Heywood: Even after defeat, their man Khan was still a winner

As the rain from the Pennines sleeted its way down Heywood's main street on a Sunday lunchtime, Athens could hardly have seemed further away. The Kings is the town's principal pub, and stands opposite the church. Neither looked especially inviting, and the only signs of life came from the bookmakers' and the video shop across the road.

As the rain from the Pennines sleeted its way down Heywood's main street on a Sunday lunchtime, Athens could hardly have seemed further away. The Kings is the town's principal pub, and stands opposite the church. Neither looked especially inviting, and the only signs of life came from the bookmakers' and the video shop across the road.

But inside the Kings, the good citizens of Heywood, a small town to the north of Manchester noted only by most at 70mph as they hurtle down the nearby M62, had gathered en masse to watch Bolton's Amir Khan attempt to become the youngest gold medallist in his sport since Floyd Patterson in 1952.

If the scenes inside were anything to go by, this 17-year-old has done more than guarantee himself an appearance at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards in December.

Contrary to public perceptions of certain areas in the North-west, skin colour is not an issue here, at least not in the tight-knit amateur boxing community that regularly gathers at the pub. In front of the big screen was a selection of Khan's friends, acquaintances, sparring partners and admirers. One was John Latham, a 31-year-old amateur boxer. Had he ever been in a ring with Khan? "You're joking, aren't you?" he said. "That lad would kill me."

As the build-up to the final continued, so the crowd grew. The man himself might not have any nerves but his adoring fans certainly did.

With a typical lack of respect for seniority, Khan tore into his man, the Cuban legend Mario Kindelan. With every point the fighter registered, throaty Lancastrian roars bellowed out. "He needs a big last round," the commentator said. "Aye, a bloody big one," said someone. Northeners are nothing if not realistic.

At the final bell, a sustained round of applause rang round the Kings to show that boxing, for all its organised brutality, remains a sport of honour and dignity at amateur level. Even in defeat their man had won.

Before Khan's silver medal had even been presented, the crowds had begun to disperse. And outside, grey Heywood stood silent apart from the ceaseless patter of the rain.

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