Boxers are putting Preston on map

Lisa Whiteside
Lisa Whiteside
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Boxers Scott Fitzgerald and Lisa Whiteside were stood impatiently beside the punch bags at Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club as they waited for their latest training session to begin.

“I better go now,” said the pair’s trainer Dave Fitzgerald, who is also Scott’s dad. “They are both looking at me as if to say, ‘Come on, let’s get on with it’.”

Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald

And with that, Dave hung up the phone on me and got to work putting his son and Whiteside through their paces.

However, before the line went dead, I managed to detect a certain level of pride in his voice as he spoke regarding the news of Scott’s elevation to Team GB’s Olympic development squad.

After winning the Amateur Boxing Association’s (ABA) national senior final at 71kg in May last year – when he beat Londoner Luke Saunders at the Rayton Meadows Arena in Tyne and Wear – Fitzgerald junior has been on the radar of GB’s selectors ever since.

Over the second half of last year, the head coach of the British boxing team Rob McCracken has run the rule over him at various training camps in Sheffield at the Institute of Sport.

He was even tested in an international meeting when he represented England against Sweden – winning his bout against Simon Henriksson with a performance described as relentless.

His place on the development squad was officially ratified earlier this month and he now joins training partner Whiteside on the Team GB squad.

The duo have long-term dreams of competing at the 2016 Olympic Games and it’s a real feather in the cap of Larches and Savick – who last year unveiled fantastic new facilities at their Catforth Road base – to have two fighters among their ranks who have realistic ambitions of going to Rio de Janeiro in just over two years’ time.

“We’re the only club in Great Britain to have two boxers on Team GB,” said Dave Fitzgerald, who runs the club along with fellow ex-fighters Jimmy Moon and Joe Kilshaw.

“I was once showing a top official from the ABA around our new facilities and I remember him saying, ‘Isn’t it remarkable that there’s two fighters on the GB squad who are both from the same North West region’.

“To which I said, “Well it’s more than that. They are both from the same club and have the same trainer’.

“It’s just fantastic for the club and for the city of Preston.

“It’s amazing for me to see them doing so well because I have trained them both and even more so with Scott being my son.

“Lisa tells me that the coaches in Sheffield think the world of Scott – they love him to bits.

“It’s also great for our junior boxers to see the success that Scott and Lisa are having.

“Sometimes it can just come across as the Scott and Lisa show, but we’ve got a lot of good juniors coming through.

“There are lads like Reece Wright, Jake Guest and Jak Swarbrick who are all North West junior champions at novice level. Adam Simpson is a North West novice champion at senior level.

“Matt Patel, who is 14, was named the club’s boxer of the year.

“I’ve got a young girl coming through who I think could be another Lisa. Another four years down the road, she could be a real star. She’s keen as mustard.

“You’ve just got to see how it all works out.

“Sometimes as a trainer you can get a bit fed-up – but then another kid walks through the door for the first time who catches your eye and you become lively and motivated again.

“I wouldn’t say I ever get close to packing it in, but I suppose you could say my mission has been completed with Scott and Lisa getting on the squad.

“But then another kid comes through and you think, ‘Bloomin’ heck, I’ll get involved with him or her’ and it just goes on. It’s like a conveyor belt.”

Scott Fitzgerald admits he is still pinching himself after receiving a letter to say he was officially on the Team GB development squad. All the hours of training with his dad and the sacrifices he has made since he was a kid have been made worthwhile by that simple piece of paper which dropped through the letterbox at his Preston home.

He is keen to make the most of the opportunity afforded to him and is intent on not resting on his laurels.

Every other weekend – from Thursday to Sunday – he will work under the guidance of some of the UK’s top coaches in Sheffield as part of the development squad.

And alongside Whiteside, he is set to fly off to Kazakhstan in a few weeks’ time for a training camp, which solely contains GB boxers who have podium potential at major international competitions.

“Since winning the ABAs, I’ve been over to Sheffield a few times and done well at training camps,” Scott said.

“I got a letter at the start of December asking me to a Team GB training camp later that month.

