Big Interview

Dave Fitzgerald, Coach of the Year 2015
Dave Fitzgerald, Coach of the Year 2015
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Craig Salmon talks to boxing coach Dave Fitzgerald

Deep within the bowels of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Dave Fitzgerald took one look at his son Scott and winced.

Fitzgerald junior had fought his way through three bouts to guarantee himself a medal in the boxing competition at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Amid all the joy and elation, the Preston welterweight star had paid a heavy price for his success.

His swollen right hand – which was later diagnosed as broken – had ballooned in size.

While a nasty cut above the eye sustained in his second fight due to a clash of heads looked like it would end his competition prematurely.

Dave Fitzgerald had watched on with pride from the stands as he watched his son fight for Commonwealth Games glory.

A former boxer himself, he had trained his son at Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club – an establishment he had founded alongside Jimmy Moon and Joe Kilshaw – from an early age.

But with Scott on the cusp of winning a gold medal at a major championships, Dave’s parental instincts took over.

“For me it was just weird seeing him at the Commonweath Games,” he said.

“Seeing his name for his first fight.Scott Fitzgerald, of England, versus Ron Bastien, of St Lucia.

“Seeing him walk to the ring. I just wanted him to win one fight.

“If he won one fight then he could say he had won one fight for England.

“And maybe then GB might have looked at him even more seriously.

“You have to remember Scott was only on the GB development squad at the time, which don’t get me wrong is amazing in itself.

“But he knocked the lad out in his first fight and then won his second fight, but he got a bad cut above his eye.

“I thought that was the end of his chances because it was a bad one.

“He had also broken his hand, although we didn’t know it at the time, with that right-hander he had hit Bastien with.

“Then he fought Bowyn Morgan from New Zealand in the quarter-final.

“That was a great fight – a bloodbath .

“It deserved to be the final really.

“It was a shame Morgan never got a a medal because he deserved one really.

“But after that fight, I didn’t want Scott to continue.

“He had just given his all in a really brutal quarter-final.

“I wanted to take him home.

“At the end of the day, he’s still my son and to see him in the state he was in, it wasn’t nice.

“He went on to win his semi-final against Tulani Mbenge to go through to the gold medal fight against the Indian lad Mandeep Jangra.

“After he beat Mbenge, I rung him up and said, ‘Look Scott you don’t have to fight this final – you’ve got a silver.

“But Scott just said, ‘I am not going anywhere without this gold medal’.

Despite his father’s reservations, Scott went on to win the gold medal with a destructive performance in the final.

He is rightly now billed as one of British boxing’s brightest prospects for the future.

But it is not just Scott who has caught the attention of Team GB.

The way he has been coached by his dad has also been noted in high office.

Remarkably, Scott is not the only boxer from Larches and Savick who has been coached to international success by his dad.

Lisa Whiteside first began working with Dave in 2008 and seven years later, she is a World Championship silver medallist and, like Scott, is tipped to represent her country at next year’s Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro.

Due to his pedigree for producing fighters equipped to compete at elite level, Team GB’s boxing supremo Rob McCracken asked Dave if he would join their coaching team.

The former self-employed joiner is now in charge of coaching the country’s next generation of youngsters, who have the potential to follow in the footsteps of boxers like Scott and Lisa.

“It is a bit of a dream come true,” said Dave.

“In a way I’m lucky that Scott is my son and obviously I have coached Lisa.

“It’s not all about me. I seem to be getting all the coverage, but Joe and Jimmy deserve a lot of credit for the work they do down at the club.

“But I like to think I have helped both Lisa and Scott massively.

“Lisa happened to be a policewoman, who was working nights and training at the club during the day.

“She saw me and Scott training and asked if she could come and train with us.

“That’s how it all happened – that was seven years ago.

“To be honest, it is a bit surreal to have them both now on the GB Podium squad.

“They are both ABA champions.

“Lisa is ranked No.2 in the world at her weight, Scott is the Commonwealth champion.

“Lisa is like my daughter now, but at the time I did not know her.

“I did not know much about women’s boxing if I’m being honest.

“I didn’t think it really existed. But I remember going to Lisa’s first ABA Championships down in Portsmouth and there was a lot of attention on women’s boxing.

“It opened my eyes a little bit.

“Camera crews were following Natasha Jonas, who went to the last Olympics for Team GB.

“I just thought at the time, this is a pretty big thing.

“The year after Lisa won the ABAs and she won it three times in a row.

“But I remember when I first saw her, she had the raw ingredients.

“She had come from Natbridge Boxing Club and they had done well with her to be fair.

“There were a few things in her technique which needed sorting out.

“It’s funny looking back, but Scott and Lisa used to spar with each other.

“Going back seven years, Scott was still at school so they could.

“Obviously you couldn’t do it now because Scott hits too hard. But at the time, Scott was a 15-year-old lad, who wasn’t very good and Lisa was a fully grown woman, so it ended up being pretty good sparring for Scott.”

It fills Dave with so much pride when he sees both Scott and Lisa carry out moves and combinations in the ring which he has taught them in the past.

“To see Scott carry some of the things I taught him in the Commonwealths was just brilliant,” he said.

“The punch over the top in the final which knocked Jangra down the first time is something we have worked on for years and years.

