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The Bunce Diaries: Proper boxing gyms, fight films and Ladies Who Punch

In his latest BN diary, Steve Bunce emphasises the importance of old-school boxing gyms and says the sport is currently a go-to subject for filmmakers

THERE was once an office at the back of the Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club in Lambeth and that is where the club secretary went about his work. It was very formal and if you were invited in there it mostly meant you were in trouble.

The office is long gone, demolished one night by former Lodge boxer and professional trainer Howard Rainey – Big Howard took Colin McMillan all the way to a rare world title at the time and had his moments with Val Golding and Terry Dunstan. Rainey constructed an upstairs area from the rubble, built on dubious permission at best and for about thirty years the upstairs area has been part of the ancient railway arch.

Mark Reigate has been in charge at the Lodge since Mick Carney’s death in 2011 and he told me last week, during a visit, that there is some new money available to build two proper changing rooms, demolish the dodgy upstairs part and drag the place kicking and screaming from the last century.

Reigate keeps a gym like the men did in the Fifties and Sixties and Seventies; spotless floors swept every day and night, bins for rubbish, clean mirrors, a deep stink from the hanging gloves and a voice that rules. Not much has changed in the place as far as I can see in about fifty years. The photographs on the wall are just about the same as I remember them as boy.

One afternoon at the Lodge Manny Steward took pictures of the old contraptions that a legendary trainer called Freddie Hill had attached to the walls; he fixed a mix of cables and bars and springs, to be pulled, grabbed and pushed. Steward was there with Lennox Lewis, just training – Carney had refused a request, which came with the promise of a lot of cash, to let Lewis have the gym for months at a time.

“It’s an amateur boxing club, not a private club for hire,” Carney explained.

Steward, who came from exactly the same real amateur boxing background, understood and they agreed a deal for Lewis to use it if he was “stuck”.

A few days before Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko fought, I was filming with Lennox at the Lodge. “I always liked this place, it’s real,” Lennox told me. He is right about the old girl.

Lennox Lewis at Fitzroy Lodge (Action Images via Reuters / Matthew Childs Livepic)

There are even some modern gyms that give the same sense of real history, old history when you walk through the doors. But, it is the old ones, the hard-to-find gyms, the ones they love in movies that provide the full thrill.

The subterranean Hove retreat of Ronnie Davies is like that, Repton is like that and even the Peacock in London’s east end feels like it opened its doors a century ago. And the boxing palace of salvation that Brian Hughes built in Collyhurst and Moston even feels like a gym from a movie. Proper boxing gyms. A visit to any or all of the above should be essential to all boxing fans.

Movies, however, also need a venue and once again York Hall, once coldly dismissed and condemned, is the star of another film, its latest cameo. I recently missed the cinema premier of a short boxing film called Shadow Boxer, starring former pro boxer, Chris Evangelou. He also shared the writing on the project. The fight is set at York Hall, all shadow and light and filmed over one round of a title fight.

It’s just the latest film or documentary about the game out there at the moment, with as many as 20 films that I know of currently being made, edited, filmed, fantasized about and even abandoned.

Also, there must be 100 boxers in Britain alone with a camera crew or solo operator following them and making a film about their career and life. It’s mayhem backstage in the corridors at a big show with all the random camera action.

In the last three months I have been asked to work on films about amateur boxers with Olympic dreams, exiled heavyweights, great British fighters, documentaries about a couple of promoters and one about ancient fights. It is close to a weekly ritual, receiving a call from somebody requesting an interview.  

Evangelou sent me through a copy of the film. It lasts just 11 minutes. And Evangelou, by the way, did actually fight at York Hall and I like a boxing film with credentials like that. I enjoyed the short film. Well done to all involved for getting something off the ground and up on the screen. It is not easy turning a vision into a film.

In 2000 I went to Texas to film the USA Women’s amateur boxing championship for the BBC. We made a 30-minute documentary that was in front of the curve, a serious look at women’s sport. There was nothing in 2000 like this about women in hockey, rugby, cricket and football.

The boxing women led the way and we found delinquents, runaways, lesbian couples, models, mums and some cracking boxers at that tournament. It was called Ladies Who Punch – the title was not my idea – and the plan is to go back and find the champions and losers that were featured. It is not easy getting a proper boxing film commissioned, trust me. I will give it my best shot.

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