Crawley Boxing Club History

The early 60’s are famous for many things in Great Britain.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, England winning the World Cup are just a few of the more commonly known but equally as important in that era was the birth of Crawley Amateur Boxing Club.

Back then a few keen fans of the Noble Art decided on creating a boxing club for the New Town. Within three years of Crawley attaining that status Arthur Hopcraft, Chippy Bellchambers, John Hillier and Doug Bidwell were the leading lights of the town’s newest sporting venture. Crawley A.B.C. was born.

Premises for the new club were found in the old wartime Nissan huts at Tilgate Forest before moving to a more central location in Crawley. A new library had recently been built for the new town and the old library building in Station Way was to become home to Crawley’s budding boxers.

Soon the run down building was a hive of activity as scores of young men and boys from the town came through the door, and literally learnt ‘the ropes’.

Henry Spencer, Tony Gunning, Bobby Edgeworth, brothers Geoff and Peter Hopcraft were among those that began to put Crawley on the sporting map with their skills in the ring. Before too long they were joined by a curly headed kid from Langley Green by the name of Alan Minter.

It wasn’t long before these youngsters were travelling to shows all over the south of the country, and making names for themselves. As Minter himself later recalled: “We would go to shows in London and knock all their blokes out, people soon began to take notice of Crawley ABC”.

Success in schoolboy, junior and senior championships were quick to follow, as were many more hopeful young boxers, all desperate to emulate the trail-blazing few that were attracting headlines weekly in the local press.

Micky Minter joined his brother along with other greats. Jamie O’Callaghan, Charlie Tonna, Terry Kennard, Tony Reynolds, Frankie Lyons, Clint Jones and Johnny Pincham, the list became endless as the swinging sixties moved into the 1970’s. Dave Baldry and Alf Basten became not just coaches to the young boxers, but more like father figures.

Sussex ABA and Southern Counties championships became dominated by Crawley boxers as the fledgling club rapidly became the Home of Champions. And national glory was beckoning for Spencer, Edgeworth and Alan Minter.

Minter soon became the number one light middleweight in the country; no one could live with the hard punching southpaw. It was then no surprise that he was selected for the Great Britain team to box at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Alan returned home with the bronze medal and along with long time trainer, and future father-in-law Doug Bidwell, turned professional.

Minter’s homecoming from the Games sparked frenzy amongst boxing crazy kids wanting to follow in his footsteps, and the old Station Road gym was soon bulging at the seams. The growth of Crawley ABC was without equal. A new band of young boxers desperate for success was born. Brothers Rees and Peter Hopcraft, Lee Carslake, Lindsay Gibbons, Doug Setford, Simon Kenneth, Michael Aldiss and Pete Smith were soon ducking the ropes.

Minter’s rise up the paid ranks continued to be a huge inspiration to the youngsters, and his success as a pro was a huge part of the glory the new breed were attaining. As British, Commonwealth and European titles were won by Minter thus encouraging some more of the clubs top boxers to turn pro.

Not just inside the ring were Crawley boys gaining professional success. Bobby Edgeworth becoming a timekeeper officiating at world title level, while Ron Parsons became the youngest trainer in the country to be licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control.

Micky Minter, Clint Jones, Johnny Pincham and Sean Chalcraft were soon emulating the success they enjoyed in the unpaid ranks as they became top professional boxers all winning pro titles. But the explosion in Crawley’s club ranks was about to go through the roof.

Minter travelled to America to box the ultra-tough American Vito Antufermo for the Undisputed Middleweight Championship of the World, and returned to Crawley with the belts. The towns boxing club had its first world champ less than two decades after its formation.

The 80’s continued to see unprecedented success in championships as Crawley’s young boxers made Sussex Schoolboy, Southern Counties Junior and Senior as well as NABC titles became a permanent fixture in the town’s boxing gym.

But soon it became apparent that the now severely dilapidated old library building was well past it’s sell by date, and a new home beckoned. A brand new purpose building in Jubilee Walk, Three Bridges was to become home to Crawley ABC.

Driven on by Chairman Geoff Hopcraft, Richard and Linda Setford, Fred Reynolds, Andy Maynard and George Carslake to name but a few the new gym was finally opened in the summer of 1985 by leading town councillors and long term club supporters June and Ben Clay.

The following year the club lost it’s leading light when co-founder Arthur Hopcraft sadly passed away, and to honour the man who had given so much to the club the gym was named after him. The Arthur Hopcraft gym.

Minter then took on the mantle of Club President, an honour he held proudly for three years before handing over the reins to local businessman and former top club boxer Len Nugent. The drive and ambition showed by Nugent saw the club grow to even greater levels.
Never afraid to put his hand in his pocket Nugent saw the huge potential at the club, and new it had to expand. Taking the bull by the horns quite literally he oversaw the newly built extension to the gym, as well as upgrading its existing facilities, making it one of the most modern and productive boxing gyms in the south of England.

In 2007 after a re-build, as well as assistance from Sport England and the Lottery Fund, the then town MP Laura Moffatt joined with ex world champ Minter to officially open the Leonard Nugent Extension.

New ground was broken in the late 80’s when the club, in conjunction with the Crawley News staged a gala Dinner/Boxing show at the recently opened Gatwick Hilton Hotel. For many years the club had staged dinner shows at various venues around the town, but never anything so grand and prestigious as this huge event.

New and old blood in the club, Shirley and Roger Pearce, along with new coaches Paddy Harmey and Keith Gabriel ensured the club continued to excel, and further recognition came when it was selected as a Southern Counties ABA centre for the training of coaches, referees, judges, first aiders as well as boxers.

That set the standard for today’s annual dinners shows at the Felbridge Hotel, which expertly and professionally put together by Geoff and Rees Hopcraft along with their committee have become the highlight of the local boxing calendar.

Another two of the clubs outstanding juniors Lee Minter and Ben Jones merely added to the Crawley ABC success story as the collected titles through to senior level before progressing to the professional ranks.

Jones, now the holder of the IBO European title, is on the verge of his own world title fight, but still hugely dedicated to the youngsters of his old club. As well as attending Crawley ABC shows Jones has never forgotten his roots of those early days as he offers advice to the clubs eager young boxers.

Still the youngsters continued to flock to the Crawley gym in their droves and within the last decade such is the popularity that under the guidance of the Hopcraft brothers Rees and Peter a new nursery class was established on a Saturday morning.

Now aspiring boxers as young as seven years old are learning their trade, ready for the day when they can become carded, and box competitively. And already this new innovative class has tasted success in recent years. Outstanding juniors Chidi Amanwa and Matarr Wanda have stamped their mark on National championships.

Now the Crawley gym is packed six days a week, with all levels of both male and female boxers benefitting from the very best coaching available. From the Nursery class on a Saturday mornings, to junior novice and carded boxers, and to the same for seniors, the club now boast its hugely popular Boxfit sessions under the guidance of former light-heavyweight kingpin Clint Jones.

Crawley ABC has a proud history; it has produced every kind of champion in the game. From Sussex Schoolboy to undisputed world champion, and still the ambition burns as brightly as ever for the club that turned an idea into the theatre of dreams.

More than half a century of history of this proud and great club, but members past and present, if you feel there’s a bit more to be added then please get in touch.

It’s never too late to update the history and tradition of Crawley Boxing Club. Blazing a trail, setting the bench mark.

Ron Parsons

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