FLASHBACK: Sandygate Amateur Boxing Club gives boxers a new lease of life

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WITH age comes wisdom and experience.

But instead of withering with maturity, Sandygate Amateur Boxing Club has continued to blossom in personality, success and appearance.

Established in 1967 and occupying various locations, East Lancashire’s oldest boxing club has entered a new era after becoming the beneficiary of modern premises.

The Mechanics, the old Woolworths premises, Kwik Save, Britannia Mills and most recently Holmes Street have housed the sleeping giant but now, courtesy of a generous donation from Howard Rigg, the club is now posted between the general Post Office and BB11 public house in Hargreaves Street.

Sandygate ABC has provided an established platform for boxers in and around Burnley for 45 years and one man that has embarked on the journey and polished the club’s fortune is dedicated stalwart Bob Rosbotham, who has earned award-winning recognition for his lengthy service.

The one-time coded welder emigrated to the town in 1972 with wife Anne, advised by pro boxer Joe Norwood, in a bid to avoid the hostilities in Belfast, Ireland. He found employment with Vokes, stainless steel welding, who provided him with a house in Moorland Road, the property he has remained in to this day.

But his break came after undertaking maintenance work at Mullards. Already blooded for a high octane lifestyle in the boxing institution, with coaching from Sammy Wallace, trainer of 1952 Olympic silver medallist John McNally, the respected coach was offered a vacant room by a man named Archie Lee.

“I was a really big friend of John McNally,” he said. “He and my wife Anne went to school together. But it was his coach who encouraged me to take it up and develop it in some way. I’ve carried a lot of what he taught me forward. He was outstanding and he gave me a really good coaching course.”

That brief initiation, hauled up in a small room without the luxury of adequate boxing equipment, sparked Mr Rosbotham’s imagination and it wasn’t long before he boarded the Sandygate revolution alongside Derek Clarke at a gym in Hammerton Street.

“Derek was a boxing professional from Burnley,” he said. “He turned out to be a magnificent friend; he was a super guy. He was at a gym above the old Woolworths and he invited me down to teach some of his lads. I passed my test for ABA coaching and went on to work with Derek for a number of years. It took me time to learn about local clubs but eventually I was match-making for shows. That was the real birth of Sandygate ABC.”

And since that inauguration the likes of Warren Stowe, Blue Butterworth, Shayne Singleton, Chris O’Brien, Shaun Horsfall, Stuart McFadyen, Mark Hargreaves, Darren Pilling and the late Peter Varnavas, among others, have been through the doors.

Stowe, one of Burnley’s preponderate sporting figures, learned his trade via the expertise of Rosbotham and Clarke. His amateur record read 52 wins from 67 bouts, including a super heavyweight British ABA title. And his admiration for the dynamic duo was such that he didn’t turn pro until the age of 26. Stowe went on to win all 13 of his opening professional contests, including a BBBofC Central Area light middleweight title triumph over Robert Riley.

The Burnley Bulldog also landed a lucrative bout on the epic WBC/WBO super middleweight championship unification rematch between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank - dubbed Judgement Day. He faced South African champion Simon Maseko in Cape Town and squared up to Joe Calzaghe, who became WBO, WBC, WBA, IBF and British super middleweight champion.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with some great fighters,” Mr Rosbotham said. “Warren Stowe was one of the leading lights of the club. He went on to contest some huge bouts against highly-regarded opponents. He was a grand lad and a smashing help to the club.”

But the 80-year-old refused to isolate just one individual. He said: “I couldn’t have wished to have better lads around me than those that boxed at Sandygate. We had some cracking fighters. At one time I had three solicitors, one barrister, four policeman, two doctors and a fireman on board. Jimmy Burrow, Craig Withnell, Chris Anderson and Mick Hoburn were all top boxers at the club as well.

“There’s hundreds of others though that I couldn’t possibly mention. They are all appreciated regardless of where they went or how they’ve done. They bring back great memories for me. When I look back I believe I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to have met these cracking lads.

“I want them to know that they are the best people that I’ve ever worked with in my career. I would struggle to find more decent lads than those that I worked with. Everyone of them has contributed to the success of Sandygate.”

Rosbotham has always been a promoter of the ‘one pad’ method during training rather than the two pads exercised by so many in the business. “They only use two pads because it looks good and sounds good,” he said. “But I’ve never seen a fighter with two heads. They need to focus on one target because if they didn’t land their hooks in a bout then it’s on me. They progressed and learnt a vast majority more using one pad.”

Another of Mr Sandygate’s protégés is also taking the professional ranks by storm. Shayne Singleton boasts a 100% record from 11 fights and has since returned to his roots in his comeback bid since falling victim to injury at the turn of the year.

“He’s a big friend of mine,” claimed the Sandygate stalwart. “I could see there was a spark in his eye when he was boxing from a very early age. He never failed to listen and always tried his best, which is what has got him to where he is now.

“I can remember when he was 11 and he made his amateur boxing debut in the Matt Busby Suite at Old Trafford and he won unanimously. He has always been very classy and I couldn’t be more pleased for him. He’s a smashing kid.”

But the time has come to take a more reserved role in a period of transition. The new premises are vibrant and fitting for a club of Sandygate’s stature. Andy Howcroft, Nik Tucker, John Bradshaw, Tony Eddison and Shaun Dwyer will continue in their roles, helping the club go from strength to strength.

“They all do an incredible job,” he said. “John Bradshaw became a very good friend from his efforts training the lads. He doesn’t stand for any fools and most of all he tells it like it is. He’s a good bloke.

“But all this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Howard Rigg who bought us the place. I have never met a bloke with more generosity in his heart. To spend his money on the gym is special and it’s a really cracking gym. There’s probably gyms in London that aren’t at the same standard as this one. You couldn’t imagine anyone putting the money in to Sandygate that he has.”

Mr Rosbotham, who has three daughters, Patricia, Karen and Pauline, and two granddaughters, Keeley and Lyndsay, added: “When you are an amateur boxing coach you’re always thinking about getting champions. My wife Anne has always been the champion that I’ve had in my life.

“I wish everybody from the past and future of Sandygate all the very best. I wouldn’t change anything for the world and I wish I could do it all again.”

But now it’s a new gym, new times and new rules. The club, which promotes the motto, dedication, determination and discipline equals rewards, results and recognition, has entered a record number of boxers in to the ABA Championships, been accepted in to the Lancashire Clubs for Young People scheme, and is heading towards club mark status.

Coach Howcroft said: “”We are over the moon with the generosity of Howard Rigg for the new gym and are in his debt. It has given the pugilistic youth of Burnley a secure future and with a clean safe environment to train will increase participants within the noble sport of boxing.”

And the current crop is painting a bright future for Sandygate ABC. Teenage sensation Jerome Lawton is a three-time North West Schoolboy champion, 14-year-old Sam Tucker is an England international and 2010 National ABA Champion and James Kimberley (12) has been a National ABA finalist on two occasions.

“We are hoping to really make a difference to the youth of Burnley by making the gym accessible to all, and all abilities,” said coach Tucker. “Local secondary schools are being invited to use the gym in curriculum time for free, and all serving members of the armed forces allowed to attend sessions for no cost.

“With the experience of the voluntary coaching team of Howcroft, Tucker as well as John Bradshaw, Shaun Dwyer, Tony Eddison and Howard Metcalfe the club is moving in the right direction. Now they have settled into their new home, next on the agenda of the fund raising committee is a mini-bus so they are able to pick up the girls and boys who struggle to attend as well as ferrying the boxers to future Championship bouts.”