BIG INTERVIEW: Joe Kilshaw

Joe Kilshaw
Joe Kilshaw
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From a Commonwealth Games gold medal to a World Championship silver, Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club has come a long way in a short space of time.

The humble gym situated in Catforth Road – in one of the most deprived areas of Preston – has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence since its formation in 2002.

Originally the archetypal back street gym with just the very basic of amenities, the club is now a state-of-the-art facility after receiving a major £350,000 face lift in 2013.

Since its inception, the establishment has nurtured a number of fighters – at both senior and junior level – to regional and national success.

But recently over the past couple of years the club has announced itself on the international stage on a grand scale.

Top female fighter Lisa Whiteside won silver at the World Championships last year in South Korea, which came hot on the heels of Scott Fitzgerald’s glorious gold medal success at the Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow, last summer.

Both fighters are members of Team GB’s elite podium squad and are 2016 Olympic Games hopefuls.

While those two currently steal the limelight, there are other boxers such as Adam Simpson, Reece Wright, Bria Fielding and Billie-Jeans Franks, who are starting to make a name for themselves.

However, all this may never have happened if it was not for one man.

Joe Kilshaw set the ball rolling on the project back in the early noughties.

A former amateur fighter – who turned pro in his late 20s – Kilshaw picked up the phone to his good friends Dave Fitzgerald and Jimmy Moon and asked them if they fancied getting involved in the setting-up of the gym.

The rest is – as they say – history.

While Fitzgerald has focused in the main on the club’s junior section, Kilshaw and Moon concentrate more on the senior fighters.

But as chairman of the club, 52-year-old Kilshaw is the glue which holds everything together.

He is the one who runs the gym, which is used not just by boxers but the wider community, on a daily basis.

“It all started when Larches and Savick Community Association held a meeting,” he recalls.

“Apparently two lads from the estate held their hands up and said they wanted a boxing club.

“They said that they were having to travel to Kirkham to a boxing club there.

“Originally this place where we are situated now was the Phoenix Youth Club and scouts hut.

“My mother-in-law was actually at this meeting and put her hand up and said, ‘My son-in-law is an ex-boxer – he might be able to help’.

“Anyway I got a phone call then off Andy Lee, who was the chairman of the community association.

“So that’s how it all started.

“From there I got in touch with Jimmy and Dave.

“Those two are my old boxing pals and that’s the thing about boxing, you always stay mates.

“You might have been hitting each other in the ring, but outside the ring you stay close.

“Dave and Jimmy liked the idea of setting up the gym.

“We then went on a coaching course and it’s progressed from there.”

Dave Fitzgerald – primarily due to his success in training both his son and Whiteside – has gone on to be head hunted by England and works developing the country’s top juniors.

As I chat with Kilshaw in the club’s office, Fitzgerald pops in and sticks his head around the corner of the door.

‘Without Joe, I wouldn’t be an England coach or travelling all over the world,’ he says.

Kilshaw laughs and responds by saying: “He gets all the glamour jobs and leaves me here to clean the toilets.

“But it is a bit strange for me to think that if I had not taken up boxing as a kid, this place would not be here. It’s just so surreal, I can’t believe how much the club has grown since it first began 13 years ago.”

Despite the bravado, the trio have found a way of working together which has proved hugely successful.

In the first few years, the trio bought all the equipment they needed themselves – helped by a few generous sponsors along the way.

They made mistakes as well, including stuffing boxing bags with sand, which almost brought the wall down of the old building.

“We’ve found a way of making it work,” Kilshaw said.

“Dave probably works more with the juniors, Jimmy more with the seniors and I do everything really.

“I am in at 6am in the morning to open up – I don’t leave until 9pm sometimes.

“I probably put in about 80 hours at the gym a week.

“But we have all got our part to play. We are all strong natured and we don’t just work next to each.

I think that is why it works so well. We all work so hard.

“Everything sort of fell into place and being such a strong team, we have been able to produce champions.

“I am proud of what we have been able to do.

“When we first set it up in that old building, we probably never imagined that it would become this.

“We should be proud of ourselves.”

Kilshaw first took up boxing as a 10-year-old in 1974 – inspired to do so after watching the great Muhammad Ali.

His first punches were thrown in an old tomato shed in Walney Bridge, near Longton, where he hails from.

The former Penwortham Priory School pupil’s mentor in those days was the late Paul Hallmark.

“Paul was quite famous years ago in boxing,” Kilshaw said.

“He was the cousin of Jonny Sullivan – the ex-middleweight champion from Preston.

“In my first year he coached me and my friend Dave Prescott to North West regional titles.

“That was when you had to win quite a few fights.

“Nowadays, you can win it after just three or four fights, but back then you had to win three schoolboy fights just to get out of Preston.

“After I won that, I was probably ranked in the top three in the country.”

Kilshaw later boxed at the National ABA junior finals and also represented England schoolboys.

Regrettably for him, those early days were to be the highlight of his career as a boxer.

Kilshaw’s mentor Hallmark moved abroad for work reasons when he was aged just 15 and after that he lost his way a little bit.

Instead of devoting all of his energy and focus on boxing, he got mixed up with the wrong crowd in his late teens, getting into scrapes here and there.

“A lot of people have said to me, I could have gone all the way, but I didn’t do it right,” said Kilshaw, who is married to Janet and has four daughters Tracie, Joanne, Gemma and Sophie

“I think Paul leaving had a lot to do with it because he was my mentor. This is why I tell the lads down here at Larches now not to make the same mistakes that I did.”

A bad road accident at the age of 22 curtailed Kilshaw’s boxing career until one day he noticed another old pal – Karl Ince – running past his house.

Ince, who is a former pro fighter now turned trainer, helped Kilshaw return to the ring and he ended up having four pro fights – winning one and drawing two.

Nowadays, Kilshaw encourages local schools to use the facilities on offer at the club.

In particular, he has built up close ties with nearby school Larches House, which accepts children who have been excluded from mainstream schools.

Adam Simpson – a former pupil of Larches House – is one of the success stories. He recently won the North West ABA Heavyweight division and fought at the National Elite Championship, in Liverpool.

PE teacher at the school Sam Chadwick said the boxing gym was a vital resource for her pupils.

“A lot of our pupils have behaviour and anger problems, so the club teaches them to energise and focus,” she said.

“It’s quite a good stress release for the children and obviously it teaches them to be respectful .

“It’s good to just come to an outside place because a lot of places don’t want to know because we are a pupil referral unit.

“But Joe always let us come in and use the facilities. The coaches have always worked with us.”

Kilshaw added: “I really care about this because I have once been where these kids have been.

“I have kind of been given a second chance and want to make sure they make the most of their ability, which I didn’t.”