Norwich Lads Club – still going strong after 100 years

Norwich Lads Club boxers in the 1970s. Picture: Archant

Norwich Lads Club boxers in the 1970s. Picture: Archant - Credit: ARCHANT } NORFOLK 2002.

The Norwich Lads Club is something of an institution in the city, with a long history, but the philosophy remains the same – creating good boxers and good men, as CHRIS LAKEY discovers

John Dain, the man who founded Norwich Lads Club a century ago. Picture: Archant

John Dain, the man who founded Norwich Lads Club a century ago. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

It is an interesting question for some sporting bodies, but for Norwich Lads Boxing Club chairman Bruce Hughes, there was no equivocation.

'What would you rather see, a lad leave as a champion, or a lad leave having transformed his character, for the better?'

No guessing it was the latter.

Hughes has a double mission in his role.

Former world champion boxer Herbie Hide pledged to fight to the final bell to save Norwich Lads Club

Former world champion boxer Herbie Hide pledged to fight to the final bell to save Norwich Lads Club in 1996 when the 'For Sale' sign went up on its King Street premises. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

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'I have always had the philosophy that boxing is second,' he says. 'It is about what we make of young people and the values we give them to be decent people in society and to achieve what they want, and I totally stick by that. This is as much about watching young people change and giving them a safe place to change.'

For Hughes, the Lads Club stands for the mission statement laid down by the Chief Constable of Norwich John Henry Dain exactly 100 years ago.

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Dain's intention was to provide a place to learn to boxing – and keep them off the streets at the same time. It was to make men of them. Good men.

There have been ups and downs, changes of premises, royal visits – in 1971 Pink Floyd, Yes and Traffic were among the visitors to the club's popular King Street venue.

Norwich Lads Club boxers in action. Picture: Archant

Norwich Lads Club boxers in action. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant © 2009

But the vision remains, 100 years on – not that boxing is ever neglected. The Lads Club has a rich history of producing fine fighting men – its alumni includes the likes of the Walsh brothers, Sam Sexton, Nathan Dale, Zaiphan Morris and Jon Thaxton, among others.

Clearly, not all the young lads who walk through the club's doors need help of the non-boxing variety, but once they are inside the gym in Hall Road, they adopt the boxing ethic.

'It is an education of life, the tools you need to get through life,' says Hughes.

'You can take the tools from boxing and apply them in your life, and they will put you in good stead to get through life – respect, hard work, dedication, focus, family, belonging. And I think people can talk about all different things, money, materialism, prestige etc but they are the things that get you through. Without that you struggle to achieve a lot.

When Dain set up the Lads Club there was a specific intention: to steer young men away from potential hazards and point their heads in a more worthwhile direction.

'He was an amazing man,' says Hughes, aware, perhaps, of the giant shoes he is filling. 'I think that in any business that you build foundations to last and he put good foundations in this club based on respect, based on loyalty, not giving up on people, giving people a chance, and I believe that is what the Lads Club is built on.

'That has grown over the years and obviously changed as well, I believe, and as it has got into boxing it has changed, but it is still built on the same foundations, it is that commitment, dedication, being there for people on good times and in bad times and those qualities are what have kept this club going. along with the people who have been involved with the club, like Alan Nicholls and Alan Weston, to name just two.

'A lot of the great boxers have gone on to become professionals as people have bought into it. They have come from anywhere in Norwich, boxed and potentially they are fighting like others before them for British, European or even world titles.'

The Lads Club shares its gym, on part of the Hewett school site, with Pro Box Norwich – the set-up run under the watchful eyes of trainer Graham Everett.

A week ago Everett was in the corner as Sexton defended his British heavyweight title.

Tonight, the Lads Club celebrates its birthday with a 100th anniversary dinner show in Norwich, with the boxing centre-piece the prestigious English amateur heavyweight title fight between Boston's Thomas Pogson and Jamie Smith, from London.

'100 years is a fantastic achievement for any club,' adds Hughes. 'I think we are one of the oldest clubs in Norfolk... to think we are still going strong in this day and age when a lot of boxing clubs are folding is fantastic.'

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