Mitchell: ‘I blew £180,000 on drink in nine months’
15:50 11 March 2015
World title boxing prospect Kevin Mitchell on the ups and downs of his career
We are appropriately in the Rosie Lee Café in Broad Street, Dagenham. The tea and bacon sandwiches have been ordered and I have renowned Boxing Correspondent Len Whaley acting as my minder.
And it is at that moment that Dagenham’s finest fighter – Kevin Mitchell – appears from the shadows.
It is the opposite to a boxer’s arrival in the ring, no fanfares, no baying crowd, just a simple handshake and a sit down in the corner opposite us.
Lightweight Mitchell is tiny compared to heavyweights Whaley and Evans, but he looks as if he has been sculpted from granite, while I have been moulded from blancmange.
Tattoos fill up his arms like a pop art painting. There are words, a skull and a gorgeous woman decorating his muscles, adornments that he has added throughout a turbulent career in boxing that has seen him come close to the pinnacle of his sport as well as plumbed the depths of despair.
He has brought his WBC Championship belt in a plastic bag. He talks relentlessly, like a boxer thumping his fists into the speed bag at the gym, but though sprinkled with expletives, everything he says is fascinating, everything reveals something about his past and the mistakes he has made along the way.
Two failed world title attempts and a long-running battle with his promoter Frank Warren took their toll on Mitchell and out of the ring and the gym his life spiralled downwards.
“Drink nearly ruined my career massively,” admits the 30-year-old, sipping his frothy coffee. “At one point I blew £180,000 in nine months on drink.”
It is an extraordinary statement. Can it really be true?
“The guy who did my accounts told me that. He asked me ‘no cocaine?’ and I said ‘I swear to you on my kid’s lives, no cocaine’. It was purely getting drunk.
“I would go to a 24-hour pub and it would be dead in there, but before I had finished it would be packed because I was giving out free drinks to everyone.”
A man comes over to shake his hand, the cafe owner claims his title belt as his own – everyone knows Mitchell round here.
He is on a roll now. “I gave a thousand quid away to a tramp at Romford train station once, that was my last thousand pounds.
“I remember going out with about four grand in cash. I was drinking in terrible boozers, really cheap places. This particular day I saw this bloke and I remember I had just been sick after drinking loads and I thought ‘how hard can it be for me?’ I have just spent all that money and he is struggling to even live.
“That night I gave a load of money to a kid who had just got out of prison as he had no money. I was out with a few mates and my brother and in the end I came out and saw this tramp was freezing cold and I took a twenty pound note out of my thousand pound strop, chucked the rest of it to him and used the twenty to get in a cab and go home.
“I don’t remember what the tramp did, but I went home, got myself sorted and went out to work on the railways.
“I know what it is like to have no money. It doesn’t bother me. You need money to live, but I am not one of these guys who needs millions. I am not a money chaser.”
It is that sort of philosophy that comes from his upbringing on the streets of Dagenham with mum Alice, two older sisters in Cheryl and Sarah and little brother Vinny, who dabbled with the fight game, but is now set for a career in plumbing.
“I come from this street, this street here is my street,” says the 30-year-old pointing out at Broad Street. “I used to do all sorts of things up and down here.
“I was a violent, aggressive kid,” admits the former Dagenham Park schoolboy. “Teachers blamed it back then on the break-up of my mum and dad. I was six or seven, but I didn’t understand it back then, why I acted so violently.
“I fought everywhere, but my main fights were down this street, if a kid had a problem I would sort it out.
“I was only 15 and I was fighting men, but I slowly broke away from it, it was a mug’s game, 100 per cent. When you are a kid and you have got nothing to do, you get into mischief.
“Fighting, stealing cars. We didn’t actually steal cars, but we stole ones that were already stolen – all you needed was a screwdriver.”
At that point Mum Alice arrives in the Rosie Lee. So what was Kevin like as a boy?
“He was always a polite and good boy, but he was hypo,” she says. “When he was awake he had to be doing things. He was like a set of traffic lights, but there was never an amber and there still isn’t for him.
“At school they used him and his brother to stop the bullies – he used to bully the bullies.”
After all the ups and downs, what is the most important thing in Mitchell’s life now.
“My boys,” he says rapidly. “That is why I have gone on the straight and narrow and why I have got this belt.”
He is rightly proud of Connor, 10, and five-year-old Vinny, but would he like to see them follow in his footsteps?
“No,” he says at once. “Connor is a talented footballer. Playing for EMH, he is 10. Vinny is five but he is a nutter!
“The eldest is a talented boxer, he comes down to the gym and does pads with Tony Sims and he is really, really good. If I put him in the national schools he would win that at 11.
“My dad says he is better than when I was a kid. I say I know he is, but he has grown up around it since he was a baby.”
So are Kevin’s days of self-destruction finally over? He nods his head.
“Things are better than they have ever been,” he says. “I couldn’t self-destruct again. I am 30 now.
“I went out with my girlfriend last night and I had three glasses of wine and a bottle of beer, where normally I would have four bottles of wine and 20 bottles of beer and would carry on today.
“It was my kids really. I thought I had let them down when I left their mum and that is when I went on the booze.”
We walk out of the Rosie Lee and back towards the car.
Kevin points matter-of-factly into the distance: “I did something to that shop when I was a kid,” he says. “The owner was doing the kids out of money.”
Mitchell is all about the east end. He represents them, he fights for them and hopefully soon he will be Dagenham’s champion of the world.
He deserves it.
Next: That fight with Katsidis at Upton Park