Joe Pennington says enough is enough for Northside ABC as he reflects on three decades devoted to nurturing champions

  • Boxing News
  • 21 Dec 2023


NORTHSIDE ABC has shut after three decades of turning out champions.

“I’m 65 now and I’ve been running up and down the country every weekend,” said Joe Pennington, who formed the club and was head coach.

“I don’t need it anymore. I’ve been at championships every week, I’ve got four pro journeymen and my other amateur coaches aren’t that reliable. I can’t do this running around like a lunatic anymore. I had four days on the road this month and came home knackered. My missus has had enough as well. We’ve been together since we were 14, 15, and she stayed with me all this time even though I used to be a knobhead. “I’m going to send all the boxers out to different gyms and will keep an eye on them. If they want to turn pro, I will manage them. I’m giving up the amateurs, but I will stick with the pros. I’ve got four journeymen and we get to stay in posh hotels.”

Boxing has been Pennington’s life for more than four decades.

“I have been in the gym every day for 40 years,” he went on. “My last amateur fight was for Fox ABC at Maine Road when I was 25 years old. I had around 30 schoolboys – losing eight or nine – and then got into a bit of trouble. When I was 18, I got a good job at the steelyard and I was loaded! I had a new car, new motorbike and bought my own house when I was 21.

“I got a bit bored and went back to boxing. In my first fight back, I knocked my opponent out of the ring in 30 seconds. There was a kid called Gary Wright who did the same on the same show and I asked to fight him. We fought and I stopped him in the third round.

“My last fight was on the same show as [1983 British ABA champion] Bobby Mckenley and [1984 Olympic rep] Kevin Taylor. I had been on the piss for four days, went to the gym and they said: ‘You’re boxing tonight, Joe.’

“I got in the ring and saw my missus’

relatives at ringside. They said: ‘We didn’t know you were boxing tonight, Joe.’ I said: ‘Neither did I.’

“I hurt him, but couldn’t finish him. I had to step off and take breathers and ended up losing on points. I told [coach] Jimmy Lewis: ‘I’m not boxing anymore.’

“I had a good job on the steelyards and was making good money.

“I started coaching at Fox for two or three years and then Eric Noi told me Phil Martin was struggling for coaches at Moss Side and asked me to help out.”

Pennington was in Noi’s corner at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 when he lost the ABA middleweight final to Mark Edwards. Noi went on to box at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, while Pennington set up his own gym.

“I set up Northside after I left Moss Side in 1992,” he said. “I got my own gym at the Scout hut near where I was living. I picked up my lad from Scouts, saw the room at the back and agreed to pay the scout leader £25 per week. The gym was on North Road and that’s why I called it Northside.”

Three years later, Northside ABC found a new home.

“My brother was a plumber for the council and told me there was a place coming on the market that would make a good gym,” said Pennington. “It was an old farm, built in 1903. We put a letter in to the council saying: ‘Can we use it as a base for Northside Amateur Boxing Clu,b because the current facility is too small?’

“They didn’t get back to us, so we chased it up and they said it was coming for auction. Others wanted it, but we got it. We moved into the farm house and turned the farm into a gym. We worked on it for three months, ripped it apart and put everything in and started again. If I’m going to do something, I do it, and everything I do, I give it 100 per cent. I can do a bit of everything. I can fit windows, do electrics, fit toilets.”

The Clayton gym soon started producing champions.

“I’ve lost count of all the national champions I’ve had,” said Pennington. “I have had seven this year! If I added them all up, I’m sure it would be more than 100.”

Pennington is unsure who was his first national champion, but knows Kevin Mcdonagh will go into the record books as the last from Northside ABC.

He won the NABGCS in Bridlington last month, having won the Juniors earlier this season, while Amina Patel won gold at the Women’s Winter Box Cup in Leigh this month.

“For the last 20 years I’ve been at every national final,” said Pennington. “I can’t remember every champion I’ve had. I just get on with it. Kallum De’ath had 70 for us, winning 60. He got to the ABA semi-finals when he was 17 [in 2007] and lost to Ryan Walsh [at featherweight].

“Every time Kallum boxed in the pros, he hurt his hands.”

De’ath was a top amateur who didn’t make it as a pro, while the opposite is true of Terry Flanagan.

“He was a crap amateur,” is how Pennington puts it. “He had 60, won 30. He just wasn’t strong enough. But he always had good footwork and he developed his strength as he got older.”

In the case of super-heavyweight

Fayz Abbas, Pennington says he was left wondering ‘what might have been.’ Abbas was beaten 24-15 by Anthony Joshua in the 2011 ABA final.

“I thought he beat Joshua,” remembered Pennington, “and he did beat Frazer Clarke. Fayz got banned for two years after getting disqualified in a fight and went on the unlicensed circuit. He came back to the amateurs, but wasn’t as good as he was.”

Craig Watson gave Pennington one of his most memorable nights when he fought Amir Khan in the ABA Championships in 2005, in the semifinals of the East Lancs and Cheshire division.

“Amir was the Olympic silver medallist,” said Pennington and Watson clearly wasn’t expected to drop him. That’s what he did in the third round. “As soon as Amir hit the floor, the referee should have started to count,” said Pennington, “but he sent Craig to a neutral corner and told his coaches to sit down. By the time he started counting, Amir had recovered.”

Khan went on to win on points and Pennington said: “Frank Maloney rang the next day and Craig turned pro with him.”

Four of Pennington’s boxers were Khan’s teammates at the 2003 Junior Olympics – Joe Murray, Andy Silk, Dean Fieldhouse and Anthony Bowker, and says Tommy Stubbs was a wasted talent.

“He was unbeatable as an amateur,” said Pennington. “He was thin and small, but so tough. He beat Paul Butler three times and Josh Warrington [as an amateur]. He had a few pros, then went missing and started doing daft things.”

Wayne Pinder had a good pro career (23-1-2) after learning to box under Pennington and Joe says his son Rocco is one to watch. “He’s 14, weighs 44kgs and is class,” said Pennington. “He will definitely be a national champion.”

:Boxing News