‘Real Men Don’t Carry Knives’: Alan Walsh

Anfield Boxing Club in Liverpool tries to make the society safer by bringing rival gangs under the same roof, running boxing classes for young people and women and other related activities. October 2020.

Alan Walsh-victim of knife crime

Alan Walsh, courtesy Sports News.

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One does not expect to be attacked while returning home using public transport. No. All social and human activities require a modicum of safety to travel and meet family and friends and we all have some expectation that the environment will look after us.

Many years ago, Alan Walsh from Liverpool came out of a night club and was jumped on by four ‘lads’ who stabbed him multiple times and left him bleeding. He remembers -‘I did not know them and they did not know me.’

The thought that occurred to Alan in those moments of bewilderment and shock was that this place did not have a taxi stand. Still bleeding from his wounds, he was surprised he could flag down a passing taxi. There is a dim recollection of passing out while the driver realised that his passenger was bleeding. 

The wounds of that encounter have left lasting injuries-physical, mental and spiritual. Alan recounts, ’in those days, treatment was not very advanced. I have a bad hip and leg, left over from the injuries.’ The stabbing was done to the sides of his body and his leg. I say, ‘Those are the weak parts of the body, the sides’ and Alan responds, ‘there is no safe place on the body for stabbing’.  Of course, he is right. No part of our body is safe for stabbing and injury.  

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Has he overcome the trauma ? Alan says, ‘no, I don’t think I ever will’.  The wounded healer came through. He went on to create Anfield Boxing Club in Merseyside, Liverpool with the crisp motto, ‘Real Men Don’t Carry Knives’.  Here, young people and women, in fact, anyone, can learn to box. This empowering sport, away from the strobe lights of commercial boxing, helps people to become more fit and robust. Training builds their agility and speed.  This change helps them feel and look better and go on with life, having gained some inner muscle too. 

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An excerpt from Liverpool Echo, who wrote about Alan and his boxing club, Jan 2017:

A boxing gym is helping to unite rival north Liverpool street gangs.

Anfield ABC has worked with around 750 young people who were deemed to be at risk of falling into a criminal lifestyle.

Alan Walsh, who led the Champions of Life programme, told the ECHO that some young people linked to rival street gangs have taken part. Alan: “It’s all about breaking down barriers, so we had rival groups in on the same nights. We told the kids that we are all the same now, no matter what your post code is. We also taught them discipline, which is the key to boxing.”

Anfield ABC’s Champions of Life programme involved working with around 1500 young people from across north Liverpool over a two-year period.

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Alan said that around half the kids had been linked to crime and gangs at some point.

He said: “It was really interesting watching how some of the young people coped with being a boxing gym. Although some of the kids had so called reputations on the street, that did not carry over in the gym.

“Some of them were a bit intimidated, and went into themselves.”

He added: “So, we brought police officers in plain clothes to train the kids and build up a relationship over time. We later revealed them as police officers, and the point was to show that the police are just ordinary people doing a job.

“We also told the kids that the police are there if your home is broken into, or a close relative attacked.”

Alan said that the project also tackled the mental health issues that come from being in a gang.

He said: “Being in a gang is extremely stressful. You have to worry about the police, and rival criminals coming through your door. We spoke about the huge mental health benefits of living a healthy life, away from crime, drugs and alcohol.”

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Alan said that despite having rival street gangs under the same roof there were no confrontations outside of the boxing ring.

Researchers from London Metropolitan University spent time at Anfield ABC, speaking to organisers and the young people taking part. They found that boxing was one of the very few sports with a rare kudos that could compete with the so called credibility of being associated with a street gang. 

Kids could tell gang members they were ‘going boxing’ rather than hanging around the streets without fear of being laughted at. One young person told researchers: “Instead of getting respect from other gang members you get respect from everyone in the gym.”

They also found that Anfield ABC provided a sense of family for those young people who came from broken homes.

England Boxing has now published the results of the research on their website, as part of a study to show how boxing can help kids in deprived communities.

