Boxing: Warning bell sounds over the Khan Effect

Amir's Athens glory is boosting boxing throughout the land. But his coach says it is time for a reality check
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The reaction to what Amir did in Athens has been, well, just phenomenal. My phone has not stopped ringing day and night. Not just with people wanting to come along to meet him, but parents who want their kids to take up boxing. Honestly, it's got to the stage where my wife is thinking of chucking the phone into the dustbin. I'm out of the house most of the time and when that phone constantly goes ding ding ding, ding ding ding, just as she's sitting down for a cup of tea, no wonder she gets fed up. I think this must be happening to a lot of boxing coaches all over the place now because of Amir.

The reaction to what Amir did in Athens has been, well, just phenomenal. My phone has not stopped ringing day and night. Not just with people wanting to come along to meet him, but parents who want their kids to take up boxing. Honestly, it's got to the stage where my wife is thinking of chucking the phone into the dustbin. I'm out of the house most of the time and when that phone constantly goes ding ding ding, ding ding ding, just as she's sitting down for a cup of tea, no wonder she gets fed up. I think this must be happening to a lot of boxing coaches all over the place now because of Amir.

Mick Jelley, the charismatic boxing-club coach who has nurtured the prodigious talent of the 17-year-old Olympic lightweight silver medallist since Amir Khan was brought to his Bury gymnasium by his dad as a hyperactive 11-year-old, was talking last week about the Khan Effect.

This has seen a phenomenal resurgence of interest in amateur boxing. In Bolton, Amir Khan's home town, the local council are having to employ a full-time boxing-development officer, such is the demand from kids to take up the sport, and at the last count as many as 41 Lancashire schools are now introducing boxing into their curriculum.

Jelley's phone is not the only one which rings ceaselessly. Paul King, director of national development for the ABA of England, said: "There is no doubt that there has been a massive reaction to Amir's achievement throughout the country. The impact of his silver medal has far surpassed that of Audley Harrison's gold."

Amir himself has not deviated from the same amiable cool-headedness that captivated the TV fans and media three months ago, but while his feet may still be firmly on the ground, since Athens they have hardly touched it. And that is what concerns the 60-year-old Jelley, who last week was named by Sport England as Britain's Coach of the Year for his own contribution to the sport. "All we want really is to get back to a bit of normality," Jelley said, "so he can get into some serious training for his bout against the Americans next month.

"It's, 'Amir, can you do this interview? Can you do this TV show? Can you come here, can you go there?' He's such a cracking lad he doesn't like to refuse. All this worries me a great deal. The expectations for this kid are just unbelievable, but what happens if, when he fights next, he goes down in the first round?

"You ask if I'm worried; too damn right I am. The last thing we want to happen is for him to end up on his backside because he's not properly prepared. He has got to get back to reality."

Amir himself agrees, and this weekend he has joined the rest of the England team for a squad session at Crystal Palace in the build-up to the United States match in Liverpool on 3 December. "Let's hope they can protect him a bit, so he can get down to some serious work," Jelley said. "If they don't, there will be trouble. It's like sending a racehorse out. If it's not fit, it won't win. We don't want any distractions from now on. What I do know is that the most important thing in Amir's life at the moment is that he wants to get back and start boxing again."

Amir owes a huge slice of his success to Jelley and the Bury ABC. The club were started by Jelley's father some 70 years ago, and Jelley has run it for the last 40. In that time there have been 17 different premises, culminating in the present residence at the Seedfield Centre in what can best be described as the rougher end of Bury. They have been there for the past 18 months. "Sometimes it has been a bit of a struggle to keep the club going," Jelley said, "because councils chuck you out, premises get knocked down, but we've persevered and it's certainly helped to keep the kids off the streets."

Jelley himself comes from a family of four boxing brothers. A former cotton-mill worker who is now in the print industry, he fits his shifts around his work at the gym. Membership of the club numbers around 50. "It goes up and down a bit every year - but, as you might imagine, it is now on the up."

This was evident last week, when the old school hall was packed with youngsters skipping, sparring and punching bags to a backdrop of a wall festooned with old front pages of Boxing News. Then everything stopped amid an awed silence as they all gathered around the ring when Amir appeared, selected one of the kids to spar with and gave him a congratulatory pat on the head as they finished. A pugilistic Pied Piper he may be, but he still pays his £1-a-session subscription, just like the rest, and gets a rollicking from Jelley if he steps out of line. "He'd clip me round the ear if I got big-headed," Amir laughed.

The club, as you would expect in this part of Lancashire, has a wide ethnic mix. "All sorts," said Jelley. "As long as they are interested in boxing it doesn't matter where they come from, we welcome them all." Obviously, Amir is very much the star of the stable, with his 13-year-old brother Haroon also beginning to make a name for himself. "We've got a few other decent strong lads, too, but no one quite like Amir, of course," Jelley added.

With the club now bursting at the seams, Jelley has a number of assistant trainers to help him and, despite the increased demand, he says he tries not to turn anyone away from the club, although he says he has to be a bit discerning. "Two blokes arrived last night. I asked one of them his age and he said 36. I said, 'Sorry, that's too old'. On the other hand, you get a father ringing up who said he's got a boy of six, so I tell him, 'It's not a kindergarten'."

The sold-out international against the US takes place five days before Amir's 18th birthday, when, if he so wishes, he can turn professional. But will he? The offers keep flooding in, including one for £1 million, but the certainty is that he will be guided by Jelley. So what does his mentor think he should do? "Like I keep telling everybody, we'll talk to them all and listen to them all. I have my view on it, but all I want to do is work out the best situation for the kid. He is the only one I'm bothered about."

Jelley admitted it is a dilemma. "People say he should wait another year, but is he going to be any bigger then than he is now, even if he'd won the gold medal? They may want to give him a million pounds now, but are they going to want to give him a million if he loses next month? Anyway, money's not everything, you've got to think who's going to best look after his interests. That's why we are not rushing into anything."

Jelley said that whatever Amir decides to do, he will remain with him, though not as a professional trainer. "I don't want a professional licence, I want to stay training my kids, but I will always be on hand to give him all the support and advice he needs, as was the case in Athens. That's what he wants, and that's what his parents want."

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