Boxing: Women making great progress at London clubs
- Credit: PA
Everyone is familiar with the phrase “it was a very long time coming” and that was certainly the case with the decision to eventually enable women to box under amateur rules in this country.
It was like waiting for a bus or a train on a cold, damp, foggy winter’s night – you never knew if it would come along or indeed when. Fortunately for women’s boxing it did so eventually.
In Novmber 1996, the then Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE), the forerunner to England Boxing of today, took the decision to overturn the 118-year ban of preventing women from boxing and allowed them to compete and join the Association’s affiliated clubs.
Seemingly they took the view and upheld the medical view that women were in no more damage from boxing than their male counterparts.
The first women’s amateur contest at club level took place in 1997 and the first Women’s ABAE Championships, in their own right, were held in 2007 at the Peel Centre in Hendon.
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Up until then, any women’s bouts had been usually tagged onto other male championship events. In this setting, England Boxing see 2004 as the key date for that latter arrangement.
In 1991, women were allowed to hold positions at the then ABAE at national and local executive level after discussions with the Sports Council, now known as Sport England.
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Things have moved on quite rapidly since then. Sport England mentioned that in 2005 there were 70 female boxers in action and four years later in 2009 it had shot up to be around 900, clearly the ladies were on their way.
Since then, their influence and success in the sport has become one of the best amateur boxing stories in our history.
The popularity of women’s boxing continues to grow and a Sport England survey covering the period (November 2018-November 2019) indicated that 420,400 females (including boxing related fitness classes) were regularly involved in the sport; compared to 356,500 in 2015-2016.
Probably, in no small way, due to Team GB women’s boxing success at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games with medal success a good contributing factor in helping to boost numbers involved now in the sport.
In answer to a parliamentary question asked in the House of Commons in April 2019 “129,900 women were involved in boxing (traditional) in the period May 2017 to May 2018.”
In 2010 it was estimated that about 40 per cent of our boxing clubs in England were undertaking specific classes for women in boxing. There are over 900 clubs throughout the country and in 2018, 772,000 individuals were understood to be involved in boxing.
It is reasonable perhaps therefore to expect that there has been an increase since 2010 in the number of our clubs across the country and indeed London too with specific settings for our female boxers.
As of early 2019, there were more than 17,000 affiliated members of England Boxing at more than 900 member clubs with thousands more participating in recreational boxing. England Boxing formerly known as ABAE came into being on November 24, 2013, with its new title adopted from January 1, 2014.
And women from our local clubs have won Senior/Elite Championship honours over the years with success, in the main, focused around two clubs – namely Islington Boxing Club and the other north London giant, Haringey Boxing Club.
These two clubs apart, there has been not too much success for other clubs across the capital, although we will acknowledge their achievements wherever possible.
Every effort has been made to ascertain the validity of these results and no discourtesy is intended should there be any imperfections in any of them. I am particularly indebted to Reggie Hagland, competition secretary/matchmaker at Islington Boxing Club in this respect and also to Teri Kelly at Haringey Police Community ABC (referred to as Haringey in this article), who is also Secretary of London Boxing and has been involved in the sport since 1984.
Thanks also go to assistance from staff at England Boxing.
Getting the ball rolling for Islington in the third annual Haringey Box Cup (HBC) in 2010 at Alexandra Palace was Sara Knieper, a music teacher from Germany, the first ever female boxer to compete in the white and red vest of the Islington Club who won the gold medal in the straight U67 kg Novice final.
Knieper went on to win another gold medal at the HBC in 2011 and a silver medal in her last bout for the club in 2012.
Until Stephanie Louis-Fernand joined Islington BC in 2011, Kneiper had been the only woman training in the competitive section at the club and became their first National champion in 2011 when winning the Class C (Under 5 bouts) U67kgs title in her first season as an amateur.
Kneiper went on to represent London ABA on two occasions and won a host of gold and silver medals at home and abroad, where opportunities were more available than those in England which were much more limited.
Hazel Gale, who had won the Class B (6-10 bouts) U67kgs National crown in 2011 with Gator ABC, became Islington’s first National Female Elite champion in 2014 at U67kgs – an historic triumph for her and the club.
Another boxer who has become legendary in Islington boxing folklore is Cherelle Brown who won three National Elite Championship tiles in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017 at U64kgs.
Brown was an England international and won Three Nations gold and silver medals before making her professional debut in March 2018. She remains undefeated at 6-0.
