THE MERLIN CLUB - OUR ORIGINS AND PROUD HISTORY
1960 - 1963 HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The Merlin was initially sponsored by local people and businesses and dependent on upon their goodwill and generosity. Many of these worked locally at Rolls Royce and the name Merlin was chosen to celebrate the Merlin V12 aero engines, a key factor in British success during the Second World War, which was designed and manufactured there. It was thought that it would be a gracious compliment to Mr W. T. Gill Financial Director of Rolls Royce Ltd who had done more than anyone to raise money for this project and a committed Boys’ Club man.
When the Albemarle Committee reported in February 1960 the committee of the Merlin Boy’s Club had building plans, made by T. H. Thorpe and Partners of Friar gate, ready for action. They had won the backing and approval of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and the Borough of Derby Education Committee. The club was one of the first approved by the Ministry of Education in the euphoria engendered by the Albemarle Report.
On Friday October 5th 1962, the Rt Hon Philip J. Noel-Baker, MP, laid the first foundation stone. The club was formally opened, as a boy’s club, on March 29th 1963 by the Duke of Gloucester. It was the first purpose built boy’s club in the country. Through its affiliation to the National Association of Boys Clubs, in May of that year their president, the singer and Hollywood actor, Frankie Vaughan visited the Club.
Hundreds of young boys from around the City attended the club where they learnt social skills run by a band of men women who followed the Clubs motto of ‘No boy turned away’.
1970 - 1987 BIRTH OF MERLIN BOXING
During the 70’s Merlin became part of the Derbyshire County Council’s Youth Service delivering programmes of social education through general activities. The club was opened up to girls and gained large popularity and with the addition of large migrant groups from Asia mainly housed in the Normanton Area.
In 1976 when the Alderman and Russell Boxing Club’s premises closed, the boxing club was offered premises by the County Council Youth Service keen to improve access to sporting activities for its members. It moved into the Merlin Youth Club and became Merlin Amateur Boxing Club.
Lew Tristram, the original founder of Alderman and Russell, was employed by the youth service and continued to promote boxing sessions which ran alongside general youth club activities. There were very strong links at this time to the police. Back in the mid-40’s Lew’s first boxing coach was Bill Dumbelton a former member of the Derbyshire police boxing team. All boxing tournaments up until 1973 were held at the police headquarters in Butterly and Lew was the team manager and responsible for all of boxing programmes in the area.
With very little funding and no essential equipment Lew and the young members set about raising money by staging boxing tournaments and obtaining sponsorship to stay afloat. Such was the clubs standing these tournaments were regularly attended by the Mayor of Derby and he sent many letters of encouragement from his office. Gradually equipment and a team strip were acquired but the club’s input from the council still fell far short of the standard afforded to other Derbyshire youth clubs at that time.
1987 - 1990 THREATS OF CLUB CLOSURE
In 1987 Lew retired and his role was filled by Dave Randle. A letter was received in December 1989 from the County Council inviting Dave to a meeting to discuss the proposed closure of the Merlin to save £9,000 a year.
In 1990 councillors closed the youth club but because of the high number and cultural diversity of the young people attending the boxing sessions Merlin ABC was allowed to continue. The last night of the youth club saw the centre stripped of equipment by the youth service and vandalised by youth club members. Workers cleared up the mess and made sure that the club opened for its next session.
To their surprise and delight most of the youth club members turned up and continued to attend the boxing club. Such was the demand the club had to open for extra sessions which due to a significant reduction in financial support was staffed mainly by volunteers. Young people then helped to redecorate and repair the centre themselves. Membership continued to increase.
1992 - 1997 FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
In 1992, once again the club was threatened with closure. The club was particularly upset because they learned of the threatened closure in a newspaper report and only received official notification three weeks later. The council did not bargain for the massive support and reputation the club had gained not only city wide but at a national level. The workers, volunteers, young people, their families and the local community actively resisted and protested this decision.
On the 16th June 1992 a public meeting was held to which the club invited councillors, members past and present, local sportsmen, the former mayor John Keith, press and BBC TV. A petition of support with 4,000 signatures was handed to the council. Wayne Sherwood, the then Area Education Officer was surprised at the support the club had and instructed by Geoff Lennox, the Chief Education Officer began to look for alternative premises. Because of the specialist nature of the boxing club this proved to be difficult.
A survey undertaken by the owners of the property at this time found that the building needed substantial repairs and closure looked, once again imminent. Closure would not only see the club cease to exist but the end of amateur boxing as a sport in the city. The campaign to save Merlin continued with many meetings and letters to influential people.
Ironically Merlin was going from strength to strength with a young Clinton Rowland tipped to become Derbyshire’s Boxer of the Season after victories in the Junior ABA and Schools ABA national finals. He went on to become the first boxer from Derby to win a junior ABA title and crucially helped England to victory over Russia in the same season. Ross Cassidy, Duwayne Ashley, David Ryan and Steve Heldreich were set to follow. The club had an 80 per cent success rate in the ring and was respected throughout the country.
Merlin was seen as a home from home by members living in a deprived area of the city where the name of the game was keeping lads off the streets. At that time the real success story for the club was Clifton Mitchell who had turned pro and was ranked the third best heavy-weight in the country.
Finally all the hard work and campaigning paid off and it was announced that, not only would the club be saved but the council would be spending £65,000 to undertake serious repair work to the building. Work started in September 1997 and the club moved about the city using different venues until the work was completed.
1997 - 2015 MERLIN AND THE FUTURE
In 2005 the Merlin worked closely with Derby City Council’s Youth Service and were inspected by Ofsted in 2005. Inspectors were impressed with what they saw and described us as “much more than a boxing club”. We received an ‘Excellent’ grading.
Sadly it was announced on 11th March, 2009 that Derby boxing legend and The Merlin Amateur Boxing Club founder Lew Tristram had died suddenly at home aged 78.
Although the sport has its critics, the Merlin Amateur Boxing Club believes in the ‘Noble Art’. In today’s violent society our members are a model example of self-control and respect for others. They are taught discipline, sportsmanship in an enjoyable, safe and stimulating environment where a positive approach and respect towards family and community is actively encouraged and fostered.
The club proudly numbers England junior Clinton Rowland and youth Steven Heldredge among its alumni as well as senior heavyweight English ABA champion and GB boxer Clifton Mitchell. Usman Malik boxed for the national seniors against Ireland and Merlin turned out another five Midland champions and a Female National Champion 2010/11.
In October 2011 the Merlin was awarded ‘the Best Sports Club in Derby Award’ by the Derby City Sports Association. At the same event Dave Randle, Manager and Chief Coach was awarded ‘The Best Sports Coach in Derby Award’. That November the Club were runners up for the Derbyshire Sports Club of the Year Award.
Due to austerity the Derby City Council withdrew its support in 2013 and the Merlin Boxing Club and Fitness Centre became a Community Interest Club. The building has since been sold to the Nursing home next door and the Merlin leases the building from them.
As we search for the right premises we are actively increasing the services and activities that we provide and are seeking funding to make this possible.
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