STUART HALL, greatly rounded for a bantamweight, is back with his big-time belts at the amateur boxing club which helped turn around his life.
There’s a tremendous, tantalising tale to tell and there’ll be an autobiography – “I’ve already been approached”
– when he wins the world title in the next year or so. “There’ll be all the gory details: the drink, the drugs, the women,” he promises, and if that weren’t enough to be going on with adds “and all the rest of it” for good measure.
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It’s oddly reminiscent of the (perhaps apocryphal) story of George Best being found naked upon a hotel bed in the company of Miss World, a great deal of money and several bottles of champagne.
“Tell me, Mr Best,” says the room service guy, “where did it all go wrong?”
The difference, perhaps, is that Stuey Hall – than whom there may have been few more personable champions in boxing history – accepts that it really did go wrong.
Very often, he accepts, he’d too easily blame others. “He’d come home and we’d ask if he’d had another Dick Turpin night,” says Alan, his dad. “You know, robbed again.”
Stuey ended up living in Ibitha. “I lost the plot – the wrong people, the slippery slope. I was quite a long way down it. I used to go out and spoil people’s nights. You had to have been there to have believed what was going on.
“It’s all turned around. Fitness is the best drug in the world, the greatest feeling. You’re high on life. I quite enjoy being a role model now, there’s a need to show people that good things can come out of boxing.”
He’s just moved into a four-bedroomed detached house in Darlington with his wife and two small children, just won the Inter-Continental bantamweight title to add to his British and Commonwealth championships, was looking forward to a 1920s-dress charity golf day organised by Glenn McCrory, another North-East champion.
There’s a pic on his mobile phone of Stuey in all the gear. “I went round all the charity shops in Darlington,”
he says, “£1 for the jacket, another £1 for the trousers. Then the wife made me go to Boyes and pay £18 for the socks and stuff.”
He fancies that the image might be completed by a machine gun until it’s pointed out that some Spurs footballer or other had been in trouble only that week for similarly posing.
“Never mind,” says Stuey, “maybe I’ll just make do with a cigar.”
HE’D been a good amateur, chiefly under the indomitable Lol Degnan at Darlington Boxing Club – “brilliant lad, Lol” -– reached an ABA final and swears it was the only time he properly trained.
His ambition was an England vest.
When it seemed like it was never going to happen, he wrote to Boxing News, announced that he was belatedly turning professional and shared a few other sentiments, too. That week he was invited to an England training camp.
At 24, after Ibitha, he’d joined Spennymoor Boxing Academy. “He had a bit of a head on him,” recalls Robert Ellis, the chief coach. “He needed more discipline, more control.
I don’t even let my boxers smoke. In my gym he had to do what I said and, to be fair, he respected that.
“He took notice. Now he’s not just the best in Britain and close to being the best in the world, he’s also an absolute gentleman.”
Stuey turned pro at 28, has three times defended his British title, on May 11 at Doncaster football ground (“absolutely freezing”) comprehensively outpointed world No 5 Sergio Perales for the Inter-Continental title. He’s now 33, expects a final eliminator before challenging for the unified world crown.
Stuart Hall with Luke Thornton, 13, left, and Elliott Stonehouse, 12 holding his belts
“You have to appear before a board before you can turn professional.
Someone said I only wanted my name on a ticket, to show that I’d done it. I told them that I wanted to be world champion.
“Comparing amateur and professional boxing is like comparing pool with snooker. They’re totally different sports. I have massive respect for amateur boxers but it’s just tippytappy compared to the professional game.
“I’m a different person when I get in the dressing room, very focused, but I get very nervous,too.”
Robbie’s been in boxing for 36 years, coaching at Spennymoor since 1991. A large photograph of him carrying an Olympic torch hangs, properly and proudly, on the gym wall.
For years his great metaphorical sparring partner was the column’s old friend Paul Hodgson, the club secretary, matchmaker and incorrigible marketing man until – equally metaphorically – the two came to blows. “Great gym, great team, great shame,” says Stuey.
They’d even organised a trip to Australia, Spennymoor v The Rest of the World, during which Stuey and friends had paid £200 to go sky-diving.
“Absolutely different class,” says Stuey.
His dad grins. “Absolutely mental,”
THE gym, superbly equipped, is at the council-owned Spennymoor Leisure Centre. Junior membership’s about 75, subs haven’t increased for 15 years. Though it’s the last week of the season, plenty are still hard at it when the champ strolls in, smiling.
He’s also among those whose photographs hang on the wall. Otherwise they’re red. “Hides the blood,”
someone says. It’s an old boxing club joke.
Stuey shows all the young ’uns his belts, answers their questions, wanders – for a coffee – into the Wetherspoon’s pub out the back and is immediately approached to pose for more photographs.
“Coming to Spennymoor was the best thing I ever did,” he says. “You get to 18, you discover drink and women and things. You have to get through it, come out the other side again as quickly as possible.
“All of that will be in the book, but there’ll be a happy ending. I plan to be world champion within 12 months or so. It’s a great time of life. I’m in a good place now.”