The boxing heritage of yesteryear in Basingstoke is a rich one.

Over the decades, the town has enjoyed rich links to the sport and has produced some big names in the game.

Looking back to the 1930s and 40s, the likes of Freddie Gibson, Vince Hawkins, Fred Wheeler, Freddie and Ivor Simpson, Trevor Lowder, John Starkey and Jackie Self were all well-known in the town.

These sportsmen were nurtured and mentored by Johnny "Jack" Simpson, a founding member of the Basingstoke Amateur Boxing Club.

He helped many become national and even international stars on the circuit.

Simpson was employed at Thornycrofts and raced pigeons and greyhounds in his spare time, though his main love and interest was boxing.

He was a trainer and the secretary of the Basingstoke Amateur Boxing Club.

As a child, he was encouraged to fight with other children by his uncles who would pay him two pence each time.

He soon learned that it was a profitable pastime.

At the age of twelve he was fighting in boxing booths for extra income.

This continued into later life when he used to search out the fairground booths to participate in the contests.

He continued on to professional contests at bantam-weight until the age of 21 when he turned to training and coaching younger boys the art of pugilism.

John coached 60 divisional championship winners and eight schoolboy and junior title victors. He was a trainer and the secretary of the Basingstoke Amateur Boxing Club.

One of his projects was Jack Gardner, a poultry farmer from Market Harborough.

Jack became a grenadier guard and was the youngest colour sergeant to serve Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 24.

Standing at 6’1” and weighing 15 stone, he progressed to become the heavyweight champion of Great Britain in November 1948 defeating Bruce Woodcock, and was one of top ten contenders for the heavyweight championship of the world.

The same year, he represented Great Britain at the Olympics. Retiring at the age of 29, he had achieved 28 wins, 23 by knockout, and only six losses.

He was managed by Johnny Simpson.

Johnny’s son Freddie, known as the ‘Pride of Basingstoke’, won a Golden Gloves award in July 1935 at the Yankee Stadium in New York.

The ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) now known as the England Boxing National Amateur Championships, has achieved many notable names over the years and locally the successes of the past have still continued.

In May 1972, local man Trevor Francis gained the ABA Championship.

He boxed at welterweight, light-middleweight and middleweight and took part in 38 professional contests.

Trevor’s son Dean ‘Star’ Francis held the British Super middleweight title in 1997/8, the European super middleweight title in 1997, the commonwealth light heavyweight title in 2007/8 and the British light heavyweight title in 2008.

He succumbed to cancer at the age of 44 in 2018.

In 2018, local boxer Bryce Goodridge also gained the Championship and in November 2019 nineteen year old Dami Ikenboju achieved the Championship in the Novice class having only started boxing in February of that year.

n The Basingstoke Boxing Club continues to meet regularly in The Gym in Essex Road where new members are always welcome.