A Co Tyrone boxing coach is appealing for help to get his club back up and running after it was forced to shut.
Loughshore Amateur Boxing Club had to halt all activities on Easter Monday.
Michael Mitchell set up Loughshore ABC in 2016, and since then it has taken many young fighters to the US and Canada for competitions, and has produced six Irish amateur champions, including super-heavyweight prospect Dean Scullion.
The club operated out of a unit in Ardboe Business Park.
But in 2020, shortly before boxing clubs were allowed to reopen following the first Covid lockdown, it was told via email it would have to vacate.
Michael explained: “His reason was that he had a client who was looking [to take] the unit. We were just a bit shocked. We just paid rates and kept the place well maintained and had never really had any problems.”
When contacted, the landlord said: “We have no comment to make in relation to this matter.”
Over the last two years, between lockdowns, Michael has trained small numbers of fighters in his garage, which he transformed into a makeshift gym.
But he said, due to its small size, it isn’t sustainable, and the knock-on effect has been a lack of funding. He also knows, for a long-term future, the club will need somewhere that can fit a ring into so boxers can properly practise and train.
He added: “I was training around 15 people there for a while, over the space of three hours, taking up to five of them at a time. It isn’t big enough and I’ve had to turn people away. If you wanted to spar or anything, you had to go to another club.”
“We had up to 65 young kids per night whenever we were in Ardboe,” said the Ballinderry man, who won two Irish titles and boxed out of the Randalstown club from the age of 10.
“When I was training kids, I never charged any of them. We would have run wee draws and when you had over 40 people in, parents didn’t mind throwing you £5 a week, and we had a woman in the club who was our fundraiser.”
Despite receiving some compensation through Covid sports hardship grants, two years on, and with a lower number of attendees, the amount of money coming in was next to nothing.
While Michael is currently in the process of getting the club officially registered as a charity, he says there is no other option but to close.
He added: “A girl in Mid Ulster Council did try to help us. The only councillor that really helped us was Dan Kerr. The amount of stuff he did for us was unreal.
“But trying to get somewhere was a disaster. I could have maybe got some wee places, but putting up boxing bags was a no-no.”
Mid Ulster District Council said: “A council sports development officer has previously been in touch with club representatives to discuss the club’s requirements for facilities that could house their specific need for a fixed boxing ring... and how the council could help with their search for premises and provision of information on grants.
“Club representatives are aware that further advice and assistance can be provided.”
Eamonn Magill, a well-known name in Belfast sporting circles, professional referee and founder of the Belfast Boxers blog, has messaged Michael voicing his support, along with Ulster Boxing Council member Joe Pollock and Ulster high performance coach Damien Kennedy.
However, he said there is nothing else he can do, and has appealed to anyone around the Mid Ulster area for help with locating a new building to host the club.