“I then got a second letter telling me I had got on the squad. I am absolutely made-up. It’s what I’ve worked for since I was young and being on the squad will bring me on to the next level.”

Fitzgerald believes there is every chance he could force his way into the reckoning for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as there is not a great depth of talent in his particular weight category, which is 69kg.

“There is a big opportunity at my weight category,” he said.

“Hopefully I will do well and I’ll get on the full squad for the Commonwealths. That’s my aim.”

It’s a belief which is shared by Whiteside, who knows all about her training partner’s potential.

“I think Scott is going to rock the boat,” she said.

“He’s got every chance of going to the Commonwealth Games and I’ve got my fingers crossed for him.

“I suppose you’ve got to give his dad some credit because he’s trained us both – he must be doing something right,” she added with a chuckle.

“But Scott has done brilliantly and he is highly thought of in Sheffield.”

While earning selection for the Commonwealth Games is a big target for Fitzgerald, it is not the only aim he has this year.

He is hoping to earn more international call-ups and is also keen to defend his national ABA title.

Long-term, his ultimate ambition is to go to the next Olympics – and hopefully win a medal, preferably gold – before turning professional.

But for now, Fitzgerald is intent on serving his apprenticeship by staying as an amateur and will repel any temptation to join the paid ranks for the time being.

“I’ve got the ABAs this year and I want to win that again,” he said. “The long-term aim is the Olympics and after that I want to turn professional and hopefully fight for British and world titles. That’s the dream.

“But it’s all about me making sure I keep working hard and keep trying to reach my goals.

“I will stay as an amateur. I don’t want to start off at the bottom as a pro. It can be really difficult because you end up with rubbish fights on rubbish bills.

“I want to do well as an amateur and build up my CV before I turn pro.”

The young fighter is already feeling the benefits of the coaching he has received in Sheffield.

He said: “I think I have improved as a fighter already since going to Sheffield.

“What they do is pick out a certain weakness in your style and you go away and work on it.

“Hopefully by the next time I go, I will have improved and then they will pick out another weakness for me to work on.”

While Fitzgerald has a real opportunity to compete at the Commonwealth Games this season, there are question marks hanging over Whiteside’s participation.

Unlike the men, women’s boxing only has three different weight categories at major international competitions.

Unfortunately for Whiteside, she is in the 51kg weight banding – the same as reigning Olympic champion Nicola Adams.

It appears likely that Adams will get the selection nod over the Preston fighter for Glasgow, although Whiteside is not giving up without a fight.

She is hoping to press her claims this year by performing well at the European Championships scheduled for May.

And there is also the possibility that Adams could lose form or suffer injury.

“Unless Nicola gets injured then I think she will get the opportunity to go to Glasgow,” said Whiteside, who has skippered her country on several occasions. “It’s gutting for me but I knew that would be the case.

“They are not upping the weight categories for the Olympics either so I’ve just got to keep battling on and see how it goes.

“This year I’ve got the Europeans and I would love to be European champion at 54kg.

“Then I’ve got the World Championships in October – so I’ve got a lot of good tournaments this year to prove myself.

“I’ve still got loads to improve, but I can see a difference in me now since I went full-time training with the GB squad – even Dave has said that.

“I’ve got another couple of years before the Olympics, I’m just going to try to keep closing the gap – and then you never know.”

Whiteside has only just returned from the Nations Cup, in Serbia, where she was the victim of a contentious judging decision which saw her lose in the first round to eventual winner Victoria Gurkovich, of Russia.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Whiteside said.

“I absolutely boxed her head off. I felt great – after every round my trainer was saying I was doing brilliantly, keep it going.

“I was in and out, kept catching her and counter punching. But when it coame to the end of the bout, she got the decision.

“I was in complete and utter shock. The next day, the Russian coach came over to me and apologised for the decision.

“But there was nothing I could do. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a bad decision like that.”

l Larches and Savick ABC have asked the Evening Post to express their thanks to friend of the club Tommy Gallagher for all his support.

l See next Wednesday’s Junior Sport pullout as the spotlight falls on Larches and Savick’s next generation of boxers – only in the LEP.