Halifax has a long and proud tradition of boxing clubs and academies in West Yorkshire. It’s a town steeped in working-class sporting history.
Halifax produced the British, European and Commonwealth boxing Champion Richard Dunn, who unsuccessfully challenged Muhammad Ali for the World Heavyweight title in Munich, Germany, in 1976.
It also housed the famous Mississippi bluesman and ‘Golden Gloves’ champion Jack Dupree in the 1970s and 1980s. And it even brought Ali to its terraced streets in the 1970s.
The working-class culture of boxing clubs
The 19th-century Industrial Revolution turned Halifax into an important town for the textile industry.
Halifax featured some of the world’s largest factories. Its wealth was generated by the cotton, wool and carpet industries, with a large number of weaving mills.
But by the 1970s, many factories had closed, leaving thousands unemployed.
Boxing clubs were rooted in working-class community life. The care offered by coaches like Gordon Jones and Roy Alway supported a generation of young men who otherwise might have struggled during social and economic hardship.
As the 1980s wore on, these clubs worked with some of the borough’s most socially and economically disadvantaged people.
Gordon Jones and the Halifax Star Boxing Club of 1949
It was on the top floor of the Star Inn that ex-professional boxer Robert ‘Tiger’ Ennis opened the Halifax Star Boxing Club in 1949.
That same year, the 19 year old boxer Gordon Jones joined the club. It dedicated over half a century to the Star and its young fighters, nurturing generations to follow his example in the ring.
The Star was initially situated on the corner of Orange and Weymouth Street before being moved to the Workout Warehouse on Square Road during the 1970s. It was renamed the Halifax Star Amateur Boxing Club and remained there until Gordon retired from the sport around 2004.
The Star’s original members were Bob ‘Tiger’ Ennis, Roy Sharratt, Gordon Jones, Gordon Greenwood, Philip McGrath, Shirley Crabtree, Derek Marshall, Geoffrey Dilley, Roy ‘Rocky’ Alway, and Tony Armstrong.
In the 1960s, Gordon Jones was Halifax’s first and only officially recognised boxing coach. As a boxer himself, by the time he’d hung up his gloves, Gordon had competed in over 200 contests and lost just 10!
Gordon was not only the coach of the Halifax Star but for many at the club, he was their father figure, their guide in life, and the inspiration to not only evolve individually but also within the community.Steve Kizis, amateur boxer who trained and fought at the Halifax Star Boxing Club
By the 1970s, the Star was famous all over England. It hosted its fair share of England internationals, including Richard Dunn, John Celabanski, and John ‘Jack’ Hammer, all in the heavyweight class.
Roy Alway and the Stainland Mechanics Amateur Boxing Club of 1966
In 1966, the boxer Ray Scott joined the newly formed Stainland Mechanics Boxing Club and was followed by Roy ‘Rocky’ Alway. The two had met following the relocation of the Halifax Star to St. Mary’s Church at the bottom of Gibbet Street.
Roy soon became to the Stainland Mechanics what Gordon Jones was to the Halifax Star.
Situated in the old Mechanics Hall in Stainland, the boxing club first kept its equipment in a pram shed. It was later housed in a room just off the long room where the young boxers trained.
My dad and his mate Clarrie went to fight for Stainland Mechanics. So we were there, up in Stainland, up on top of the hills absolutely freezing, an old gym, but it was absolutely great. There were some great local lads there. And Roy, no nonsense, tough as old boots. We boxed all over the country.Cass Varey, amateur boxer and owner of the Hebden Bridge Boxing Club
However, many old clubs disappeared as the economic hardship bit deep into Halifax’s working-class resolve. The senior trainers hung up their gloves and locked the doors of the old mill spaces where they trained countless young fighters.
Halifax today: A new beginning
By the early 2000s, a new generation of coaches had emerged.
Club owners and trainers like Mick Rowe and Cass Varey, steeped in the stories, memories and glories of the amateur and professional boxing scene in Halifax, recognised the vital role boxing had to play in community life.
We wanted to start putting on our own shows, so our community could come and see our local lads fight and develop a sense of pride in our community and our boxing heritage.Mick Rowe, owner of the Halifax Boxing Sports & Fitness Club
Clubs like Halifax Boxing Sports & Fitness, the Hebden Bridge Boxing Academy, and the new Halifax Star offer support and positive relationships for young people, refugees and asylum seekers suffering adverse circumstances.
In 2022, Historic England awarded the arts organisation Verd de Gris funding through the Everyday Heritage Grants programme to celebrate the working-class culture of boxing clubs around Halifax.
A 30 minute documentary, ‘Halifax Stars’, was produced as part of the grant. It records the stories of older fighters and the gyms that used to be a prominent feature of the area, and celebrates the importance of boxing coaching with young working-class people today.
Watch the story below.