Dale Youth ABC: The Boxing Gym on the First Floor of Grenfell Tower
Lost to the flames of Grenfell Tower, the Dale Youth Boxing Club vows to box on.
Photo courtesy of Roy Weatherhead
The Grenfell Tower fire that claimed 79 lives (and counting) also gutted a legendary amateur boxing club on the first floor of the 24-story building.
James DeGale, who won the Olympic title in Beijing in 2008 and is now the IBF super-middleweight champ; his old stable mate and fierce ring rival, George Groves, the current WBA super-middleweight title holder; and the up and coming heavyweight prospect Daniel DuBois – all of them learnt their trade at the Dale's school of hard knocks.
As the fire raged and news of it broke, DeGale and Groves took to social media to express their grief.
"My old club the Dale Youth ABC has been there for the past 15 years," said Groves, "I was even there Sunday, and this is so sad."
The Guvnor of the Dale, coach and trainer Micky Delaney, was in the gym just before the fire broke out on the fourth-floor of the West London tower block.
"We trained in there on Tuesday night," he said. "Then I got a call at a quarter to five the next morning and they said the building was up in flames. I couldn't believe it. Now all I can think about is all the lost lives, and the families who have lost everything."
Dale Youth ABC was upgraded in November 2016 with a £400,000 gym during the £10 million refurbishment of the 1970s-era building.
Local Delaney, "born and bred a spit away" from the burnt out shadow of Grenfell Tower, is planning to move to another site in nearby Ladbroke Grove where they were based during last year's renovation.
"We'll apply for a lease there and make sure we've got somewhere for the new season."
Stoical about the loss of the present site, Delaney hopes to have the new incarnation of the Dale up and running by August and the start of the amateur boxing calendar.
"We've got to keep things in perspective. All these people have lost their lives."
"None of our boys live in the flats," he said, "which is one consolation."
However, there are casualties for the Dale. One old boy who used to clean the gym, and the father of three former junior boxers, both perished in the blaze that turned the council house block into the kind of towering inferno not witnessed since World War II.
Despite a change or two of location this century, the Dale has been a fixture in Notting Hill for umpteen decades. It has survived because it's surrounded by council estates, and has a huge catchment area of two-fisted working-class youths and gypsy travellers who want to learn how to box.
But amateur boxing clubs like the Dale don't just service the community. They are the very lifeblood of the sport. They are where the future contenders, champions, journeymen, coaches, judges and referees are reared and honed, but they are under constant threat of closure. The gentrification of London in the '90s KO'd some big name clubs, with long, prestigious and colourful histories like Thomas a Becket (1994) and St. Monica's ABC (1999). They fell prey to the times and closed for business as rents went up and the property speculators moved in.
Long before it was forced to move to the concrete foot of Grenfell Tower on Latimer Road in 2002, "the Dale" was situated in a titchy hall on Walmer Road – a rough, tough, hard-edged street with spit buckets of boxing history. Just down the road from the Dale was the Rugby Club. Rebuilt in the 1960s, the Rugby Club was first established in 1889 as a sporting and social club for young working-class men and spawned prospects like Charlie "Kipper" Allum, Arthur Goom, Alf Mancini and Digger Stanley.
Though writing 4,204 miles from Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove in the USA, I have a vested interest in the subject matter. My formative teens were spent on Walmer Road between the Dale and Kensington Sports Centre where I did Tae Kwon Do. And, like a great many boys who grew up in that area, if it wasn't for the Dale, and Kensington Sports Centre, I would probably be in jail or the graveyard like the vast majority of my peers from Holland Park School up the road.
Even then, the Dale was something fixed and permanent in the community. Famed for its juniors and gypsy boxers from the Westway Travellers' Site (who had a rep for sparring with malice aforethought), the spit and sawdust gym was the talk of the hood and the schoolyard. Rumour has it that the old site in Avondale Park Hall on Walmer Road used to be a morgue. True or not, it was a gym of much character all the same.
Behind the tall iron gates and arched red door one ring dominated the sweaty, dimly lit gym. Surrounding that, an alcove of old leather bags and speedballs that hung like bats from the bolts and beams of the Victorian-era building. That wasn't all of it. A Saxon arched doorway in the ring area led through to a tiny weights room with a few rusted barbells, a sit-up board and a bundled up mattress tacked to the wall to practice uppercuts. No scrap or shred of space was left unused by the management. This was, after all, a proper London boxing gym.
And it was a gym of London characters, too. The cockney trainers who barked like pit-bull dogs when you showed fear during sparring; the flat-nosed fellas with KO limbs from the council estates of Shepherd's Bush and Latimer Road; and the never-back-down gypsy kids from under the nearby Westway flyover, one of whom I elbowed, Thai style with a sok hud, on the blind side of the coach in the summer of 1991. Needless to say, I counted my blessings and stuck to Siamese boxing thereafter.
Right now, in the punch-drunk present, it's a sad day for the community and the kids. Despite the ever growing death toll and the gym going up in flames with Grenfell Tower, Micky Delaney remains stubborn about being open for biz in August.
"As long as we've got a ring, some bags and some trainers," he said, "the Dale Youth will be okay."