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‘As long as I’m alive, that gym will be like a leg to me’ – coaches reflect on Highland Boxing Academy’s journey to 100 champions


By Andrew Henderson

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Every sport has its milestones, but a recent achievement from Highland Boxing Academy brought coaches past and present together to celebrate.

Having only been formed in 2011 by head coach Liam Foy, the boxing club passing 100 champions at the end of last month was a notable moment.

It was made all the sweeter by coming in the club’s most successful season ever, with Kian Stewart’s triumph to take the club into three figures also being their 16th title of the season. Since then, Kian and older brother Robert have added to HBA’s tally even further at the William Wallace Box Cup in Stirling.

Liam Foy gifting HBA's 100th champion Kian Stewart with a voucher for £250 for Seconds Out Fight Store, donated by John Russell and Highland Boxing Academy.
Liam Foy gifting HBA's 100th champion Kian Stewart with a voucher for £250 for Seconds Out Fight Store, donated by John Russell and Highland Boxing Academy.

Such a landmark saw the club come together to mark the occasion, bringing some of HBA’s original coaches back to their Carsegate Road facility to mix with the current team and reflect on the progress that has been made over the last 12 years.

Derek Duncan was one of the inaugural mentors at Highland Boxing Academy, and such is the strength of his connection to the brand he continues to be a passionate supporter of the club from a relative distance.

“In day one we were in a small hall, probably about half the size of where we are now,” he recalled.

“I still try to help out with sponsorship, but I don’t have the time to get more involved. It’s a big commitment, but the good thing is there are enough coaches at the club now to keep things going.

“I always will be passionate enough about the club to support them. I feel like I was a part of bringing the club along in the early days, so it’s not just Liam’s baby – it’s our baby.

“I think we always thought we would get to 100 champions. I might not have said 100, but I knew we were going to be successful – you couldn’t not be with the coaches and the atmosphere at the club. It’s a winning combination.”

Similarly, Kevin Campbell continues to sponsor HBA after taking a step back from coaching over recent years, and that comes from having seen how much of an impact the club has on those who come and train in the gym.

“We had a lot of fun training the boys and getting them to a level where they could be proud of themselves,” he said.

“It was good to see them come out of their shell and get in the ring, whether they won or lost.

“I’ve seen a lot of champions come through the door, and a lot of boys who didn’t get titles who should have, but that’s just the way boxing goes.

“It means a lot, it has fulfilled a goal that Liam wanted, but I just wanted to get good boxers through the door and get guys off the street. It’s good to come back in now and see the difference.”

Another coach who returned for the celebration after some time away was former North of Scotland development coach Gary Russell, who began coaching with the club off the back of sons Jason and Darrell starting on their path to becoming amateur champions.

He believes that family feel to the club made it an inevitability that they would achieve this level of success at some stage.

“Everybody is made to feel welcome, and you feel like part of a family as well as a team,” Russell explained.

“Everybody is singing off the same hymn sheet, nobody is higher than anyone else.

“I knew 100 was going to come, just by the way that the club is run. I have been keeping an eye on it, because I think we were probably 25 or 30 off it when I left a couple of years ago.

“It was not a surprise, definitely not. Maybe how quickly they’ve done it was a surprise, because they’ve had quite a lot of champions this year.”

Bruno Stewart is the patriarch of another family representing Highland Boxing Academy, with son Kian the one who became the club’s 100th champion.

Highland Boxing Academy's Kian and Robert Stewart were the latest winners at the William Wallace Box Cup for HBA. Picture: David Rothnie
Highland Boxing Academy's Kian and Robert Stewart were the latest winners at the William Wallace Box Cup for HBA. Picture: David Rothnie

Bruno is also the most recent addition to the coaching team at HBA, and he says the Stewart clan could not have had a better welcome.

“We were welcomed in with open arms,” he reasoned.

“It could have been a bit awkward at the start, but it was a fresh start from the day we walked through the door. Everyone is genuinely nice and welcomed us all, and tried to help the boys as much as they could. That’s all I could ask for.

“Boxing clubs in general all become family after a while – it’s a boxing family. Whether you’re blood related or not, you’re all family. This fits that bill perfectly for me.

“In my time here, there has been a handful of champions in a short space of time, so it’s good to see them progress on to that level. The ability of the boxers in the gym now should mean that things will progress quickly.”

Adding to the family dynamic are Barry Morrison and Michael Gliniecki, who have each seen two sons come through the gym.

With each having longer stints as HBA coaches than Stewart, they also look at the bigger picture for the club – from the impact that boxing has on youngsters in the Highland community, to what could be achieved by some of their athletes in the future.

“It’s important to be here, because that’s hundreds of schoolkids that are getting off the street every week,” Gliniecki stressed.

“Coming in here at 4.45pm, there are 30 to 40 kids in there Monday to Friday. Then you’ve got the next session with teenagers, and there isn’t much for the kids so this is good for them.

