No doubt about the big hit of the Games. England's boxers had a streak of red devilment in them as they collected five gold medals - as well as a ringing endorsement from former buddy Amir Khan - at the Melbourne Convention Centre last night and it was more than just the daubing of their hair. The squad had undergone the colourful coiffure in a show of team solidarity, and were joined in the corner by national coach Terry Edwards, who kept a promise to have his silver locks similarly decorated if five of his men reached the finals.
It certainly turned out to be a good hair day. "I am so excited about this young team I've even made myself look a silly sod for them," joked the 62-year-old former London cabbie. "I've been round the block, but this has given me a new lease of life. We set a high target and we achieved it. We came here wanting eight medals, one more than in Manchester, and we got them. I hoped for six golds , but I'll take five."
It would have been the perfect six but for some lop-sided scoring which saw light-flyweight Darran Langley out-scored by the Namibian Jafet Uutoni. But the high five was still England's best golden haul in the Commonwealth Games since London in 1934. In all, England return with five golds, a silver and two bronze.
Moreover, it turned out to be something of a British beanfeast, with the Scottish light-heavyweight Kenny Anderson taking the gold by coming from behind to out-brawl Adura Olalehin of Nigeria and an Anglo-Welsh super-heavyweight final in which England's David Price stopped the more experienced Kevin Evans, who had beaten him twice before, in three rounds.
England's other winners were flyweight Don Broadhurst, who boxed superbly to stop South African Jackson Chauke in the third, featherweight Stephen Smith, a massive points winner over Lassi Mehrullah of Pakistan and lightweight Frankie Gavin, who overwhelmed Giovanni Frontin of Maruitius 23-9. Featherweight Jamie Cox acquired his gold without throwing a punch - except at the ring post in celebration - when declared a walkover winner after Moses Kope of Lesotho withdrew with an ear injury.
At 19, Swindon's fierce-hitting Cox, a southpaw like Gavin, is the youngest team member. "Both can be another Amir," declared Edwards."Frankie has come of age and Jamie is a breath of fresh air. They could be superstars, and possibly as good as Amir. Frankie has been living in Amir's shadow but he is now a class act. He can deliver in Beijing. So can some of the others."
Watching at home at breakfastime in Bolton, Amir was enthralled by the performances of his erstwhile boxing buddies. He told me: "The lads were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. It's not only good for boxing, but good for the country. I'm so pleased for them all, especially Frankie, who is a great mate. I went down to help them out before they left and I look forward to getting together with them again when they return - maybe now they can give me a few tips."
Gavin, 20, who says he is "happy for my name to be mentioned in the same breath as Amir's" was the Olympic silver medallist's pre-Athens sparring partner. He reckons the turning point of his career was when he stepped in for Amir after the Games to meet maestro Mario Kindelan in an England-Cuba international. He lost but acknowledged: "I learned so much and proved to myself I can live with the best."
Liverpool's Smith, 20, went one better than his elder brother Paul, who won silver in Manchester. Teenage siblings Liam and Callum are both prospects for London in 2012 and Stephen reckons he might also be around then as he says he won't be following unbeaten Paul into the pro ranks.
Price, 22, is bigger on Merseyside than Peter Crouch, at least physically. After his Rocky-style semi-final the 6ft 7in plumber coolly boxed the ears off Evans, who is now likely to retire while Price eyes the Olympics, and the new incentives to get there.
Today the ABA's chief executive Paul King will sit down with the squad and explain the new central contracts which, he says, with Lottery funding and sponsorship, can be worth up to £80,000 for the top performers. There will also be medal bonuses, starting here with £2,000 for Commonwealth gold. "For the first time I think we will be able to take a mature and experienced team to the Olympics with chances of several medals."
This England team reflect how the sport has restructured itself, They are well-drilled, well-disciplined, and articulate in the ring and out. Edwards believes that at least half can qualify for Beijing if they are kept together. "We've got the talent. We can win the medals. These are professional amateur boxers now. They've been together for eight weeks now, training like pros, and living like pros. Now they have to be given financial incentives like pros. Thank God there's now a lot more money to play with. The days are gone when you got in there for plastic trophies."Reuse content