Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Former boxing champion's top status hope for new Acomb gym
A YORK equivalent of one of England boxing’s most feted havens is being sought by the man who three times came close to ruling the world.
Henry Wharton – York’s former undefeated super-middleweight champion at European, Commonwealth and British level – is currently putting the flesh on the first-floor shell of the former Regent cinema in Acomb as the city’s new boxing gymnasium.
The first-floor space which measures a gargantuan 10,000 square feet is steadily being transformed into a state-of-the-art gym that will not only house boxing but also other community activities such as fitness and zumba dance classes.
But boxing is the principal force behind the throne of Wharton’s new realm.
The 44-year-old’s bold vision is to establish the Eastside Boxing Club, as it has been initially christened, as a powerhouse of the same standing as the legendary York Hall in Bethnal Green.
And with his contacts honed from an illustrious near-decade in the pro circuit where his only three defeats were in fights for world titles, Wharton was adamant he could bring the top performers and personalities to York and the new now gym coming to fruition in Acomb.
Said Wharton: “This could be like the York Hall in Bethnal Green (one of the nation’s top boxing centres). Why not?
“We will be able to put on all kinds of shows on here, dinner shows, black-tie shows. The things we can have here will be unbelievable.
“And I know enough people in the fight game, former and current champions, to know they will come here for me.”
Wharton was confident that once the gym was established it could hold as many or five or six top-drawer bills a year as well as providing a high-calibre training sanctuary for York youngsters wanting to take up the sport.
“We will be able to have the major players in the sport coming through to York.
“It can happen and I am determined to make it happen. All of us involved in this building want to make this happen.”
Wharton and his partner in the venture, York Boxing Club chairman Robbie Hustwick, spent close on a year trying to find the right space to accommodate their bold plans.
They took control of the first-floor premises late last year and have since wrought a transformation from all the initial ripping out and demolition work to the shell of the gym and community building now beginning to take genuine shape.
Determined to be a 24/7 presence at the new gym Wharton and his operatives, who have been buoyed by a welter of donations and support from local businesses, are hoping the gym will be open for business within the next two months.
“I just can’t wait for it all to be finished,” he said.
Building a legacy
HENRY WHARTON has pledged all-out commitment to what he views as a legacy to boxing in York.
The man who almost became world king of the ring on no fewer than three occasions has told a battalion of parents already eager to bring their sons to the Eastside Boxing Club he is currently building that he will be there in a maximum coaching role.
“Almost all the dads and mums have asked will I be coaching when the club is finally up and running,” revealed Wharton, who retired in 1999 after a near eight-year spell as undefeated European, Commonwealth and British super-middleweight champion.
“They have said that they will only bring their kids though if Henry Wharton is going to be coaching. Well, I have told them that 100 per cent I am the coach. I will be the main coach and there’s nothing else to say that I won’t. That’s an assurance from me.
“I want to teach kids the things I know, the knowledge I have gained from fighting at the very highest level. I am involved in this 24/7 and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
As work progresses steadily transforming the ruins of the first floor of the former Regent cinema in Acomb into a gleaming fit for purpose new gym that will accommodate boxing plus a myriad of community-based events such as fitness and dance sessions, Wharton’s vision is bright.
“I have always loved the city of York. For me it’s one of the best places in the world to grow up,” he said.
“Kids today might not know me, but their parents do and I am saying to them that I will do the best I can to bring their sons and daughters on in boxing. I know I can do that.
“I can teach youngsters because I have been there. I had good coaches at the time, but I had never had truly professional trainers before I turned pro. Theirs was a learning process just as I was learning at the same time. I would say I am 90 per cent self-taught but I can pass on the knowledge that I gained from fighting as a pro at the very top level.”
The new gym, which at 10,000 square feet will be the biggest boxing gym ever based in York, is now taking shape with the framework in for dressing-rooms, showers, toilets, rest and cafe area and the main auditorium, where training and shows will be held.
Team Wharton has largely been at the forefront of the construction, which started at the tail end of last year and is looking at a completion date within the next six or seven weeks. But they have all been floored by the amount of help they have received from a battery of York and North Yorkshire firms and companies in providing supplies to help get the gym going after an initial hefty financial investment by Wharton and Hustwick.
Said Wharton: “We have so many people to thank for getting us so far, but we just need that final push.
The best thing is we have broken the back of the project now in that all the major destructive work has been done. It’s all building now, all adding on, and that’s far more satisfying than knocking things down.
“It will be even far more satisfying and a bigger buzz when we can help to bring on the next generation of York champion boxers.”
Final support tilt
THE ambitious gym project is reaching the crucial final rounds towards completion and Team Wharton have made a heartfelt appeal for more backing.
At the top of the bucket list is a major sponsor for the whole gym, whose final name has not yet been definitely determined.
There is also the potential sponsorship of the boxing kit for each of the members of the club, who it is hoped will soon be competing in local, regional and national tournaments.
The gym also needs light – literally – in the form of up to 15 new windows of the dimensions of 92 centimetres wide by 134cm high.
Companies who have already provided items for the final touches include Keyline, Howarth Timber, B&Q, Acomb Bathroom Centre and JJB Sports.
But among further materials which would be gratefully received to complete the project are: 50 8x2 wooden caber flooring sheets, six wall lighting sodium lamps, rubber flooring and mats for the weight training area and shower room, electric showers, a variety of plasterboards, fire extinguishers, bathroom and kitchen tiles, adhesive grout, kitchen work top and units, free standing cooker, kettle and boiler.
Anyone who can help with donations of materials, man hours or cash can phone Wharton on 07543 636424 or Hustwick on 07423 069071 or email firstname.lastname@example.org