John Daly’s Far Cotton boxing club is producing a host of boxers to watch writes Matt Bozeat
Far Cotton’s conveyor belt of talent
JOHN Daly looks back on the night he was stabbed 39 times and finds a positive. “If it hadn’t happened, I would probably still be on the tarmac day in, day out and who knows where my boxers would be?” said Daly. “Some of them might have ended up in jail.”
Daly was left fighting for his life after being ambushed outside his local pub in Northampton in 1998. “I remember a black van pulling up,” he said, “and then I heard someone jump out . . . ”
The attacker set about Daly with a knife and left him in intensive care, needing more than 100 stitches to repair wounds to his face, back and stomach.
“He wanted to kill me,” said Daly, “and he nearly did. My then-father in law told me they had given up all hope for me.”
Daly pulled through, putting his recovery down to the fitness built up during a lifetime spent in boxing. It was his fighting spirit that has enabled him to turn his life – and the lives of others around.
You may not have heard of Daly or even his Far Cotton gym, but if you follow British boxing, you will know his fighters. There’s Chantelle Cameron, now professional. “I can’t see Chan losing,” said Daly. “We know Katie Taylor is very good – fast and well schooled – but over 12 rounds, she’s not going to beat Chan. She won’t keep her off.”
The 27-year-old is very much his sort of fighter. “We do four-minute rounds in our gym, with a 30-second rest between rounds,” said Daly, a fit and sprightly 61 year-old-grandfather of five. “Chantelle gets fed up during the 30-second break. She can’t wait to get started again.”
He continued, “Boxing is a hard sport and I know from experience that you have to do it right.”
Daly knows his entry on Box Rec should read rather better than an unflattering 7-9-1. “Now I’m a coach I realise why my managers [ex-pros Jim Wellard and John Cox] used to get so angry with me. I didn’t get as far as I should have done because I didn’t give it 100 per cent,” he said.
The ‘give-your-all’ message is one Daly has passed on to his boxers since he opened the Far Cotton gym in 2004.
First through the gym doors when the club opened were Ashley Knowles and Nathan Reeve. Fast forward 14 years and Knowles – now known as Lane – is the Commonwealth champion, while the whisper is, Reeve could soon be fighting an eliminator for the British superflyweight championship.
“They really pushed each other on,” said Daly, “and I use them as an example to my other boxers.”
At the Towcester Road premises Daly is fast running out of space to paste all the newspaper cuttings that chronicle his fighters’ successes. The Fail twins, Carl and Ben, appear on many of them.
Great Britain coaches have hopes of turning left hander Carl, silver medallist in the European Under-22 and EU Championships, into a 75kgs version of Luke Campbell, while twin brother Ben is rather more impuisive, a fighter at his
most dangerous once he’s taken a clean shot or two.
Daly says Ben, Elite middleweight finalist last year, “Either wins by knockout or unanimous decision – or loses on a split.” Both are hard to beat. “They were 12 years old when they first came to the gym,” he said, “and there was something there right from the start. They were two brothers who wanted a fight. They had the heart. They had the bottle and they were always in the gym. I knew they wanted it and it was down to me to teach them how to box.”
Daly remembers the twins facing each other in a skills bout to help fill out a local show after bouts fell through.
“It stole the show,” he remembered. “They definitely didn’t just tip tap each other.”
Daly has been rather more than a coach to the twins, and their younger brother Aaron, an Elite quarter finalist in 2017.
The brothers lost their father, Mark, around a decade ago.
“Boxing got them through it,” said Daly and it’s done the same for him. Daly has lost two brothers and a sister prematurely.
To Daly’s obvious pride, the Fail brothers are more than very promising fighters.
“Everywhere if go, people say: ‘Aren’t the Fails nice lads?’ and that makes me so proud,” he said.
Daly’s latest success story is Laura Stevens, crowned Great Britain champion in Sheffield in December with a unanimous points win over Omarah Taylor.
Stevens is very much a Far Cotton fighter, an aggressive combination puncher, but at 29, Daly knows she’s nearing the end. “That final might even be the last fight of her career,” he said. “Laura has a good job and finds it hard to get to the gym. I told her before the fight: ‘Believe in yourself. You have beaten her before and you can beat her again. Treat it like your last fight and go out there and do it for your family.’ I told Laura to put absolutely everything into those three rounds and that’s what she did.”
Kai Church was the star of the club’s last amateur show in February and heavyweight Godly Thiaba made quite an impression last year, winning the East Midlands Box Cup and the National Association of Boys and Girls Club championship.
Thiaba is also eyeing and professional career and provided he doesn’t use the photograph of Daly that’s pinned to the club’s wall as any sort of guide, he could have a good future.
“Look at that!” Daly said of the photograph of his 11 year-old self boxing at Northampton’s Drill Hall. “I’m looking away and my back foot is off the floor.
“If one of my boxers did that, I would kill them!”
‘I SAW A BLACK VAN, THEN SOMEONE JUMPED OUT’
STALWART: Daly’s life is dedicated to boxing
PRIDE AND JOY: Daly has high hopes for the promising Carl Fail [centre]