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The Big Interview: Tattoos, talent and telling his dad to be quiet ... Sheffield boxer Dalton Smith is on the trail of Olympic glory

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The message stretches right across his well-defined chest.

‘Never give up on life’ is written in large, bold, ornate script.

Dalton Smith at Steel City Gym. Picture: Chris Etchells

Dalton Smith at Steel City Gym. Picture: Chris Etchells

Dalton Smith, the most successful amateur boxer Sheffield has ever produced, paid to have it done when he was in his early teens.

His dad, Grant, who also happens to be the coach guiding him towards a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a professional career beyond, has exactly the same tattoo, in exactly the same place.

Smith Senior was given only hours to live when he was hit head on by a 56-tonne Supertram while out running near Meadowhall in 2006.

Back home in a fortnight, he had made almost a full recovery within six weeks. He designed his tattoo himself in defiance at his adversity and has devoted his time since to passing on his zeal to his son and the rest of his stable of champions at his Steel City gym in Darnall.

I don’t like it easy. You don’t get satisfaction when it’s easy. I like to see how hard I can push myself.

Dalton Smith

Smith Junior, aged 21, has learned well. “At times, it’s hard when you see your friends go out and you’re tired from training,” he says. “You have to pick yourself up and keep going.

“It’s a lonely sport, at the end of the day. You have your team around you, and you couldn’t do it without them, but when you get in the ring it’s just you and your opponent. No-one is going to put the work in for you. It’s down to you.

“It is a sacrifice, but I suppose that’s why I am where I am - I’ve been prepared to make those sacrifices. I don’t have any regrets. You have moments when you doubt whether you want to go through it but when you sit down and think about where you are you realise millions of people would love to be in the position you are. I’m grateful for where I am in life.

“I was young at the time of the accident, so it was weird. It was hard to take in. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised how serious it was, how lucky my dad was to survive and how lucky we are to still have him around.”

We’re sat chatting in a back office at Steel City about Dalton’s six English amateur titles, the medals he’s won at the junior European Championships and youth Commonwealth Games as the only city fighter ever to make the Team GB squad and his success representing his country against the globe’s best amateurs in the World Series of Boxing.

He turns up, skinny-legged with an athlete’s gait, wearing a blue Great Britain T-shirt from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where he was a GB sparring partner, a touch shy at first but quickly opening up.

A bad hand injury cost him a year of progress, but he’s over that now, ranked England’s No 1 amateur light-welterwight after claiming the senior ABA title and focused on emulating his pal, Anthony Joshua, a Games gold medalist in 2012 who has gone on to be a world ruler in the pro ranks.

“The next two years are crucial for me,” he says. “I’m more than confident I’ll be on the plane to Tokyo if I work hard.

“I’m at the same stage now as Anthony and Luke Campbell (another 2012 winner) were when they were my age. I’m a realistic medal contender.”

He’s been at it in his father’s gym since he was seven, when he had to chose between football and the ring. “It was easy,” he grins. “I wasn’t the best at football and I enjoyed boxing.”

‘Never give up on life’ is the Smiths’ mantra. “It’s something my dad’s always said since the accident,” Dalton reveals. “It’s something we both say now.

“I was 15 when I got the tattoo. I had to get his permission. The only reason he let me have it was because it was the same as his!”

The young Smith is relaxed now and I’m really warming to him. He’s toned, tanned, handsome and sincere, with a bit of moustache and beard fluff. Ferreting and fishing take his mind off boxing. There’s a quiet intensity about him but also a winning smile that breaks the seriousness.

Grant is somewhere in the backgroud, not eavesdropping but taking an unobtrusive interest in what’s being said. “To be honest, we argue all the time,” Dalton says and there’s a burst of paternal laughter behind me.

Dad and coach Grant Smith

Dad and coach Grant Smith

The older Smith tries to offer an opinion, but is told: “Let me talk, Dad.”

“I wouldn’t change it,” Smith the younger goes on. “I know when I’m working with my dad that he’s not going to give me bad advice. He’s doing well with the coaching. He has other fighters as well and the gym’s results are the proof in the pudding.

“He’s the one who’s pushed me, who’s kept me going when I’ve come away from the gym in tears saying I want to quit. I’m thankful for that.”

Smith Snr takes no offence at his son’s reprimand. The older man is a hard, uncompromising character yet capable of almost-unwitting moments of homespun beauty.

“Dalton? I f*cking worship him,” he says, immediately apologising for swearing. “I shout it from the rooftops what he’s done for Sheffield boxing. He’s the most accomplished amateur boxer in Sheffield. How many parents can say that about their kids? Hopefully he goes and becomes the biggest professional achiever from Sheffield.

“I’ve always taught him, if you’re good at something and it’s a hobby, turn it into a career. There aren’t many people who can say they earn a good living from doing something that started out as a hobby.

“I’m just so proud of him, of how he conducts himself, of what he does in life. Believe me, people don’t know how lonely it is what he has to do. I know how lonely it is, mentally and physically.

“There aren’t many people who can do it. That’s why he’s got where he has, because he’s got it in here (heart) and here (head). He can do it, he can do it, he can do it. I don’t have to worry about what he’s doing out of the gym. He’s got an identical work ethic to me.”

Father and son, mentor and pupil, taskmaster and talent, same blood, same values. They share so much more than a tattoo.

