Boxing success at Birtley Amateur Boxing Club

PLENTY of sporting organisations like to view themselves more as families than clubs.

Travis Dickinson of England celebrates his victory over Sam Couzens of England after the Final of the Prizefighter Light-Heavyweights II with his brother Jon Lewis Dickinson

PLENTY of sporting organisations like to view themselves more as families than clubs.

In the case of Birtley Amateur Boxing Club, with good reason.

As her husband Graeme puts his youngsters through their paces, Julie Rutherford stands in the gym cradling their daughter.

Julie only lives up the road, but almost every evening she is here, keeping an eye on the couple’s hundred or so other “children”.

The three nephews of Birtley’s most successful products, professionals Jon-Lewis and Travis Dickinson, are training alongside 16-year-old twins Pat and Luke McCormack, winners of gold and silver medals respectively at this summer’s European Junior Championships.

The Dickinsons – the only brothers to win Sky’s prestigious Prizefighter - are regular visitors, as is Martin Ward, winner of July’s British super-bantamweight title eliminator at the Stadium of Light.

All this cosiness seems out of place in such a macho sport, but head coach Rutherford’s cv proves it works.

In 11 years coaching Birtley’s juniors he has produced 62 national champions, 90 national finalists and 22 internationals. He says proudly: “All my boxers are like sons to me. The vast majority keep in touch.

“Professional boxing is a business, amateur boxing is a sport.

“How many times do you sit watching pro boxing on the telly and see people given sickening hidings?

“People have not thrown the towel in because they are worried the boxer might leave them and they will not have a wage anymore, rather than just being a man and looking after them.”

No one could accuse the Rutherfords of greed. Graeme’s other full-time job is as a scrap metal merchant.

He added: “I am in the gym six days a week for three hours a night, then there are club shows and championships on the weekend.

“I could not do it without the backing of my wife. She helps me coach in the gym, comes to all the shows and helps out.

“I have had offers to do this full-time, as a professional and teaching at colleges, but I would rather work with these kids.

“When I was younger I had three fights, then I came back when I was about 25 and boxed until I was 29. I had 15 fights in all. Some of the other coaches had left and started their own club up.

“There was nobody really left to coach the juniors.

“I just came in to help out and in my first season we got a national champion Danny Lee.

“You have to be lucky because you need kids to work with you and gel with you. They have to be dedicated, training six days a week.

“It keeps them out of trouble, they learn control.

“If you box, at least you are fighting with somebody who wants to have a fight.

“It teaches them a bit of respect because they know they can hurt each other.

“When you see them coming all the way through and winning national titles, or going to European Championships, it is unbelievable.

“Knowing you have had an input into their development – especially some who come in with no natural talent but get there through working hard – that is one of the best feelings you can have.”

It was a feeling Rutherford had when Calum French and the McCormacks fought at July’s European Junior Championships in Hungary, and now in the World Championships in Kazakhstan along with Sunderland’s European gold medallist Isaac McLeod.

Isaac Milburn and David Robson would also have worn an England vest had his competition not been in war-torn Chechnya.

Rutherford (pictured left) said: “It was unbelievable what the lads achieved in Hungary.

“It was a great reward for them, but a lot of it is about getting a good draw. Boxing is the same as life – you need luck. There were 10 Russians (at the Europeans) and Pat was the only one who beat a Russian.

“The Eastern Europeans are very hard to beat because they have a monopoly over the judging.

“A lot of our lads had only had half the number of fights some of these Eastern European people had because here you can only box when you are 11.

“When somebody can knock that barrier down, you will see a lot of people going through.

“Sport would be nothing without a dream.

“You try to help people fulfil a dream. Some people just sit there and think, ‘I have heard all that before,’ but once kids start fulfilling dreams others think, ‘I can do it as well.’

“You see kids kicking on where before they have not had that self-belief.” Success, then, is breeding success and Rutherford knows the emerging crop of North East professional boxers – joined this month by Birtley’s Craig Dixon - is making his job easier.

He added: “Before you might box to a certain level, then finish.

“What Jon-Lewis and them have done inspires them.

“Their pictures are on the wall and they still come into the gym.

“Jon-Lewis and Martin Ward came through the juniors.

“The two of them took some of the kids through to Liverpool for a competition, or to South Shields for sparring, just at the drop of a hat.

“Once upon a time up here you would box as an amateur on a club show and that was it.

“To have internationals winning titles, that was just unheard of. Now you can go from club shows to domestic champions and if you want to, you can turn pro. There is a future for them.

“I am hoping it will go back to like it was when St James’ Hall was here.

“We had success with the Dickinsons and hit a bit of a peak,. We dropped off a little bit, winning one title a year, but we have hit off again.

“We were all a bit at fault when we neglected the kids coming through, but now we have had that experience it is not going to happen again.”


David Whetstone
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