When James Conway stopped by our Northampton showroom to shop fitness equipment, our sales reps got chatting to him about his role at Kings Heath Boxing Club. Just 15 minutes down the road from Fitness Superstore HQ, the club boasts huge popularity with amateur boxers driving in from far afield, as well as great success with national title holders, and even two boys selected for this year’s Commonwealth Games! We wanted to know more about this sought-after boxing club, from its humble beginnings in the early 1980s, to now and James gladly obliged when we asked for an interview…
What’s your role at Kings Heath Boxing Club?
I am the club secretary, matchmaker and full coach.
Can you tell us a bit of background about the club?
Kings Heath Boxing Club was established in 2008, when the previously named Kingsthorpe Boys’ Amateur Boxing Club moved premises to North Oval in Kings Heath. Kingsthorpe Boys’ ABC was established in the early 80s, with the notable success of Eric Cardouza winning both the ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) Heavyweight title in 1986 and then moving on to gain bronze in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
After 10 years of limited success, the club had a shake up in the mid-90s and Arthur Daly took over as Head Coach. This was great as the club changed its philosophy, opening more often and training tougher. And it wasn’t long before the club’s fortunes changed. Allan Foster from the club won the Scottish ABA title in 1997 and 1998 then moved on to represent Scotland at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. In the 10 years from 1998-2008, the club claimed a Schoolboy champion, a senior ABA champion, junior champions and some NABC (National Amateur Boxing Championships) titles, along with a multitude of international appearances by the boxers!
Along with the sport of boxing itself, the club’s changed hugely over the years, moving in 2008 from a rough and ready cellar with limited space and facilities to a large building which has between 40 and 60 members accessing the club daily. The club has not only grown in size, but has continued to build on the rich history of producing top quality boxers.
What inspired you to get into boxing?
My journey into boxing is quite a long one actually. I first discovered it back in 1992 when some older guys I was playing football with mentioned they were going to the local boxing gym. I was already a fan of watching boxing, but had never considered taking part as football was a real passion of mine. With their encouragement, I decided to give it a go alongside my football. I was reasonably coordinated but, at 14, taking to a hardy old school gym wasn’t easy. However, after a few months of training and really enjoying the sport, I got a medical and thought, “That’s it, I’m a boxer!” I attended a couple of boxing shows with my coaches, but didn’t get matched so I started losing faith as I thought I was training hard, and was easily getting a match every week at football.
I was 15 when I finally got my first contest and wished I had waited till I was 16, as I lost big time. After picking myself up, I got back in the gym and trained harder to make sure I never lost again as I realised the sport wasn’t football and it wasn’t about turning up and using talent to get you by – there is far more to it than that. However, when I turned 16 in 1994, my relationship with boxing came to an end when I was offered the opportunity to play football at a decent level and earn a few quid. At that time, the boxing gym was open just twice in the week and on a Sunday morning, which clashed with the football training, so I decided football was where I had an opportunity to achieve something.
Amazingly, 14 years later, there was a knock on the door from my eldest son’s best mate. He was with his family who had come to buy a dog from us. I couldn’t believe it when I realised his dad was Arthur, who was the coach at the boxing club back when I’d attended. By this time, my football days were far behind me due to injury, so I felt fate was bringing me back to boxing.
You told us your son shares your passion for boxing. Can you tell us about his boxing journey?
My son Kieron had been asking me to take him boxing after seeing my boxing trophies in the loft. Now, being older and (hopefully) wiser, I was well aware that to be good at sports takes lots of dedication and commitment. Boxing isn’t a sport you can play about at, so I kept steering him away. Kieron was 12 at the time and a Karate black belt so I was keen for him to continue with that discipline as he’d put in a lot of time achieving his status. But, as soon as he heard Arthur mention bringing him to the gym, he was nonstop about it. It’s now 9 years later and Kieron has had 84 bouts for Kings Heath and England, and has now turned over to professional boxing where he has won all 3 of his contests. He’s now widely regarded as potentially Northampton’s first ever British professional boxing champion.
What does Kings Heath Boxing Club offer?
The club caters for everyone. Once portrayed as a sport for rough, wayward individuals, I feel boxing has come a long way over the years and is now seen as easily accessible. Yes, it can help people gain confidence and direction, but it’s great for everyone regardless of race, religion, gender or circumstance. We have a beginner/recreational boxer session, where you get to learn the basics and have some fun while getting fit. We then run the registered boxers’ session, including internationals where the boxers are put through their paces. We have people from all walks of life, including those with disabilities, all working side by side in every session.
How successful have members of your club been?
So the biggest achievement for the club to date is two lads – Ben Vaughan and Eithan James – being selected for this year’s Youth Commonwealth Games. While others have competed in the past, Kings Heath has two from the male team of six boxers, meaning little old Kings Heath in Northampton has 33% of the England boxing team. We have had other successes too – European medals, National titles, British championships, NABGC (National Amateur Boxing Girls’ Championships) titles and countless international appearances have seen us become one of the most consistently successful clubs in the country, reaching 28 major national and international honours in the 9 years since being established in Kings Heath. Amazingly, this means an average of over 3 major honours per year.
What are your future hopes for the club?
Lots of things! I’d love to see the club keep growing; I’d like someone who lives in Kings Heath to be really Successful; I’d like the club to be able to run more sessions. Most of all, I’d really like to get the building more presentable and attractive to encourage more use and to give us the foundation to move forward. We have done lots with the building but there’s always more to be done!
For you, what are the key benefits of boxing and, in particular, being part of your club?
I’ve witnessed boxing having a positive impact on so many people and for so many different reasons. People join the recreational session for a multitude of reasons, from weight loss, social confidence, improving fitness, fun exercise and an introduction in to the sport etc. Being part of a club means different things to many people. I like to see the club as a team. We are all there to help and support one another through tough times and we’re all learning and enjoying the good times together. If the kids from the estate can feel welcome in the gym every night of the week and be given some direction, then maybe they won’t find the need to meet up in gangs around the shops to seek acceptance.
What I enjoy as a coach is seeing people not only reach their potential, but surpass it. By that, I mean any goals – some want to get fit, some lose weight, some to spar, some have one bout and some aim higher. Whatever the goal is we try our best to guide with dedication, patience and communication, which are the most important things, along with knowledge.
What equipment does your club have?
We have the equipment most boxing gyms would have – two rings, 12 punch bags, an indoor cycle, skipping ropes, boxing gloves, hook and jab pads for coaches and battle ropes. We purchased some Jordan Fitness Pro Medicine Balls from Fitness Superstore, which are essential in a boxing gym. It was really good that we were given a discount as we are a non-profit organisation, so affording new kit is always an issue as equipment fails through wear and tear.
Equipment we would be looking to purchase in future would include treadmills, rowing machines, free weights, slam balls, squat racks and fitness benches. Boxing can be what you make it. We have the fun session for enjoyment and fitness, then the hardcore session for those who want to achieve more. Basically, Kings Heath Boxing Club is the place to come if you want to be welcomed in to trying our sport.
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