Dalton is a full-time member of Team GB, training three times daily at their Sheffield base at the English Institute of Sport, sharing a GB flat with two Scouse teammates, supported by his sponsors and National Lottery funding.

Weekends are spent with Grant, at the family home in Woodhouse and at the flourishing Steel City gym where love is tough and sessions even tougher.

Often, he sets his alarm for the middle of the night and pounds the streets for three or four miles. “The roads are empty,” he says. “When you run during the day, the air is full of car fumes.”

“Boxing is a poor man’s sport,” he continues. “You don’t really see rich kids getting on. You have to have heart, you have to have hunger, you have to have had a bit of hardship, you have to be different, you’ve got to be your own person.

“And so what if you’ve achieved all this? At the end of the day, you’ve got two arms and two legs. You’re the same as everyone else, so treat everyone the same.”

As if to prove his point, this boy who could top the Tokyo podium in two years thanks me for coming and insists on washing my tea-mug.

We’re talking again about the tattoo and its meaning. Smith Snr lifts his top to show me. He’s in decent shape for a bloke in his 40s but carries a bit more than his lad who isn’t allowed by his GB masters to ever be more than five per cent above his 64-kilogram fighting weight.

“Bad times don’t last forever,” says Dalton. “Pain doesn’t last forever.” Maybe he was thinking that when the needle was piercing his skin. “I had a bit of numbing cream,” he confesses and smiles that smile.

The Olympics are inked firmly in his diary. His mind wanders to 2020 and his demeanour hardens as he contemplates what lies ahead over the next 24 months.

“I like to challenge myself,” he says. “I don’t like it easy. You don’t get satisfaction when it’s easy. I like to set myself a big goal, then it makes me work harder. I like to see how hard I can push myself.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but that can make you a better fighter. When you do fail, it’s how you come back.

“No-one likes to lose. I always say, I don’t really lose, I learn. Every loss I’ve had, I’ve come out of the ring, thought ‘I’ve learned something there’ and then put it right.”

Running at 2am, 7am starts, relentless training, hardly a night out, no girlfriends for now, nothing standing in the way of the golden dream.

He doesn’t say anything else. He doesn’t have to. The words penned by his dad are etched across his pecs, scarred into his psyche, driving him to the Far East.

‘Never give up on life’.

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DALTON’S MATE, ANTHONY JOSHUA

World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is Olympic prospect Dalton Smith’s friend and role model.

The pair catch up regularly when they work out at the English Institute of Sport in Attercliffe, Sheffield, and they watched a boxing show together just days before Joshua claimed his first global crown, the IBF title, in 2016.

Joshua was a Team GB member when he won a gold medal at the 2012 Games in London and Smith is hoping to follow in his footsteps two years from now in Tokyo.

“I train with him. I see how he is in the gym, how humble he is, how good he is with the public,” Smith said.

“He’s down to earth. He treats everyone the same. When I put posts on social media, he’ll reply ‘well done’. The people he’s with now are the people he was with when he had nothing.

“He just shows, if you stay humble and grounded, what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.

“He took me to a casino to watch boxing a week before he won his first world title.”

Joshua’s coach, Rob McCracken, is also head of Team GB.

Smith is backed by National Lottery funding and is always on the lookout for new sponsors.

He is grateful for the support already given to him by Richmond Reclamation, Ken Waddington and Sons Roofing, Basegreen Motor Services, Mark Roe Physio and Food Fusion.

“The funding is not much, but it gets you by, and the sponsorship is a big help for equipment and stuff,” Smith said. “You’ve got to look at it in the long run - put the groundwork in now and hopefully it will pay off in the future. The rewards come later on.

“At Tokyo, hopefully I’ll win a gold medal, and then I’ll be looking to turn professional. My long-term goal with that is to win a world title and earn enough money to have a comfortable life with my future family and everyone around me.”

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Best fighter in the world: Vasyl Lomachenko (Ukrainian world champion at lightweight, super-featherweight and featherweight). He’s fighting above and below his weight and proving that skill beats power and strength.

Best boxer in the UK: Anthony Joshua. For the profile he’s given boxing in this country.

Best UK prospect: Josh Buatsi (London-based light-heavyweight bronze medalist at the, 2016 Rio Olympic Games, 6-0 as a pro). He was part of Team GB and has adapted well to the pros. He gives 100 per cent in the gym. He leaves no stone unturned. He’s humble as well. He has the ability to win a world title.

Best moment: Winning my first ever national title when I was 12, in Brentwood, Essex. It was a big thing. It made me cry - happy joy! I won national titles every year after that, but that one at 12 was the biggest moment for me.

Worst moment: The frustration of the hand injury. I was No 1 ranked domestic amateur boxer at the time and there were big tournaments coming up, the Europeans, the Worlds. And also there was a chance to box at the Commonwealth Games. They always say, though, after a bad setback, there’s a better comeback.

Best friend: My teammates on Team GB, all the lads I’m living with and training with. They’re going through the same process as me. We’ve all got respect for each other. They’re family at the end of the day because you’re living with them. I share a flat with Tom Whittaker-Hart and Peter McGrail, two Scousers. We do have a laugh and get up to mischief. That’s what young lads do.

Anthony Joshua

Anthony Joshua