BOXING has been a regular and plentiful contributor to Scotland’s medal haul at the Commonwealth Games ever since James Rolland got the ball rolling with lightweight gold at the inaugural event in 1930.
This success has created a production line of talent that has served the professional game well. But amateur boxing in Scotland has never visibly grown as a product, never thoroughly explored its own potential to put bums on seats and be self-sufficient. There are reasons for that, and the core obstacles remain, but the stirring effect of a home Games will be felt at the Emirates Arena tonight when the best unpaid fighters in the country aim to dazzle an estimated 3,000-strong crowd ahead of enriching Team Scotland’s endeavours this summer.
For many of them, the Boxing Scotland Championship Finals (note: victory does not guarantee selection for the Commonwealth Games but it will certainly not harm any fighter’s credentials) will be the culmination of another year of sacrifice. Although the word “amateur” has been outlawed by the world governing body AIBA, the vast majority of athletes affiliated to Boxing Scotland do not receive enough funding to give up their day jobs.
Aston Brown and Josh Taylor, the 2012 Olympian, are exceptions to the rule as members of the GB performance programme, and Brown is aware of his privileged position but stops short of describing his compatriots in the Scottish scene as unfortunate. “This finals night is going to be massive. It’s the biggest amateur boxing night Scotland has ever put on and there is a lot of pressure, both on the organisers to sell tickets and the boxers to perform,” said Brown, the reigning champion at middleweight (75kg).
“But boxing is on a high with the Commonwealth Games coming up. It’s really turning on as a boxing programme, and I think we’ll do very well at the Games and win gold medals.
“Of course it’s difficult for guys who have to work, but I’d say if they can just dig a bit deeper and train that bit harder, things will happen because they’re still coming along very well. If you’re in that situation you just have to take all the experience you can get from big competitions. Me and Josh haven’t been lucky to get where we are, we have worked hard to get picked. I’m in the GB programme so I’m funded as a full-time athlete, but only in the last two years and I had one year as a development athlete. Before that I was working as a floor layer. Now I’ve got the opportunity to train full-time and without that I don’t think I’d be able to compete with guys like Jason Quigley.”
Quigley is Brown’s Irish equivalent, a full-time boxer aiming to make an impact at major championships while keeping one eye on the option of turning pro. Brown met the European champion last autumn in the last 16 of the World Championships in Kazakhstan, emerging with credit despite suffering defeat.
The Irish model is the template for Boxing Scotland to follow. The team named by Northern Ireland this week for Glasgow 2014 boasts three Olympic bronze medals. For now, though, Brown, a Govan native who moved to Edinburgh when he saw how quickly Taylor was progressing at Lochend, is only interested in the rival standing between him and another national title, the highly-rated Kieran Smith of Springhill.
“I want to retain my title, my championship and my gold medal, and prove I’m No 1,” says the 23-year-old. “I’ve been to big major tournaments and I don’t suffer much from nerves because I’m just focusing on what I need to do. This is just another day, just another fight. I’m competing in the national championships and this is the final. Because I’m No 1 and in the GB performance squad, I’m very confident I’m going to win this title and go on to fight at the Commonwealth Games. It’s been spoken about for a long time, me going to the Games, probably since the last one, but I’m not thinking about that this week.
“Kieran is a good fighter. I fought him last year in the final and people say it was a close fight but I didn’t think it was. When I’m 100 per cent and he is 100 per cent, there is only going to be one winner and that’s me.
“He’s a good fighter and he’s young, but he keeps going on about how young he is – he’s only about a year younger than me. I’ve done a lot of boxing and I’ve been at a high level for quite a while so people maybe don’t realise I’ve only just turned 23.”
TONIGHT’S RUNNING ORDER
Flyweight (M): Reece McFadden (Forgewood) v Ryan McCutcheon (Meadowbank)
Bantamweight (M): Joe Ham (Mayfield) v Brandon Singh (Denbeath)
Featherweight (W): Farah Jamill (Bellahouston) v Sinead Price Greene (Doonhammers)
Lightweight (W): Katie Atkin (Lochend) v Lynn Calder (Springhill)
Lightweight (M): Charlie Flynn (Glasgow Phoenix) v Mark McKeown (Keir Hardie)
Light Welterweight (F): Hanna Carlson (Glenrothes) v Paul Docherty (Newarthill)
Light Welterweight (M): Josh Taylor (Lochend) v Sam Ball (Greenock)
Middleweight (F): Gardner Moore (Heriot Watt) v Gemma Brodie (Renfrewshire)
Welterweight (M): Connor Law (Glenrothes) v Lewis Benson (Lochend)
Middleweight (M): Aston Brown (Lochend) v Kieran Smith (Springhill)
Light Heavyweight (M): Scott Forrest (Springhill) v Grant Quigley (Port Glasgow)
Heavyweight: Gary Fairgrieve (East Lothian) v Stephen Lavelle (Mayfield)
Super Heavyweight: John Winters (Kincorth) v Ross Henderson (Springhill)