“We have worked on getting his opponent to overstretch so that they are off-balance.

“It was amazing really.

“To be honest, I had not really seen Scott for eight weeks leading up to the Games as he had been training with the GB squad.

“He was doing things that I had not taught him.

“He had kind of moved mountains in such a short space of time in his defence and all sorts of other things.

“So with the things I had taught him and the things the GB coaches had taught him helped him win the gold.

“Lisa is the same. She was robbed of the gold medal at the World Championships last year.”

At the end of last year, Dave was voted the North West Senior Coach of the Year by boxing clubs in the region.

And last week, he was named the Coach of the Year at the prestigious Preston Sports Awards, which were held at the Guild Hall.

Incidentally, Scott’s performance in Glasgow was recognised as the achievement of the year at the Preston Sports Awards, while another of Dave’s young proteges Bria Fielding was congratulated for being selected by the junior GB squad.

“I was so proud to win the the Preston Sports Award one,” said Dave.

“For me that’s bigger than the one I won last year.

“Coaches for all sports are considered for that and there were a lot of good coaches who could have won it.”

While his name is now synonymous with boxing, Dave actually first made his name in martial arts.

A former British karate champion, he did not have his first amateur boxing fight until he was well into his 20s.

“I started with a bit of wing chun, which is a type of kung fu, when I was about 12 years old,” said Dave.

“I think everybody was doing it back then because it was at that time when Bruce Lee was really popular.

“So I did that at Abbey Street, in Preston, with my best mates Carl Farnworth and Albert Timothy.

“We all moved on to doing shotakan karate, which is like amateur karate.

“Albert and Carl are well known karate people...I think Albert is still doing it, he’s something like a black belt eighth dan and Carl was British champion.

“We got into it as young lads...we did what we did because it was better than hanging around the streets.

“Through these two I moved into professional karate which was called kontact karate.

“I ended up becoming British champion and was earning £80 a fight believe it or not. I was only on £13 quid at work as an apprentice joiner.

“So I was doing four bouts a month

“I was British champion which is something to talk about I suppose, although I don’t think it was that bigger deal as it would be now.

“It wasn’t until I got into my 20s that I took up boxing.

“All three of us myself, Carl and Albert took it up.

“I think my first amateur fight was when i was 21-years-old and I ended up having about 20-odd amateur fights.

“One year I won the title of Preston boxer of the year and also Lancashire boxer of the year.

“I found boxing a lot harder than karate.

“The sport was a lot more organised with more fights and it is also a lot more skilful.

“I was probably too late going into it to do anything serious.

“We all boxed for Bamber Bridge Boxing Club, which was the only club around at that time.

“I had my last fight at 27. I never thought about turning professional or anything because I wasn’t good enough.

“A few of my mates turned pro in the twilight of their boxing careers, but that never really interested me.

“I fought all around the country. My last fight was at the Imperial Hotel, in Blackpool.

“I think if I had started boxing earlier than I did and got the right training at boxing. I might have done something.

“I had a decent record. I won quite a few and lost a few too.

“My main strength was that I was fit, so when I used to fight it was a case of if I wasn’t in trouble in the first round then my opponent would be in trouble in the second.”

One of his contemporaries at the time was Karl Ince, who is also a renowned boxing trainer in Preston.

“Karl is one of my oldest mates and we were only joking about it the other day if we would have fought against each other,” Dave added.

“I have a laugh and tell him I would have destroyed him, but it’s only for a laugh.

“He’s a mate and we would never have fought against each other.

“It would have been a good fight though because he was a come-forward fighter and I was more of a counter-puncher.”

After ending his ring career, Dave just concentrated on playing football. He used to play for BAC Preston and Springfield in the West Lancashire League.

But he continued to train in boxing gyms andsoon became interested in coaching

“I used to go sit with Terry Blackburn, who was a boxing trainer at Preston and Fulwood Boxing Club.

“He would be smoking away and I used to say to him, ‘Terry what you doing smoking in a boxing gym’?

“He used to say,’I am getting them all ready for what it will be like when they go fighting in these nightclubs’.

“I learned quite a bit off him in terms of coaching.

“I wouldn’t say coaching was something I wanted to get into after I finished boxing because I was still very sporty.

“I was actively playing other sports rights into my 40s.

“I think I played in the Church League final at 49-years-old.

“So I was still playing sport but I always kept going to boxing training because it always interested me.

“Terry used to give me the keys to the gym and that’s how I got into it.”

Having been brought up in the Larches estate – his mum and dad used to run the old Larches Labour Club, which is now a Co-op situated near the boxing club – Dave became interested in giving something back to the community.

“I was in my local pub the Lane Ends and Joe came in asking if I fancied helping him start this boxing club up.

“That’s how it all started.

“Me, Jimmy and Joe bought all the boxing bags ourselves.

“We put our own money into it.

“We used to screw all the bags into the walls ourselves, and the council started to see the good that we were doing in the area. Crime went down by 70% around the Larches and Savick estates.

“We got letters off the police and the council wanted to start putting money into it.”

In 2013, the club underwent a dazzling £350,000 refurbishment.

Its new facilities are open to all the community and attracts young children at nights for boxing training, who are put through their paces by Dave.