Olympic coach calls for return to schoolboy boxing

AS short-sighted council officials in the east end of London prepare to disregard decades of boxing tradition by closing Bethnal Green's York Hall,

AS short-sighted council officials in the east end of London prepare to disregard decades of boxing tradition by closing Bethnal Green's York Hall, former Newhaven Boys and Olympic coach Bert Barrow has called for the sport to be re-introduced into schools.

No venue in the world captures the spirit and atmosphere of boxing quite like the York Hall, but the decision to close it down is symptomatic of the sport's degeneration in recent years.

But Bert, who coached two Olympic squads as well as a succession of Sussex pros, believes that if boxing is brought back into schools then the sport could bounce back off the ropes, as well as helping to channel the aggression of disruptive kids.

Bert, who also worked as a social worker at West Grinstead's St. Thomas Moore School for children with behaviour problems, discovered a young tearaway, Peter Eubank brother of Chris and helped him on the path to a paid career in the square ring.

'I met Peter at St. Thomas and took him over to the club in Newhaven where we taught him to box,' said Bert.

'This happened with a lot of the boys who were very physical. Boxing gave them the opportunity to get rid of all that physical energy in a controlled way under supervision. A lot of lads who were bullies if you like, were taught to focus on boxing and this had a positive influence.

'What's killing the sport is losing schoolboy boxing. We always had all these boys coming through in Sussex, and our club at Newhaven was thriving. The Brighton Dome used to host the Schoolboy Finals every year and the sport was in great shape.

'Peter Eubank finished up winning the Southern Counties title for Newhaven, and as a pro he broke Barry McGuigan's unbeaten record.

'As far as I'm concerned he had the most ability of the Eubank boys he was a very classy boxer. But Chris had that unbelievable will and desire to win. He had a champion's attitude and that made all the difference.

'He had amazing natural strength as well and somehow managed to boil himself down to a middleweight, and that victory, against the odds, over Nigel Benn proved how much heart he had and it changed his life. When people have a go at boxing just look at someone like Eubank, who used to be a tearaway, or the likes of McGuigan and Jim Watt when they appear on the telly they're eloquent, intelligent people.'

After just one pro outing with Bert, Peter Eubank joined Jack Pook's gym in Brighton.

'Looking back I wish I'd have tried harder to keep Peter with me, because if I'd kept him I could easily have ended up with Chris,' added Bert, who worked with, amongst others, Charlie Magri, Errol Christie, Mark Kaylor and Frank Bruno as the national coach.

'Peter and Simon Eubank were both with Jack when Chris came back over to England having lived in America. Jack thought he'd landed the jackpot when he saw Chris train at his gym, but of course he ended up signing with Ronnie Davies.

'I worked the corner with Ronnie and Ray Cattouse, the former British lightweight champion, in Chris's early fights, but in the end Ronnie took sole control.'

Since Chris defended his WBO world middleweight title against Dan Sherry in Brighton in February 1991, there have been very few high-profile contests staged in the county.

The amateur scene also appears to be diminishing in the region a far cry from the glory days of the 50's, 60's and 70's.

'Pro boxing's never been huge down here, although Jack Solomons used to hold plenty of shows at the Metropole in Brighton, but there used to be amateur shows all the time.

'There was always boxing at the Corn Exchange, the Dome, the ice rink on West Street, Hove Town Hall, Brighton Boys Club, Sherry's etc, but it seems to be dying a death.'

With no promotions in the area, promising Sussex fighters must travel in order to find work in the professional game, but more often than not they are thrown in as the 'opponent'.

'I've trained Mark Snipe (Peacehaven) for many years and when he turned pro he had a good pedigree after winning the National Association Boys Club title.

'Mark's a very, very skilled boxer, but having a young family to support he was unable to move up to London where he would have had a chance to really make it.

'There are hardly any shows in Brighton and Mark was forced to travel. We took a fight up in Manchester a few years ago and beat the local boy, Lee Whitehead, and looking back they weren't happy about it. After that, Mark couldn't get a fight for over a year. That was the time when he really could have pushed on and made it.

'Unfortunately now he's so disillusioned with the game I don't think he'll fight again, even though I'm convinced he could still pull off a big win to get him right back into the picture. He's the most dedicated trainer I've ever worked with.'

Mark last boxed at the York Hall in 2001, losing a close one against up and comer Allan Foster, and would be upset to see such a unique venue shut down.

Support for the York Hall also comes from across the Atlantic where American TV executive Jay Larkin, who has televised shows at the venue, was horrified that the Bethnal Green hot-bed should be under threat, saying: 'pulling down York Hall would be like tearing down Nelson's Column.'

Promoter Frank Warren is trying to put together a last-minute rescue package for the venue, but faces huge obstacles from the local council.


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