Her initial National success at Islington came in 2012 with the Class C U63.5kgs crown but a year later she was denied a second National title in the Class B category when her opponent in their scheduled straight final withdrew at very short notice.
Fast forward to 2018 and we find Amy Broadhurst becoming the National Elite champion at U64kgs, following on from the triple National achievements set by Brown. Broadhurst is a 16-time National Irish champion and an Irish international.
In 2019, Jem Campbell became the current reigning National Elite champion at U69 kgs and is a seasoned England international and has won a cluster of gold medals in international tournaments, including at the prestigious second Women’s Winer Box Cup hosted by England Boxing last December.
Jem outpointed fellow north London boxer Haringey’s Deayndra Allen in the final while also in the 2019 Women’s Winter Box Cup, Islington’s Alexandra Petcu won the Youth Class C 75kgs category.
Islington’s national championship record now rests at six Elite (Open Class), five Development Novice titles and also five runners-up and well over 20 Box Cup gold medals at various international tournaments throughout Europe.
And there is also the still unbeaten Caroline Dubois, who became Islington’s first-ever female Schools National champion at U52kgs in 2015.
Since moving on from Islington she has won various Junior and Youth National, European, World and Olympic championships and is still on course to become one of Team GB’s ring entrants for Tokyo 2021.
Another former outstanding Islington boxer we must not pass by is Amy Pu who is now an amateur boxing referee and judge.
Islington now have one of the largest female boxing teams in the country with 18 carded boxers and the outlook continues to look bright for them and female boxing across the capital and the country at large too.
The club has come a very long way over the past decade with its variety of female champions and remains a beacon of excellence in north London for both its female and male boxing contingent alike.
Neighbours Haringey Boxing Club also have a rich and successful history of women boxers and in terms of success, the record of Hannah Beharry is hard to beat.
Starting her career as a 17 year-old at the All Stars ABC in west London, she became one of the most successful female boxers in the country, especially after switching to the Haringey Club and only a shoulder injury eventually finally spoiling her chances of competing at London 2012.
Beharry was twice recognised as English ABA champion at 48kgs (2007 and 2008), although there was no opponent to box on these two occasions but in 2009, she sustained a cut in the Haringey Box Cup, forcing her to withdraw from the National ABAS.
A prolific England representative, she won a plethora of gold medals in the Haringey Box Cup, the Golden Girl Box Cup and Swedish Box Cup competitions, was twice a bronze medallist in the European Union Championships in 2009 and 2010 and reached the quarter-finals of the European Championships in 2009.
In these Championships she outpointed Lynsey Holdaway from Wales in the preliminary round, before being outscored by Romanian, Lidia Ion in the last eight.
Beharry certainly helped put Haringey and women’s boxing in the capital – and in England too for that matter – firmly on the map and will long be remembered at Haringey for her many achievements in the ring both at home and abroad.
Laura Saperstein, born in New South Wales in Australia and a top City barrister, won the ABA 60kgs crown in 2005, eventually turning professional and retiring with an unblemished paid record of 10 wins and one draw.
Others who were making their own distinctive mark at Haringey in those days include Ruth Raper, previously a national junior champion with the Peacock ABC in Canning Town, Fiona Hayes (runner-up to Amanda Coulson of Hartlepool Catholic ABC in the 2007 Senior A 63kgs category), Nasreen Hussain (recognised as Senior Class C 46kgs holder in 2008, no opponent to box) and Leah Flintham, who won the ABA Class A 54kgs title in 2010.
Previously with Stevenage ABC, Flinthamh had tasted both national ABA success and failure with the Hertfordshire outfit.
In 2014, Oriance Lungu won the ABA Class C (0-5 bouts) 63.5kgs title and the following year was runner-up in the National Elite 64kgs final to Islington’s Brown.
Last year, Lungu won the National 64kgs crown and she was joined in her triumph by clubmate Amy Andrew who triumphed at 57kgs. Haringey were certainly flying with two national champions on an exceptional day, a club “first” at Elite level.
It must not be forgotten that dual Olympic flyweight gold medallist Nicola Adams, during her stupendous amateur career, became a member of the Haringey Club in 2009, although she was still based in Leeds at the time.
In the club’s colours she won a gold medal at the second running of the Haringey Box Cup in 2009, outpointing Norway’s Kristin Soot in the final.
The Haringey Box Cup officially launched in 2008 has become one of the most outstanding and prestigious amateur international tournaments on the annual amateur calendar and is without doubt, a landmark international achievement for the north London club. Adams had no opponent in 2009 at 54kgs in the National ABAS that year.
