After 30 years in existence, it’s fair to say that the Bilton Hall Amateur Boxing Club, in Jarrow, should be as proud as Punch – especially after attracting two of the sport’s greatest names.
Yet along with playing host to boxing legends Sugar Ray Leonard and Ricky Hatton, the self-funded club has also encouraged and trained thousands of young boxers, helping to “keep them from hanging around the streets and out of harm’s way”.
Today the club’s secretary and head coach, Martyn Devlin, looks back over its 30-year history.
“The Bilton Hall Amateur Boxing Club, which is based within Low Simonside Community Centre, was formed by the late Ken Sayers during 1985, following the temporary closure of the Perth Green ABC,” explains Martyn.
“Ken and a few of the boxers converted one of the former Bilton Hall School classrooms into a boxing gym, using materials from shipyards and local workplaces.
“The club kept the name of the former school, as there was already a local boxing club named Simonside at that time.”
Martyn said the gym was officially opened on October 4, 1985, by Coun Violet Hope.
A few years later Ken left the club due to work and family commitments, and Martyn, who was a club boxer, took over the running of the club – and still runs it today.
“The club, which is open on three evenings a week, has attracted thousands of youths through its doors over the years, and gone on to produce champions at all levels.
“The boxing club is completely self-funded, with everything done on a voluntary basis.
“At the gym, youths and adults are taught the great character-building sport of boxing that helps them develop self-discipline, courage and physical excellence, apart from keeping them from hanging around the streets and out of harm’s way.”
Throughout the season Bilton Hall boxers travel to tournaments across the region, and have also boxed on shows in Belfast.
“During 2005, I persuaded world boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard to visit the Jarrow gym while he was on a UK tour” says Martyn, proudly.
“Sugar Ray gave tips to the young boxers and posed for photos with them, as did Ricky Hatton, who I also brought to the gym two years later.”
The club celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this month with a reunion of club boxers, which was also attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside.
On Thursday, the Bilton Hall club will stage its first show of the current season at the Neon Club. For further details contact Martyn Devlin on 07752 515280.