Legendary fighter boxes clever to help North Herts kids through initiative

Former boxing champion John Conteh with Box Cleva coaches George Luis (left) and Wayne Armstrong at

Former boxing champion John Conteh with Box Cleva coaches George Luis (left) and Wayne Armstrong at Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Former light-heavyweight champion boxer John Conteh – awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to boxing and charity – paid a visit to Stevenage last week to inspire a new generation.

Box Cleva patron John Conteh meets youngsters at Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Danny Loo

Box Cleva patron John Conteh meets youngsters at Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

The genial but tough Liverpudlian dropped by Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club in Nokeside as part of his ambassadorial role with Box Cleva – a boxing initiative that installs discipline, respect, healthy living, substance awareness, respect and fitness in children aged between seven and 15.

The initiative teaches children to control their aggression in a safe environment, aided by Wayne Armstrong – a former soldier and boxer from Hitchin who is heavily involved in the scheme.

Conteh – who held the WBC crown for four years between 1974 to 1978 – took time out from his busy schedule to talk to the Comet.

The former champion fighter said: “It’s great to visit the area to help out. It’s all about teamwork.

Box Cleva patron John Conteh with coaches George Luis, Wayne Armstrong and children from the Stevena

Box Cleva patron John Conteh with coaches George Luis, Wayne Armstrong and children from the Stevenage boxing club. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant


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“It’s great to help out youngsters in a small way. I love being in the gym and seeing them all.

“I brought my belt for the kids to have a look at.

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“But I only turn up, it’s people like Wayne and many others who give their time freely to help the kids. I’ve huge respect for them – they are unsung heroes. Stuff like the Box Cleva initiative just wouldn’t happen without people like Wayne and everyone else.

“Programmes like this teach kids discipline and put them on the right track. It creates a solution and gives lads options and structure.

BoxCleva patron John Conteh meets fans at Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Danny Loo

BoxCleva patron John Conteh meets fans at Stevenage Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

“The kids look so young though – I can’t have looked that young when I was their age surely? I asked one how old he was and he said he was 12 – he looked more like he was five!

“I’m very happy to help out and encourage them in anyway I can. Well done to everyone involved.”

Well-respected Wayne from Hitchin is a passionate advocate of the Box Cleva scheme started by Bob Williams. He is a familiar face around the boxing scene in our area and has acted as a mentor for hundreds of children. Through the scheme and Wayne’s unstinting hard work, youngsters also learn about nutrition and healthy eating – as well as the discipline they get from the popular sport.

Wayne said: “I’m proud to be a small part of Box Cleva and help as many kids as I can.

“The scheme really does help. I’ve got a lad in my gym who you could say is a little bit of a handful through his circumstances that are no fault of his own. We took him and fair play to him he’s taken everything on board.

“He’s learned to control his aggression and walk away from trouble these days.

“He’s also taken on board nutrition advice and told me the other day he asked for a bit of broccoli for his tea as ‘my boxing coach told my it was good for me’.

“We’ve got so many heartwarming stories like that.

“Box Cleva is all about the kids and it gives me satisfaction when you see the kids do well – when you see real legends like John come along and give his time so freely it really makes a difference. You can see the kids really respect him, and they love it when he gets his belts out.

“John is a true gent and a role model to the lads here.”

Reflecting on his own time in the ring, Conteh, who began boxing in his native home town at the tough Kirky Boxing Club, said he was proud of what he had achieved – but also of the fact he is helping a large number of youngsters stay on the straight and narrow through the Box Cleva programme.

During his career Conteh won the middleweight gold medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Games aged just 19 before claiming the WBC light heavyweight title in October 1974. He held the belt until 1977, retiring from professional boxing in 1980 with a record of 34 wins, one draw, and four losses.

“I took part in many tough fights during my career including seven tough 15-round fights which is not easy to do,” reflected Conteh.

“The great Muhammad Ali once told me to drop down a weight or two as he said he didn’t want to face me!

“I’m happy with what I achieved and now I love helping out youngsters through Box Cleva.”

For more information visit www.boxcleva.net.

To read more on John’s views on boxing read Layth’s Daily Mail article here.

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