He said: “Boxing is wrapped up in the north Liverpool community. Fortunately plenty of local fighters have called in to say hello to the kids from David Price to the Smiths, Kevin Satchell and others.”

Alan told the ECHO that Anfield ABC was currently looking for a bigger space to train in. He said: “I think we have outgrown this unit now and need a bigger gym. We are looking, but if anyone out there can help, please get in touch.”

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Contact Alan at : anfieldboxingclub@hotmail.co.uk

Read more : https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/boxing-gym-united-rival-north-12456599

The Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice

The Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, which began in 2003 as a Sport for Development programme, became a CIO, Alliance of Sport for Criminal Justice in 2019.

Their Mission : ‘to build a better and safer society through the use of sport in the Criminal Justice System and by actively helping their network in their efforts to reduce violence, crime and reoffending.’

See: https://allianceofsport.org/about-us/introduction/

It supports clubs like Anfield. In their supportive coverage of Anfield Club, they write, 

“Like many urban communities in the UK, north Liverpool has serious issues with gun and knife crime, gangs, substance abuse, mental health and anti-social behaviour. 

Over the last decade the Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club has shown how sport can play a big part in meeting these problems head-on. Led by Founder and Secretary Alan Walsh, the club acts as a vibrant hub for a whole host of projects aimed at tackling local criminal activity.

Disarm and the Royal Liverpool Hospital

Just one example of the club’s many targeted projects was the recent link-up with the Merseyside Crime Commissioner’s panel, a local project called Disarm and the Royal Liverpool Hospital. 

Eight at-risk young people from the club were taken to the hospital’s mortuary (see left) and given a stark demonstration of the grim after-effects of knife crime. They were told what it is like to be stabbed by Emergency Nurse Clinician Rob Jackson, who operates on stab victims on a weekly basis.  Then they were shown the real torso of a knife crime victim, with his chest opened up, and where victims’ parents stand to see their child’s body.  

It was also explained to them that while in the mortuary, the body is hard evidence, the property of the state, and in some cases doesn’t get returned to families for months. “I’ve been a youth worker for 23 years and it shocked me,” says Walsh. “They were very quiet on the way home. It was very, very hard-hitting, truly ground-breaking work. “We run a late-night football session on Thursday aimed at cutting gang activity and the lads who went to the hospital attended the following week. They told the others all about it – they were basically doing our job for us by spreading the word about the real impact.” 

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Peer Mentoring

The write up goes on to say:

“Walsh is most proud of the club’s peer-mentoring system. Over 40 young people started with them as juniors and have become mentors, with two now senior coaches at the club. The mentors undertake the England Boxing leadership qualification and do outreach work in schools, colleges and local parks, engaging at-risk young people in boxing and fitness. They also help deliver workshops on mental health, well-being, anger management, employability, conflict resolution and more. 

The mentoring ethos is ingrained in the club, with its more experienced boxers organically helping out the juniors, sparring, chatting and nurturing them through their journey. “Some of them are tough lads and girls, but they recognise that’s where they started and they want to help out,” says Walsh. 

The club also has 20 young people who sit on the Crime Commissioner’s youth panel, influencing decisions on local matters, such as knife crime, drugs and alcohol, and the menace of kids on scrambler bikes. Particular recent focus has been on female-only programmes, helping body-conscious participants and tackling obesity by linking up with dieticians. A class for victims of domestic abuse is currently being planned as well. 

Particular recent focus has been on female-only programmes, helping body-conscious participants and tackling obesity by linking up with dieticians. A class for victims of domestic abuse is currently being planned as well. 

“Reducing criminal activity is the ethos of the whole club,” says Walsh. With sport at the heart of its myriad of projects and programmes, Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club is a dynamic and potent example of what can be achieved in troubled communities.  

The Alliance of Sport would like to thank Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.

Read more about the National Alliance of Sport and their work here: https://allianceofsport.org/about-us/introduction/

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