HOP Boxers with AmirThe Reebok Stadium in Bolton was the venue for the first ever Network Rail Boxing Tournament and Portsmouth cities popular Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy took the title after some very hard and tough fought bouts. The event included clubs from Scotland, Wales, Liverpool and Bolton. Network Rail sponsored 5 boxing clubs in Great Britain last year and part of the agreement was that the clubs would have a Network Rail Boxing Tournament in January 2011 at the Reebok Stadium with special VIP guest and the new WBA World Champion Amir Khan meeting and giving out trophies and awards to the boxers.

The Boxing teams accomodated and stayed in the very posh DeVere Whites Hotel which is part of the massive Reebok Stadium set up, from Friday 7th Jan to Sunday 9th Jan ’11.

The weekend was action packed from the off, Saturday morning HOP visited Gloves Boxing Gym which is an amateur boxing club that Amir Khan owns and trains in, when he is in England. The HOP boxers were given a full tour of the Boxing Centre where similar to the HOP Academy they teach Educational boxing and run the National Awards programme, all the boxers got to use the equipment and take photographs in the gym and the rings.

The HOP team was then whisked off back to the DeVere Whites Hotel where they were put in a room overlooking the Reebok football stadium. They watched the live match Bolton beat York 2-0. The lads then went to their rooms and relaxed before their bouts.

The Reebok Stadium Premier Suit was set up with laser lights and smoke machines and a cat walk stage for the boxers to enter to their choice of music.

Early Disappointment struck when HOP’s National Semi finalist and Southern Counties Champion Michael Ballingal was informed that his opponent had withdrawn due to illness. HOP’s fast developing Jesse Douglas also did not get an opponent for the event.

First on for the HOP Team was Elias Cole who took on Nadeem Shah (Gloves ABC) this was a well matched bout, with both boxers landing fast accurate punches, however Cole stepped up the work rate in the second and the third to comfortably win his bout on fitness and accuracy of punches.

Jack Featherstone scored his third win for HOP after a very tough bout against a Scottish opponent. James Aitchison (Scotland) both boxers worked to head and body and different ranges and angles of attack, however, Featherstone’s true grit was tested as he lifted his game in the third to ensure a unanimous decision of the judges.

Last year’s National semi finalist and talented HOP Boxer Lucas Ballingall was always up against it as he took on the National Champion and England International Scott Rankin from (Red Triangle, Liverpool). HOP support was loud as Ballingal ended the first round ahead by 1 point. After a very fast paced even if not Ballingall round for the secondsecond, it all fell on the last round, again both boxers fought at a blistering pace, landing hurtful and well timed punches, a silence filled the air waiting for the decision which went to the Rankin by just one point. The bout drew warm applause from the crowd.

Fourth HOP boxer Sid Williams was far to skillful for Chris Bradley (Scotland) the tough and strong Scotsman moved forward looking to land heavy punches and box at close range, however Williams stuck to his game plan and fired in pain seeking jabs and def right hands to keep the opponent at range. Williams put in a fine performance of boxing skill and won by a unanimous decision of the judges.

HOP’s CYP National Finalist, Kieran Rodden agreed to move up a weight to represent HOP at this tournament. Rodden took on (North Side, Manchester’s), Mike Armstrong. The bout was non stop action as both boxers gave their all, Rodden refusing to be hussled out of the contest despite the height, reach and weight advantage of his opponent. The bout went to the wire, unfortunately Rodden lost on a split decision of the judges.

England International and event team captain Josh Pritchard did not disappoint with a very good win against the local top boxer Lee Mitchell (Gloves Bolton ABC). Mitchell with a massive crowd support, Pritchard was not fazed and executed his win with pin point accurate punching. With a very strong southpaw stance, Mitchell tried to swarm Pritchard, who used his fast jabs and slick footwork to out maneuver his opponent before scoring his own points with some very accurate punching. Pritchard won on a majority verdict of the judges.

HOP Boss “Q” Shillingford was thrilled with the result and said “HOP are getting it right in the gym, the HOP boxers were all fit, strong and very well prepared. They wasted very little and when they did punch, they scored. You have to remember London and the North West have some of the best boxers in the country and very successful boxing clubs. I feel for Lucas Ballingal and Kieran Rodden who took on top boxers in this area, Lucas Ballingall opponent has never been beaten in 19 bouts, however, we shall meet him again in the schoolboy national championships, so all is not lost. Both Rodden and Ballingall decision’s could of easily had gone to them, it was that close. The HOP team had a very tough training camp over the Christmas period, lots of running technique and gym work and most of all top sparring with inner city boxing clubs in London, and the results speak for themselves. This event has come for a very good time for HOP as the team are about to move forward to the National Schoolboy Championships and the National Junior ABA’s. All the HOP coaches have given up their time over the Christmas period, training and teaching the boxers and ensuring they were fit for the Network Rail Team Championship and the 2011 National tournaments. I am very proud of the Coaches and volunteers who willingly night after night volunteer their services to ensure the boxers are fully prepared and ready for competition.

Southern Counties ABA President Mr John Faulkner said “HOP winning the team event is an excellent result; HOP did the city, the county and the southern counties region very proud”.

Hampshire & IOW ABA Chairman Mr Dave Rogers said : “The event has been a great success and a good experience for the youngsters in Portsmouth; driving to the north of the country, staying in a posh hotel, meeting Amir Khan, and competing at one of the top venue’s in the country. Boxing is bringing out the best for young people in the city, HOP are doing a fantastic job.”

Network Rail Wessex and Sussex Area manager Ellie Reilly said “The Portsmouth boxers looked the part and were so well conditioned. What was also noted was how well behaved and polite the HOP team was over the weekend, we are looking forward to working with HOP again this year. I have worked with Q Shillingford and HOP Boxing Academy for over a year now and in that time; we have managed to engage a vast number of young people who may otherwise be messing around on the railway.”

Amir Khan is an Ambassador for our No Messin’ campaign and not only supports our aims and objectives but acts as a role model for many young boxers. The event was hosted by Amir Khan at DeVeres hotel in Bolton which is part of the Reebok Stadium.

Network Rail feel that the work that HOP put in to the community of Portsmouth with their national boxing award and educational scheme in local schools and youth clubs is fantastic.

But best of all “Pompey won the team event with the most wins.”