Much of Haringey’s success in women’s boxing rets in the very capable hands of Terri Kelly, who in 1984 joined the All Stars ABC, but soon realised that she would not be permitted to compete no matter how hard she trained or how good she was.
It would be another 13 years before the then ABAE accepted women as competitive members and Kelly said: “It struck me as odd that I could do kick-boxing but not boxing – that was seen solely as a man’s sport.”
Far from being deterred by this curious policy she actively set about to active change and stepped forward to become a judge and a coach.
On moving to Haringey in 2004 she continued with running her sparring sessions for women and numbers continued to grow and she joined an advisory panel which helped inform ABAE of the necessity to include women’s boxing and also helped shape the inaugural National Women’s Championships at the PEEL Centre in Hendon in 2007.
Kelly was fast becoming a formidable force for good for women in the sport and most certainly one to be reckoned with. A few years earlier in 2003, it is worth noting that the first female Novice championships were held by the ABA and the Police Federation.
By 2014, Kelly was on England Boxing’s rules, regulations and championship commission and succeeded in putting together and also matching a showcase all-female tournament billed as “Diamonds in the ring” at Echo Arena in Liverpool in April of that year to raise the profile of women’s boxing and illustrate emerging women’s ring talent.
The venue for this event – headlined by local woman Natasha Jonas, a London 2012 boxer – was a triumph too, as but 24 hours later the Male Senior Elite Championships were held there in the Echo Arena.
On and on she went, as regular sparring sessions with squads alongside GB Performance coach Quinton Shillingford MBE began to evolve as the very successful “The Girl Can Box” campaign which helps create a platform for women’s and girls to compete and increase their competitive opportunities and this in turn their development.
Kelly was also a driving force behind England Boxing’s first all female event the “Women’s Winter Box Cup” in 2018, where Andrew won the Elite A 57kg title and Lungu was runner-up in the Elite A 64kg final. A year later, Haringey’s Colleen Roach triumphed in the Elite B 57kgs category.
Denied the chance to box herself, by the then “male only” competitive English amateur system, Kelly has triumphed monumentally outside the ring as a matchmaker, coach, judge, supervisor and at present she is not only London Boxing Secretary, but also a 1 Star AIBA judge. Perhaps she might affectionately be known simply as “This Girl Can”.
Clubs across the east London area who have had National success inclde Waltham Forest (Shakira Ley, Junior Class A 50kg 2008, Senior Class C U51kgs, 2009) and Peacock (Emily Energie, Class B 51kgs 2014; Meely Lo runner-up Class C U69kg 2009).
Bethnal Green’s famous Repton was a boys-only club for many years, but had success in the 2015 Development (Novice) championships with three winners in Jay Dujon (Class A U54kg), Nikoletta Paksi (Class A U75kg) and Elena Narazanski (Class B U75kg) and runner-up Lisa Moore (Class B U57kg).
At present, Repton have 12 carded boxers and will continue to look for more National honours in the following seasons.
West Ham ABC, based in Plaistow, was hitherto another traditionally boys-only club but are also looking to the future with their ladies section.
They have already had two female National champions in the form of none other than the outstandingly talented Dubois, who won a National Junior U60kg title in 2017 and Anastacia Butler, who won the National Junior U63kg crown in 2019.
Hoxton’s Lion ABC was also a stronghold for many years for male boxers but senior female boxer Zara Pennett-Harris fulfils an important coaching role at their Pitfield Street headquarters.
Pennett-Harris was outpointed in the Class B 74kg final in the 2019 Haringey Box Cup by Islington’s impressive Charlotte Briant and a little earlier last year lost in the final of the National Development Class B 81kg competition to Darlington’s Tori Creighton (Ward Degnans ABC).
What is true in conclusion is that numbers of female boxers continue to rise in London and so does the overall quality of those pursuing the sport – two important aspects for further growth and further honours for those involved.
It is a good story so far for women’s boxing with less than 25 years to reflect upon, but there is more to do in the days, weeks, months and even years ahead to sustain and ultimately increase the momentum of recent years and to continue to help bring grassroots boxing to those parts of the capital and the country that have not yet seen or reaped the benefits of its introduction in their particular areas.
Once the Covid-19 pandemic is over and indoor gyms are allowed to open once again, girls and women wishing to find out more about a potential career in amateur boxing can contact:
Islington Boxing Club, 20 Hazelville Road, London N19 3LP (07920 280230 or 07786080885) and Haringey Boxing Club, 701-703 High Road, Tottenham, London N17 8AD (07938 22416).