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I walked through the doors of Repton gym in 1970 with my great friend Lennox Bailey, who had come up with the idea that we switch from football to boxing.
Though we enrolled in the Junior section of the club, being 13 years old, it took no time at all for us to hear about the head coach of the Seniors-Tony Burns- who had even then attained the status of a Repton icon.
Looking back, I have no doubt about the good that I personally, and so many of my friends and club mates, got from Repton; under the tutelage and care of Tony Burns. The benefit of the club to the boys, the community and the society goes much deeper that one can see from the public tournament nights and championship campaigns.
Personally, and I believe my own story is similar to many of others that have passed through Repton, I learnt the lessons of a lifetime from Tony in the eight to nine adolescent years that I was at the club.
By way of tribute to him, I give below, a random sampling of some of those invaluable lessons that I and I am sure, other boys picked up:.
The first and only time that I ever saw the inside of a maximum security jail was when Tony Burns took us to play football against a team put together by a friend of his who was doing time there. The experience not only left us bruised and battered from the ferocious tackling by the inmates; it also showed us first hand that prison was not the place to go to. Just as important however, I also got an insight into what it meant to be truly loyal to a friend.
Tony and Repton reinforced for me the value of listening to people, particularly those who were happy to share their knowledge and experience in the form of good advice. One night, after training, Tony said to me, in his own curt and even gruff inimitable way: "You'll be ok because you listen. See that boy over there, he has all the skills and talent but the problem is he doesn't listen." Outside the ring, there is such a different picture of what is going on in it during a bout, and a good coach can tell you exactly what you need to do to win. Shortly after I came to Repton, Jackie Chappell came in as the Coach of the Juniors. He simply lined us all up in the ring and said to us: ‘’Listen to what I tell you and I will make you all champions’’ For those who truly listened, he was as good as his word.
A few days before a championship bout, I was in a group of boys talking to Tony Burns and I remember saying in response to something that was said;”I’ll do my best’’
Tony gave me that look of his and said: ‘’Dabs, everybody does their best. It is the ones that do better than their best that become champions!’’
During a club foreign trip to Denmark, we were ordered not to leave our hotel one day because the US Marines stationed in the town were looking for us over an alleged manhandling of two American girls by two of our boys. The allegations were actually much more serious than I care to mention here, and it became a police matter. We actually left for home without them; though they came a day or two later. In discussing the matter on the ferry home, the one thing that has always stayed with me is a statement Tony Burns made that: ‘’there is a very thin line between having a good time and getting in a lot of trouble’’
One lesson that I never could convince myself to accept has to do with money. Whenever we were on long train, coach or boat ride at home or abroad, most of us would play cards-usually for money to make it make it more interesting. Now, Tony would say: ‘’Once you are at the table, don’t think of it as money, just look at it as points.’’ However, when you’re sitting and contemplating the possible loss of all your spending money, even before getting to the destination, it is extremely hard to look at the money as merely points. Till today, I always look at money as money and points as points!
While the whole Repton family mourns this sad loss, I'm sure everyone at the club, most particularly the Repton Old Boys, will do all we can to honour his memory by sustaining his work and protecting his legacy.
My memory of Tony Burns will always be that he was a warm, kind and generous man; with a wicked sense of humour! The only thing that he loved more than Repton was his wonderful wife Babs (of blessed memory) and family.
My condolences go to the children he left behind: Jonny, Tony Jr and Sue.I am sure they are all comforted, at this sad time, by the knowledge that he was a blessing to so many young boxers and people generally.
May he rest in peace. Amen