Category Archives: Sports

Beginner’s Boxing at Gloves, West Hampstead

The building trembles as another train rattles past, mere inches from the window. Peering out, I can see commuters piling off onto the platform at West Hampstead station, escaping the rain. Inside, sepia-toned photos line the exposed red-brick walls, and the dull sound of leather pounding leather echoes under the high-vaulted beamed ceiling.

If not for the bass-heavy music being pumped out of the stereo system, and the familiarity of the North London tube station outside, I could easily be in an old New York boxing hall, circa 1950.

My nostalgia is cut short by the arrival of our trainer, Matt. “This may be a gym,” he tells us, “but we’re here to learn how to box, not to watch TV. If you want that, you can go over the road to Esporta.” This may be a class for first-timers, but Matt won’t be going easy on us.

After the warm-up – five minutes of non-stop skipping during which my body makes time for breathers by hurling itself in the way of the swinging rope – we strap up. Hand injuries are common in boxing because of the constant strain the many small bones are put under, so we wrap our knuckles and wrists in elastic tape to avoid bruising them while hitting the punchbags.

With our gloves on, we start to look like real boxers. In some clubs, this is enough to get you into the ring with another person. “Traditional boxing clubs,” says Matt, “follow the model of, ‘let’s see how hard you are, and if you can handle it we’ll let you join.’ But we’re not a competition club, training kids to be fighters; we’re a fitness club, and boxing is the best kind of fitness you can do.”

So here at Gloves, the focus is on movement. Matt has us bouncing on the spot, shifting our weight between our front and back feet. Once we’re comfortable with the timing, we start throwing a left jab. In time, keeping our rhythm, we add a right-hand punch into the routine. Our synchronized movement is dance-like, and the focus required to execute the routine distracts from the exhaustion of performing it.

Once we’re familiar with the steps, we move onto circuits. Those who sign up for membership at Gloves will eventually have the opportunity to get into the ring and spar with a human being. Our opponents tonight, however, for two minutes at a time each, are the punchbags of various shapes and sizes that hang from the gym’s walls.

Matt, the squarest person I have ever come across, chest and shoulders bulging out from underneath his grey hoody, shows us how to tackle them. An ex-soldier who trained as a boxer in the Marines, he has the look of someone you would not ever want to get into a fight with.

As big as he is, he remains incredibly light on his feet, and skips around the apparatus, landing his blows on the punchbags with unexpected grace. “You’re going to find this difficult,” he warns us. Watching him demonstrate, I simply don’t believe him.

My mistake. Landing a blow on the heavy, cylindrical punchbag is not a problem. Doing it at full strength, and for two minutes at a time is. My instinct is to slow down and lighten my punches, but Matt soon appears over my shoulder. “Come on, punch the s**t out of that bag,” he bellows.

This is the first and only expression of the kind of language that you might expect in a boxing club. As much of a hard-man as Matt undoubtedly is, the atmosphere in the gym is far from macho. Two out of the eight in our class are women, as are roughly half of the regulars training around us.

I start attacking the bag with renewed efforts, but the bell rings again and it’s time to move onto another piece of equipment – the floor-to-ceiling bag – seemingly designed with the express purpose of humiliating me. The aim is to hit a round leather ball on an elastic rope suspended between floor and ceiling. Timing my punches is a near impossibility, and I spend the two minute period swinging at air, while the punchbag jerks violently past me.

The bell sounds and the hour-long session is over. I can’t wait to get my gloves off and use my newly freed hands to wipe away the streams of sweat flooding into my eyes. Unwinding the strapping reveals painfully swollen purple knuckles.

I collapse against a wall and gulp down the complimentary orange juice as fast as my lungs, gasping for breath, will allow. I had feared coming home from boxing a bloody, broken mess, but I survived unscathed, suffering only minor bruises to my ego.

The facts:

Gloves Boxing Club (198a Broadhurst Gardens, NW6 3AY) offers free introductory sessions for beginners, Wednesday evenings from 6.30 – 7.30. If you want to return after your second session, you must become a member. Membership costs £99 per month and includes unlimited use of the gym’s facilities, as well as classes every weekday evening. (glovesboxingclub.com, 0207 624 5850)

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Football: West Hampstead Wanderers vs Abacus Athletic… again

Wanderers continue to prop up the table

Another week, another match. The Wanderers were facing Abacus Athletic once again in the league. Would the team be able to restore some pride after last week’s drubbing? Dan reports.

Match day 7. Monday 28th February. KO 6.30
West Hampstead Wanderers 5 – 11 Abacus Athletic

After last week’s resounding defeat at the hands – and feet – of Gym United, the Wanderers were determined to get a positive result against Abacus Athletic. A positive opening period saw the Wanderers take the lead, with an early goal from @MatthewMargot.

For 10 whole minutes, the West Hampstead side looked genuinely good. The passing was slick, despite a wet and skiddy surface, the defense was strong and physical, and @Martin_Tse pulled off some spectacular diving saves in goal.

