a feeling you cannot buy, and everyone who has boxed properly will never forget it.

Dan: We’ll also be holding an Open Day here at the club soon, as we want to bring more juniors into the club. Parents can bring their children down, see our current juniors and seniors train, and see what we’re all about. We’ll be putting details up on our Facebook page soon!

For more details on Horsham ABC visit the Facebook page or visit www.horshamabc.co.uk

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