“It’s a good discipline, it keeps them focused, these kids are never in bother and it helps them excel in school, so everyone wants them involved.

“Ultimately, it’s changed probably hundreds of peoples lives. It’s not just the 100 champions on the wall – those are the titles won, but there are probably thousands of fights we’ve won and thousands of miles we’ve travelled to get kids all around the country.”

Morrison continued: “Looking at how successful some of our boxers are now, having five or six boxers at a time pushing for, or getting into, the Scotland squad and pushing on to the Great Britain squad for the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics – that would be the dream.

“We’ve had a few that boxed for Scotland this year, but looking around the gym you can see the talent that’s there, and we’re talking in the gym about potentially having five or six on that national squad. That would be fantastic.

“That would be the dream for any boxer, and we’ve got two current Scottish professional champions in George Stewart, who is ranked in the top 10 in Britain right now, and Ben Bartlett, which is fantastic for the area.”

The likes of Stewart and Bartlett are trailblazers for Highland boxing, but there is another area where HBA are among the leading lights.

Maria Cameron and Isabella Fioretti each made it into the Scotland squad towards the end of last season, following in the footsteps of Golden Gloves winner Lindsay Fulton. Fulton herself was inspired to step into the ring by the club’s first women’s champion, Laura Mackay, who has since turned from competitor to coach.

“When I became Scottish Novice champion, Lindsay Fulton saw my picture in the paper and I was her inspiration to come into the gym,” she said.

Lindsay Fulton won the highest prize in Scottish amateur boxing after being inspired by Mackay. Picture: David Rothnie
Lindsay Fulton won the highest prize in Scottish amateur boxing after being inspired by Mackay. Picture: David Rothnie

“Lindsay has done amazingly, and she has now inspired other girls, who are inspiring other girls, so it has been a line of progression.

“When I started there were no other girls at all, I was sparring with the boys, and now there are so many for them to come in and spar and train with. I love being at the start of that, and we’re definitely like a little family. We take care of each other.

“There are lots of girls on the wall (of champions), and hopefully that will inspire the next group of girls coming through.”

Mackay is not the only female coach at the club, as head coach Liam Foy’s partner Ashley Duncan is also involved. She has seen first-hand the amount of work that has gone into making HBA a success – and the impact it has had on the many athletes who have stepped into the gym.

“We like to make it good fun for people, and I think that has played into our success,” she explained.

“We try to take people away with as little expense as we can, and when kids get away without their mums and dads for the weekend – the results in the ring speak for themselves, but it’s the memories that come with it that go through generations that are great.

“This is an escape for people. They might have something going on at home, but an hour or two in the gym can make their week – it does have a massive impact.

“Over the years we’ve seen some sad stories. This has been some kids’ escape, and some of them have come through the other side. It’s not even just kids, adults as well. If someone is stressed at work, they can do the same.”

Highland Boxing Academy (HBA) celebrated passing 100 champions since their formation in 2011 by bringing together coaches past and present at the club. Picture: David Rothnie
Highland Boxing Academy (HBA) celebrated passing 100 champions since their formation in 2011 by bringing together coaches past and present at the club. Picture: David Rothnie

If anybody walking through the door of the gym for the first time needed evidence of the impact HBA can have on someone’s life, they need look no further than coach Levi Coyne, who was forced to retire from in-ring action at 19 years old due to a bad concussion.

“No matter what age I was when I retired, I was always going to stay at the club and do something to help out, so it was an honour of mine to be able to stay on and do something,” Coyne reasoned.

“I’ll say this to everyone and anyone: that gym is probably more of a home to me than my actual home. As long as I’m alive, that gym will be like a leg to me. I’ve literally got the Highland Boxing Academy logo tattooed across my ribcage.

“I gained so much confidence when I started boxing, and you learn so many life lessons – good manners, confidence and obviously the sport as well.

“Seeing the club grow over the years has been unbelievable. It is absolutely phenomenal seeing how much the club has come on.

“I would definitely put HBA up there with the top clubs in Scotland, it won’t be long before HBA is up on the UK listings in terms of boxing clubs with all the young talent we’ve got coming through. There’s no way we’ll slow down now.”

From head coach Foy’s point of view, his pride at passing 100 champions comes just as much from the hard work that has been put in as a collective as it does from hitting the number itself.

He added: “There has been a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears over the years, but it’s a big milestone for the club and hopefully we can get many more.

“When I started up HBA I felt that boxing in the north didn’t have the same respect as it did in the central belt. It was always my aim when I started the club to raise the standards of boxing in the north.

“Some other clubs have had even more success than us, but the 100 champions we’ve had have definitely helped raise the bar for clubs in the North of Scotland. I can’t do all that on my own, so it has required a massive sacrifice and commitment from an entire team.

“I have to thank all the coaches for their time and effort. We are a unit and we have produced these champions together.”


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