By Terence Dooley
“I’ve spent 21 years of my life in this gym. I was born-and-bred here in Openshaw. I boxed in the main hall of this building twice as an amateur and have spent a lot of years training boxers here as well as giving kids from the local area somewhere to go and train. Now it feels like everything I was working for has been torn away from me. I’ve been locked out of the place where I’ve been putting down roots and a legacy for my family for all of these years. I don’t want it to end like this.”
Veteran Manchester trainer Bob Shannon clearly had a heavy heart during a long conversation with BoxingScene about a recent break in at Crossley House Youth Centre, which houses his Fighting Fit gym. Shannon had taken a two week break to recharge his batteries after an emotionally draining season only to have it cut short by the news that thieves had broken into the old building on Ashton Old Road to strip it of its copper pipes and other metals, which prompted the council to temporarily close down the building for health and safety reasons.
However, Shannon has been told that the repairs will have to be deemed cost-effective before they can take place. The local police recently commended the trainer for his work with the local community, which has been linked to a drop in crime amongst the community’s youth. Now, though, Shannon is sweating on the decision of the local council and has been left in limbo.
Sadly, some of Shannon’s boxing memorabilia was taken, including a cherished set of signed gloves from Marco Antonio Barrera, who trained there ahead of his fight with Amir Khan in 2009. Unable to access his pads, equipment or survey the full extent of the damage caused by the water that was released from the stolen pipes, Shannon put in a call to Ricky Hatton, who he trained for Hatton’s recent comeback, and is temporarily training out of the former light-welterweight and welterweight world champion’s Hyde-based gym.
“I’m really feeling the hurt here”, he said, “but thankfully Ricky has let me use his state-of-the-art gym until something gets sorted. I’m really grateful to Ricky, I don’t know what I’d have done without him this week, but the thing I loved about my gym was that I’d built it up with my son, Robert [who died in a car crash in 2005], in memory of my dad, Robert Senior who used to train fighters out of Salford — I’m devastated to have lost it like this.
“That gym’s my home, my wife Jean and me have put everything we have into it. My daughter used to train the amateurs here as well. It’s been a real family affair. The people in the local community are my family as well. It is hard for some of the young amateur kids to make it up to Hyde so there’s lads out there with nowhere to train this week, all because someone saw an opportunity to come in and try to make some money from taking the metal for scrap. It’s really floored me. It can’t have been anyone from the local community, that’s for sure.
“Like I said, I’m so grateful to Ricky, but what’s my long-term future now? I’ve been based right in the center of Manchester for all these years. I drive here from my home in Glossop every day. People have seen this building go to rack and ruin, but the gym has been a bright light in what has been a tough, deprived area. We’ve produced champions, role models for the local youths, who don’t have many outlets in the inner city, and to have it ripped away from the heart of the community like this is truly sad. I don’t know what we’ll do.”
Shannon’s last action saw Denton Vassell lose his Commonwealth welterweight title to the British title holder Frankie Gavin, a seventh-round TKO loss, and this latest blow threatened to floor the trainer. He told me that the days following the break in have been some of the worst he has endured in both boxing and life.
“I just want to get in there, see the damage, get my stuff and try to get things going again. The council said they can’t let me back in just yet, but I told them I know how to fix things and could work on the pipes myself if that’s what it takes. Tell me what to do to get my gym back and I’ll do it, or at least let me know if there’s an empty place somewhere in the community where we can start again. People need this gym, there’s a local guy who trains here and he’s been suffering from depression, he said that the gym’s the thing that lifts his mood and that training there has changed his life for the good.
“I’ve lost count of the number of kids, men and women who have trained in this gym. People have been phoning me asking what’s going on and I don’t have an answer for them. I really hope there’s something that the council can do. I built this place up myself. I’ve never put my hand out to anyone for anything. There’s always initiatives for keeping kids off the streets, for keeping the kids fit and away from their games consoles, and for making sure young men and women have discipline and a purpose — boxing does all of those things and yet we never seem to get the same support that other sports do.
“My gym is slap bang in the middle of Sports City, we’ve got Manchester City’s stadium down the road and the Velodrome as well, but not just anyone can walk into those places and train or start up a career. Anyone with two hands, two legs, plus the talent and determination to succeed can walk into a boxing gym and attempt to change their life. Surely that’s something this community needs and deserves?”
Shannon’s question was a plaintive one, he has spent years rattling about in a former youth centre that used to house job clinics, walk in centres and other projects. That all fell by the wayside, leaving Shannon to fight for his place in the basement of the imposing old building. It is a fight he was winning until last week, now he fears that the doors of the Fighting Fit gym may have closed for good, leaving the trainer to reflect on decades of work.
He said: “I don’t want charity from the council. I just want somewhere to call my own again. There must be someone out there reading this who can see the worth of boxing and the importance of having a successful, proper old-fashioned gym in the middle of this great city. I’m a proud man, husband, father, grandfather and boxing trainer, those are the things I have in my life and it feels so unjust to have one of them ripped away from me in this senseless way.
“Make sure you tell people what’s going on and that I’ve taken a bit of a count this week, but I’m up again and ready to fight for a place that’s been a huge part of my life and holds memories that you just can’t replace.”
Shannon’s right, memories can’t be replaced. Pipes, on the other hand, can be. The Fighting Fit gym has faced the threat of closure for as long as I can remember — I trained there myself as a teenager so know the challenges Shannon has faced — and the trainer has had very little assistance. It is high time that someone in authority offered Shannon a helping hand, especially when we are living in an age of concerns over teenage obesity and a lack of physical outlets for young people. Shannon’s given plenty of himself over the decades, it’s time for some recompense.
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