Published: 06:00, 24 September 2021
Westree trainer Eddie Henderson has been inducted into the British Boxing Hall of Fame.
The 78-year-old was recognised for services to amateur boxing at a ceremony in Cardiff on Sunday.
Henderson joined Westree in 1961 after moving down from Scotland and has run the Maidstone club, who celebrated their 60th anniversary this year, since 1977.
“I’m very proud of the award,” he said. “It’s a great honour.
“It’s a bit embarrassing in one way because there’s so many coaches all over the country who do this, and we’re all volunteers, but I was lucky enough to be voted for, which is the nice thing.
“I’ve never been one to hog the limelight, I’m always in the background, just trying to get on with it, and I love what I do.”
Henderson boxed for Westree for about eight years, winning the Kent heavyweight championship.
His work as a long-distance lorry driver took him away from the club but he returned in 1976 after learning they were in trouble.
A year later, he took over the running from founder Jerry McCarthy and has kept his promise to keep them going.
“I went back in 1976 because I heard Westree were going to fold,” he said.
“Mr McCarthy was in bad health, my old trainer Johnny Smith had just been through a massive cancer operation and was limited in what he could do, and an old chap called Les Hope said to me, ‘Why don’t you put something back into the club and become a coach?’
“I got myself fit in 1976, took my coaching course in 1977 and before I knew it I was running the club because there wasn’t really anyone else who could do it.
“I’ll never retire - I can’t walk away from it.
“Well, I could, because I know the boys up there now - Brad Brooks, Brad Urquhart and Lee Owen - would keep it going, but I wouldn’t want to.
“It was a promise I made to Mr McCarthy in 1977 when he shook my hand and said, ‘Eddie, don’t let this club go under, will you?’
“I said to him, ‘Mr McCarthy, I’ll keep it going as long as I’m alive’ and that’s what I’ve tried to do.
“There’s been some hard times but that’s amateur boxing for you.
“We’ve had some really good sponsors who’ve dug deep and sometimes come up with the rent money but sometimes I’m too proud to ask, that’s my problem.
“We’ve steadily built the club up over the years and we’ve had some fantastic times, getting schoolboy champions and schoolboy finalists.
“We tragically lost one of the coaches, Bob Manito, and then Lance Mason stepped it but he moved away and then the two Brads and Lee came forward. “There were homegrown boxers, I’d known them since they were toddlers, you couldn’t ask for more.
“I don’t know what would have happened without them.
“I’d have struggled on as best I could because I just love boxing and I love to teach it.
“The look on some kid’s face when he gets his hand held up as the winner...it’s a magic moment.
“I was sparring until I was 50. We had some seniors who were big heavyweights and I thought I’d get in there with them and move around.
“I was more frightened coming home showing the missus the bruises round my chops than I was getting in the ring!”
Westree’s profile in recent years has been helped significantly by the success of their former boxer, Sam Noakes.
The Maidstone lightweight is making big waves in the pro ranks, winning his first seven bouts by stoppage.
He’s up there with the finest Westree have produced.
“Sam’s helped a lot,” said Henderson. “When he pops his head in, all the kids want their photograph taken with him.
“He’s a vicious kid in the ring but a proper gentleman outside, he really is.
“Is he the best we’ve ever had? It’s difficult to answer, because we’ve had a lot of good kids, but never one with the determination or the backing he has.
“His mum, Sharon, is a great influence, and Lee did a great job with him.
“To be a pro, you’ve got to have dedication, you’ve got to watch what you eat, what you drink, where you go, you’ve got to train hard and Sam does that.
“He does everything by the book, he comes across well in interviews and he always respects his opponents.
“I think he’ll win a British title. There’s a lot of good kids around at his weight but I like his trainers. Their trouble is holding him back - he’d box twice a week if he could.”
While Noakes’ career has taken off, Henderson takes equal pleasure from helping those who don’t go on to box competitively.
He added: “We get some kids and you know right from the start they’re never going to box.
“But you get as much of a thrill, if not more, from teaching them and being able to say, ‘Look, don’t go round bragging you’re a boxer because everybody will want to fight you. If you get into a conflict, just turn your back and walk away because you know what you can do now, you don’t have to show him, and then you won’t get in trouble.’
“I get a big thrill out of teaching those kids, they’re usually the ones left to me, and it’s lovely to see them develop and to know what you’ve shown them might just get them out of trouble.
“There’s been two or three instances where someone has come up to me down the line and thanked me and said ‘I’ll always appreciate what you did for me’.
“That’s lovely to hear - that’s probably better than getting a champion.”