Harrison Hobson: How boxing gym has turned Sheffield teenager's life around - 'I'm not one of them kids anymore. It has changed everything'
Harrison Hobson was excluded from mainstream education at 14 – but now the gold-medal winning youth has turned his life around with boxing.
He's just turned 16 and, only 13 fights into his amateur career, Hobson triumphed at the East Midlands Box Cup, which hosts fighters and gyms from all around Great Britain.
He picked up the gold medal in the 66kg category earlier this month while representing boxing gym De Hood, on the Manor estate where he lives. Club-mate Drew Penny, 14, took a silver medal at the same event.
"It was crazy," says Harrison. "In the first fight I was against this guy and I think he was six foot five, a lot taller than me. Just looking at him put me off to be honest but then I'm warming up and I get my head fixed. I worked on what I needed to work on, broke his body and won the fight. That gave me confidence throughout the whole thing to go win it."
Taking up boxing has proved to be transformative for Harrison. Previously a student of the Spring Lane Inclusion Centre, which his coach Reagan Denton calls 'naughty boys’ school', Harrison returned to mainstream education and even completed his final exams in the weeks after winning box-cup gold.
"I never thought any of this would happen,” says Harrison. "In school I'm not even one of them kids anymore. I just sit down and get on with what I need to do. I don't argue with teachers, there's no need for it. That's something I didn't know before I started boxing. You learn everything, not just fighting. You learn to be more streetwise. I was in Spring Lane for two years, then I started coming here and I was out of Spring Lane in six months. I started coming every day and that's when it started changing. De Hood has changed everything."
Reagan, a former professional fighter, argues that boxing is a great way to harness young people's energy. Having opened the gym eight years ago, Reagan has seen it made a massive difference to the Manor and the surrounding area. "Idle hands work for the devil. Now those idle hands are in here with boxing gloves on. Fires have dropped by 75 per cent in the local area since we took over the building and opened the boxing gym. Crime has dropped by half too."
Last year De Hood was embroiled in a battle to remain open. A petition calling on the city council to stop the building on Prince of Wales Road from being demolished to make way for shops was signed by thousands.
Like Harrison, Reagan is a product of the tough Manor Estate. He was keen to make a difference for local people and did so using the 'working class hero' image that comes with being a professional fighter. "When I first started I didn't just say ‘Right, I'm going to open a boxing gym’. I was boxing at the time and I was a troubled kid myself," he says.
"I live in the local area overlooking the park. There'd been a kid stabbed in front of my house, a kid got shot. I went down one day to a group and said 'What's all this about?' and they said they were bored so I started taking them running with me. All these kids were running with me. The Manor's one of the most single-parent estates in the whole of Britain, so there's not a lot of guidance for these kids.
"We'd go running and then to my mate's cafe and a few truck drivers would throw some money in a hat and buy them all bacon sandwiches. They started confiding in me and I started telling them things that worked for me and what didn't work for me. I'm there to encourage them. What you put in is what you get out. I used to say to them, you give me 100 per cent I'll give you 210 per cent and that's what I do."
Reagan hasn't always been so wise. He explains how he ‘had a bit too much, too fast’ early in his career.
"I signed with Frank Warren, travelled overseas. I thought I was Elvis. Women, fast cars. I ended up doing a bit of jail and then I came out and got my career back. Eventually I got let down by boxing again and then I put all my energy into these kids, younger versions of me. Where I missed out these kids are going to make up. I should have been a champion, it's written in the books, but now these kids are doing it."
Visibly proud when speaking about his young charge, Reagan said: "When he came in he was a kid who was a bit unsure and couldn't let his trust out. You could see he was a bit wary of things. He reminds me of a younger version of me because I was a troubled kid. Now Harrison is a role model. We haven't just got him back into 'naughty boys’ school', he's back into mainstream school and he's a role model. They see him and think, if he can do it, we can do it."
Reagan's protege's success even won him a brush with stardom. Harrison recently met world title challenger Kid Galahad in Wincobank's famous Ingle Gym.
"Kid Galahad walked in and said 'You're too good to be messing around with all these, warm me up!' and I was like 'What?' Then they're wrapping me up in Billy Joe Saunders' gloves,” says Harrison, referring to another world championship fighter. “It was really good, six rounds sparring and he said if I lasted he'd give me some money. I lasted and said 'Where's the money?' – he took me and my 15 friends out for dinner and paid for the whole thing!"