The Haringey Box Cup: Where champions are born


The Haringey Box Cup is, and must remain, an honorable fixture in the boxing calendar

HE WAS just 10 and he stopped me at the door. “My name is Francis Foster and I will be a world champion,” he announced. “I will give you the opportunity to interview me if you like?” Honest, I had not even been at the Haringey Box Cup two minutes!

Little Francis then told me to watch out for Sudbury’s Scott Stannard. It was a good tip, the first of about 50. Stannard lost a tight one to Donagh Keary, a smooth boxer from the Rathfriland CC ABC in County Down. Such little gems; typical of the Box Cup, where you walk in and find three rings of boxing on the final Sunday.

Inside about five minutes I had my dance card marked: “She’s Lisa O’Rourke’s sister.” “He has just got an invite to GB.” “This is his last fight, he’s going pro.” “He’s 38, he never started boxing until he was 35.” “He trains 500 horses; he’s up mucking out at 5 each morning. ” “She works in Nandos, but she can really fight.” “The kid looks and fights like Tommy Morrison.” And then the names: Repton’s Adedeji Adegbola, St.Monica’s Ryan Murphy, Louie O’Doherty, Terry McEntee, Lauren Mackie, Dean Walsh, Jem Campbell, Jack Daly, Nyousha Nakhjiri, Daniel Kerrigan. It’s a long list.

It has been the same since the first Box Cup in 2008. Every June they come from all over the world to win the title. They have been from Nepal, Australia, the USA, Canada and everywhere in Europe. And, often there are over 500 boxers and as many as 90 finals. This year, a club from Canada won the Best Team award; they had some real fighters, including the Tommy Morrison clone, Bradon Harcroff, a winner at 86kgs in the very last of the 48 finals. Harcroff also won the Boxer of the Tournament.

It costs about £ 80,000 to hire the Grand Hall at Alexandra Palace and put the event on; the main sponsorship has finished and there is a race to find new backers for next year. The two men, Gerry Willmott and Ken Marsh, who started it and still run it, have a few ideas, but the clock is ticking. It would be a great loss to amateur boxing if the Box Cup vanished.

This is the place where Anthony Johsua, Nicola Adams, Kellie Harrington and Katie Taylor won golds on their way to Olympic gold. It is the place where dozens and dozens of quality fighters had their first taste of real competition and foreign boxers. Cheavon Clarke started here and went to Tokyo, Chris Eubank Jr started here, Anthony Yarde started here. There is a long, long roll-call of quality.

It’s the place where the Dagenham Buffer, Danny O’Sullivan, announces every fight, twinkle-toeing between the three or four rings and never getting a name wrong. I once told the Hollywood Buffer about Danny and he was amazed: “That is just class,” Michael offered and he’s right.

It’s the place where a young and hungry Anthony Joshua beat an equally young and hungry Otto Wallin in 2010. It was Joshua’s second Box Cup gold; Big Otto came back in 2011 and won his gold. Imagine watching that fight for six quid. “The Box Cup helped shape AJ,” said Sean Murphy, the coach at Finchley. Murphy is still here, still making champions: On Sunday, Murphy had a couple of winners in Paddy Cash and Patricia Mbata. Cash is the kid who works with the 500 horses; when he won, I have never seen so many adults crying tears of joy. “Can you imagine if I had lost?” he asked me when I spoke to him.

Bunce at the Haringey Box Cup

At the end of the long day, I walked away from the silent and empty Grand Hall with Mbata. I apologized for not putting her on the BBC Pod. She smiled, shook my hand and said “Next time.” There is decency at the Box Cup, certainly no frauds allowed. Mbata can fight, by the way.

It is not always about men and women going on to glory and gold and riches. There are rare boxers like Clem Hughes, a loser this year and a promise to return next year. Big Clem will be 38 next year and he only started boxing two years ago when he took his ten-year-old to the gym. He’s not looking at the Paris Olympics, he’s fighting for something far more important.

Others are talking about Paris in 2024. Galway’s Aoife O’Rourke won gold at 75kg, an Olympic weight; she is the sister of Lisa, the recent winner of the Women’s World championships in Bulgaria. Lisa was there, first to congratulate. Lisa’s weight is not an Olympic weight. “We will see what we can do,” she offered, when I asked about the situation. They could pull off a family double if a way to Paris could be found.

“See that guy,” Cheavon Clarke said to me just before the last bout of the day. “That’s a legend.” He was right, he was pointing at Dale Youth’s Mick Delaney, a man devoted to amateur boxing. It was a pleasure to watch Delaney wandering through the crowd at the Box Cup, taking compliments, talking to old friends and promising to be back next year. “I’ve got this middleweight…” Delaney started to tell us. That is the way all Haringey Box Cup stories start. I love it.

If the money can be found, the boxers and their tales will return. The women who grill chicken, the men who race horses, the trainers who make dreams and parade their boxers with pride. The Box Cup is a place of fairy tales in our business, protected by the hopes of the men and women who keep it going: “He’s the best heavyweight since AJ.” “She will win the Olympics.” “He will win a world title as a pro.” “He’s the best 18-year-old I’ve ever seen.” And on and on it goes. What glory.


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