But then it all went down hill. Abacus scored an equaliser, and then took the lead. The Wanderers players’ heads went down, and three more Abacus goals followed. At half time, the Wanderers were 5-1 behind.

At this stage a comeback was still on the cards. The Wanderers were playing some good attacking football, and working hard off the ball. But for large periods, Abacus simply outplayed them.

Second half goals came from @ThomHoffman and @NWSixDan, and @MatthewMargot completed a deserved hat trick, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. Final score: West Hampstead 5, Abacus 11.

It was a fair result on the night – Abacus were definitely the better side – but there were plenty of positives to draw from the Wanderers’ performance. Next week, West Hampstead take on the table-topping Kilburn Wizards in what will be another tough game. But in this crazy old league, anything can happen.

Here’s a short post-match interview with the West Hampstead Wanderers player-manager, Nick Hudgell.

League standings:

Kilburn Wizards                              P7 W5 D0 L2 GD +15
The Gym Utd.                                  P7 W4 D0 L3 GD +10
Abacus Athletic                              P7 W3 D1 L3 GD +5
West Hampstead Wanderers    P7 W1 D1 L5 GD -30
I wrote this match report for the West Hampstead Life blog. To read the original, or to catch up with past Wanderers results, click here.

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Fortune Green 5-a-side

Silky skills, precision passing and sheer athleticism – none of these were on display this afternoon on a treacherously muddy pitch in Fortune Green, as 10 Twittering men  braved the entirely favourable weather conditions to put on what can best be described as a game of football.

There has been much talk of late on Twitter about setting up a West Hampstead 5-a-side team, or at least meeting up for a casual kick-about every now and then. I backed this idea the whole way, as I was convinced that it would come to nothing and I could at least claim to have feigned interest.

So you can imagine my dismay when it actually took off, and I was forced to peel myself away from the relative safety of my laptop screen and don a pair of shorts and tattered old boots.

I blame Thom Hoffman, aka @thomhoffman. It was he who managed to coax enough people out of their warm front rooms to play on a leaf-covered muddy patch of grass in Fortune Green at midday on a Saturday.

Back row: @maggot249, @nickhudgell, @thomhoffman, @domchrisite. Front row: @garymc, @timcheese, @SamWong1, @StareAtTheSky, Jamie(?)

We played for about 90 minutes in all, with several water breaks, and one extended time-out when @nickhudgell hoofed the ball into the adjoining – and locked – children’s playground.

Despite what I said earlier, there were some really good passages of play (interspersed with the more prominent tripping-over-our-own-feet parts): some inch-perfect long balls, several nut-megs, and even an audacious overhead kick.

If you’re interested in coming along to the next kick-about, keep your eyes peeled on Twitter/this blog, as it’s only a matter of time before today’s successful outing is repeated.

In the mean time, congratulations to Thom’s team for their 3-1 victory in the all-important final match.

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Calling all sports fans!

Back in the day, the weekend was a dreary affair for the football fan. You’d have to go to the ground, ticket in hand, with friends and family in tow, and have a supremely dull afternoon of cheering, chanting and bonding…  But thanks to the glory of TV, no longer! You can just sit at home, with no-one to listen to your moaning, whilst picking pringles crumbs off of last season’s (unwashed) shirt.

If you’re a bit old-fashioned though, and you still enjoy the company of other human beings whilst watching your team lose, again, but still crave the flickering images and tired commentary of trusty TV, then read on for a quick guide on where to watch live (televised) sports in NW6.

The Railway

The Railway on West End Lane is my top pick. It has a large bar and plenty of seating, though on a big game day it still gets packed out. This means long half-time queues, but good atmosphere throughout. It attracts a mixed crowd, and serves up solid pub food, with 2 main courses for £10. A projector in the sofa area complements 3 LCD screens dotted around the rest of the pub.

The Alliance

Still in West Hampstead (Mill Lane), but quieter and with more of a ‘local’ feel to it is The Alliance. Its central  bar splits the pub into two separate spaces,  plenty of seating and a large plasma screen on one side, a pool table, second plasma screen and projector on t’other.

The Golden Egg

The Golden Egg on Kilburn High Road is on the larger side, and has a few screens as well as a big projector at the back.  Though it isn’t one, it feels a bit like a Wetherspoon’s, but at least this is reflected in its prices. They also do a decent carvery on a Sunday for a mere £4.99. Note for the younger readers: it is over 21s only, though on a busy match day they might not notice/care…

The Prince of Wales

A little way down Willesden Lane, The Prince of Wales has a dartboard and pool table to go along with its big screen projector. On the down side, the clientèle has been described as being “a bit pikey”, but the pub has lovely old fashioned decor, and the big draw here is that they televise matches with a Saturday 3pm kick-off.

The Cricketers

Finally, another over 21s joint, The Cricketers is a mid-sized pub on the corner of Abbey and Belsize Roads, cramming in 3 screens, a projector, a pool table and one of those newfangled touch-screen jukeboxes. A decent option if you’re in the vicinity,  and only two doors down from Oscar’s Den, the best party shop in town!

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