Nobody really knows what David Haye thought when he was led into the Fitzroy Lodge amateur boxing club gym as a 10-year old and left in the company of men and brawlers for the first time.
Haye, now 30, insists that he felt like he had come home, reached the place where he was meant to be. "I'd been talking about winning the world heavyweight title since I was three and at 10 [right] I was there. I know that is what went through my head," says Haye.
The Fitzroy Lodge has been taking in waifs, strays, street lunatics – I was one of them in the '70s – and world-class fighters since 1908 and moulding, shaping and creating every type of boxer. Since 1946 it has been located in a railway arch between the Imperial War museum and Lambeth Bridge, its sign nearly hidden by trucks and filth and its door seldom closed.
In February one of the Lodge's trainers, Billy Webster, died. He was 85 and with Mick Carney, who still runs the place, the pair shared a unique partnership of nearly 120 years at the club. Haye was at Webster's wake in March, head down, just a boy from the gym.
"No boy is bigger than the club," Carney insists. "We had to remind David about that a few times! He was a handful at times, hard to get out of bed at times, impossible to beat in the ring at other times. He was special from very, very early on. He could really whack."
The boy is now in his prime as the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion and is still referred to in the old gym in the same way he was when he was fighting there. He is seldom called David Haye; it's "Silly B****cks", "Him" or the "Crank".
"I talk to some people and hear others talking about him and I just have to shake my head," continues Carney. "I've heard one fella tell me that he will freeze when he gets in the ring with [Wladimir] Klitschko. Freeze? Forget it, it's what he has been dreaming and talking about since he was a little boy. It's what he really goes to bed dreaming about. He has wanted to be up in that ring in front of 60,000 people and against the odds all his life. That's what he lives for. That doesn't mean that he wasn't a pain in the arse to deal with," adds Carney.
"People have always made the mistake that he is some type of pussycat because he smiles, shakes hands and has always scrubbed up well. He's fearless and nasty in the ring and he has pulled out some great wins when he was on the verge of losing. He loves to knock people out. He always has; it's just his way and was his way from an early age."
Carney is right, I saw a show once inside the archway gym in 1996 when Haye, who seemed to have packed the place, was just 15, stood about 6ft 3in and weighed just over 12st. He stopped a kid from Rugeley and inside the sweaty gym it was like a big fight at the O2 Arena, with Haye taking about 10 minutes to get in and out of the ring.
"He is an exciting bastard, there is no denying that. I hope he beats Klitschko. We all do down here. He's a crank, but he's still a Lodge boy," says Carney.Reuse content