I blink the sweat out of my eyes and it drips into my lap. It’s been fifteen minutes since I finished my work-out but with the windows closed my shirt remains resolutely sodden.
I’ve just completed the “Saturday sesh” at Lochend Amateur Boxing Club. A gruelling morning of intensive bag-work and circuit training for which frequently more than 30 people turn-out to train. Men and women, all ages, keep-fitters and aspiring fighters alike slam fists into bags and weights into tractor tyres as the coach stalks the hall, barking instructions and encouragement through the din of leather-on-leather.
I sit across from the Gaffer, Terry McCormack, the founder and head coach of Lochend ABC, which occupies a small and externally unremarkable former scout-hut in a Restalrig housing scheme. The club has negotiated, at the third time of asking, a cash injection supplied jointly by SportScotland and the charity Wooden Spoon, will allow Terry and his team to transform the gym facilities.
“This investment comes at a great time for Lochend and for Scottish boxing as a whole” Terry says “and there are loads of other clubs across Scotland, like Lochend, who have produced top-level fighters, and have [their own]rags to riches stories.”
Lochend’s record in this regard is outstanding, and in recent years alone the gym has developed the talents of British Champion Lewis Benson, up-and-coming professional John Thain and Olympian Josh Taylor, not to mention several other notable fighters on the local, national and international circuits. The gym also counts the legendary Ken Buchanan among its regular patrons, as the 68-year-old former world champion keeps himself sharp in Terry’s gym.
Despite its popularity as a spectacle, there is a persistent stigma which surrounds boxing and Terry admits that the club faced opposition when it was first opened. However, fears that boxing would do more harm than good in the community proved to be unfounded, and there is scarcely a local who is not familiar with the gym and the transformational effect it has had on their area.
It is unclear why this attitude toward the sweet science persists, although Terry observes that it has something to do with boxing’s working class tradition, the large majority of boxing clubs being found in more deprived areas.
I venture a guess that perceptions of its violent nature are somewhat to blame, which would explain parents’ reluctance to have their kids get involved with the sport. While, the gaffer concedes that no sport is without risk of injury, he points to various recent studies which rank boxing far below many other sports in terms of both short and long-term injury rates. Anecdotal evidence supports this, and far more of those carrying injuries in the gym have sustained them in some other pursuit. The irony that I am carrying a concussion sustained through football, while having never sustained any injury worth mentioning in the gym, is not lost on me.
The Gaffer’s devotion to his fighters’ development is absolute, as is that of every coach at Lochend, but he takes no risks with safety.
“No one is ever thrown into the ring here until they’re ready” Terry asserts “They need to show they have the offence, the defence and the boxing brain before they are within a mile of a fight.”
It is the uniquely close boxer-trainer relationship goes some way in explaining why he and Lochend’s team of experienced, dedicated coaches also find themselves so involved in the lives of their students. Team Lochend are proud to maintain close relationships with parents and teachers, as well as community organisations and the police alike.
It is a well-worn Hollywood tale of the young tear-away who knuckles down under the influence of a dedicated coach, but here the story reflects the reality. Terry speaks most passionately when discussing the positive effects of the gym on the community, and the young people who have used new-found confidence and discipline, to achieve success in school and work, as well as in the ring.
Despite this, Terry is modest about his influence and that of his sport, and insists that the same dedication can be applied in any pursuit. However, it is the intense focus and physical discipline boxing demands which sets it apart in its potential to transform lives, particularly where there may be little else to occupy youngsters.
I, like many who use the gym with no specific intention of becoming a fighter, took up boxing as an alternative to the soulless and expensive environment of a corporate gym, and I have not been disappointed. While the facilities may not rival those of a multi-million pound health club – and there’s definitely no spa attached – the atmosphere of the humble Lochend scout-hut, reverberating with the percussion of punches and its backing track of Motown classics is priceless, and its story an inspiration.
No one who has spent any time around LABC is surprised that its combination of camaraderie and fierce competition continues to produce world-beating boxers. With the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow just around the corner, hopefully the recent investment in Lochend is part of a broader campaign of recognition which Scottish boxing so deserves.