My Tribute to Tony Burns MBE


I first met the legendary Tony Burns as a young 16 year old in 1971 when the Repton Boys Club as it was then named, was temporarily based in the Working Man’s Club, Pollards Row, Bethnal Green. A few month later as I turned 17 and joined the seniors and really got to know Tony.


Tony was one of a kind. He was sharp witted, had a great sense of humour and as head coach of the Repton Boys Club was fiercely protective of the young men in his charge.


Over the years Tony and I became very close and he was very instrumental in my development as both a boxer and also as a young man.


Over the years the club travelled extensively across England and Europe,  Tony and I would speak about everything and our conversations weren’t just limited to boxing. For me, and not just for me, but for many others, Tony was a number of things; he was a mentor, a father figure, someone to depend on, someone with our best interest at heart.


In those formative years travelling to various boxing shows, the length and breadth of the country, we would hone our skills and gain valuable experience. I would inevitably spend more time with Tony than many because I lived closer to him than others, and so he would pick me up first, in his car or mini bus before meeting the others, depending on how many of us might be boxing. We would go to the shows often not getting a bout, but still learning from the experience / occasion before returning home. I would invariably be dropped off last and Tony would continuing his journey home to Babs, Johnny, Tong jnr., Sue and Mark.


I have many fond memories of Tony but my stand out memory was when, as a green 17 year old I was summoned to appear at Shoreditch Crown Court on motoring charges.


I was travelling home one evening after visiting my then girlfriend, I was stopped by the police and questioned about ownership of the vehicle I was driving and asked to produce my licence, insurance and vehicle registration, which understandably, I didn’t have with me at the time.


I was therefore instructed to produce those documents at a nominated police station, which I did, within the stipulated  period of time. 


However, shortly afterwards I was summons to appear at Shoreditch Crown Court on charges of driving without having a license, driving without insurance and failing to produce the required documents to an elected Police Station within the allotted time.


I mentioned this one evening in the gym after training and that I was summons to appear in court the following day and Tony immediately enquired, who was attending with me? My answer was no one, I was attending alone. 


Needless to say, Tony rearranged his day and accompanied me to court, for which I was most grateful. 


Outside the court, we were approached by the police officer in question, who offered me a deal - pleaded guilty to not producing you details on time and the charges of driving without a licence and insurance would be dropped. 


I probably would have been tempted to accept that offer, had Tony not been with me. Already knowing the answer, Tony calmly asked if I had produced my details at the station on time. My answer as yes, and Tony promptly informed the police officer that I would not be pleading guilty. 


Needless to say, all the charges were dropped.


My second stand out memory was when Tony made me Club Captain following Graham Moughton’s retirement from the sport. What a honour that was, to be entrusted with leading a team of arguably the best boxers in the world. I was elated and grateful to have this enormous accolade entrusted to me. 


The accolade of being the club’s first black captain was a huge achievement for me, a positive message to all the young black boys coming through the junior ranks and a milestone in the club’s history of equality and unity.


Tony made that happen!


Other recent memories of my friendship with Tony, was our last two meetings when he, Andy Prokoop and I met for coffee in a cafe in Wanstead and again at his home in Bonner Street, as usual we discussed times gone by and putting the world to rights, just imagining............


In the words of John Lennon;


You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one


Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world... You...


Rest In Peace Tony, gone but never forgotten. One day we’ll join you, and the world will be as one!


By Vernon Etridge


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