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Tony Burns, Boxing Coach

July 30, 2011
by the gentle author

Pass under the sign that says “No guts, no glory,” then walk through the humid air laced with sweat, and the clamor of the boxing gym, where youths are sparring and slugging at punchbags, until you reach the tiny office in the corner – barely more than a cupboard – where Tony Burns has his lair. Once upon a time in the old East End, Tony came here to this former bathhouse for a wash, but today he is the head coach at the Repton Boxing Club, Britain’s most famous amateur club, which occupies the building now.

Tony took my hand with a boxer’s grip and cast his intense blue eyes upon me with a gentle yet incisive gaze from beneath such straggly brows, it was as if he was looking out at me from inside a cave. “You’re not a boxing person, are you?” he queried with a derisive smile, getting the sum of me in an instant. Yet in spite of my shortcoming, Tony indulged me magnificently, bringing out two pages of handwritten lists of boxing triumphs at Olympic and Commonwealth games which may be attributed to the noble Club, before tantalising me with enigmatic old black and white photographs of unidentified men in suits, some of which turned out to be illustrations of stories that I shall never be party to.

“It was a public school, Repton, what started this in 1884,” Tony explained, turning historian suddenly and gesturing around the atmospheric tiled spaces, lined with faded bills for the boxing bouts of yesteryear. “I often speak to the people at Repton School and they say ‘Couldn’t you bring a dozen boys up to Derbyshire for an education?’ But I don’t think you could take a kid from the East End and put him in a public school in Derbyshire, where all the pupils are the children of high ranking generals and such, he would bash everybody up”.

“When I was a kid you either kicked a ball or you hit someone. So, when I was twelve, I became a boxer,” continued Tony with faultless logic, “My mum died when I was a kid and if you lived in a place like this years ago, you was very fortunate to have a loving family. We all lived in Bacon St and Charlie Burns was the eldest, and they was a pain in the arse that family, but when I boxed all the family and friends would come, so I used to have quite a following.”

Then Tony looked at me critically. “I knew the Krays,” he confessed with an implacable gaze, returning to the pile of photos and searching my face for a reaction while showing me a picture,“We grew up together. I used to go round to their house in Valance Rd all the time, but I chose one path in life and they chose another.” The photograph was Tony with Reggie Kray, on the occasion of Reggie Kray’s wedding in 1997 at which Tony was best man. “He looks more dead than alive.” quipped Tony with a grimace, resigning the thought as he put the picture away again, closing the subject.

“The Repton was a club where East End boys could do all kinds of sports and they had around a thousand members when I joined,” Tony recalled, “but then it got closed down and Albert Jacob, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, gave us this building on a thousand year lease. He saw the future of the East End – by putting this club here where it is – getting the kids off the streets and getting them off everything. The asset of the Repton is the area, it’s packed with talent out there.”

Tony was eager to tell me about his coaching, without filling in the details of his own distinguished boxing career which included winning the Amateur World Championship. “For some unexplained reason I had three gold medallists in the Olympics the first year I was here as coach in 1968.” he said, and at first I thought this statement was another expression of reserve on Tony’s part but then I realised it was something more intangible. “People do come along,” he puzzled, shaking his head in wonderment, as we walked through the gym to examine the photographs that lined the wall of fame extending around the corner, “We’ve had three hundred and fifty champions here – that’s national titles not championships – which is really quite unbelievable in forty years, roughly about ten a year.” he said.

“I can fall in love with a lad the minute he walks through the door, and make a fuss of him and build him up and make him think he’s a big talent.” admitted Tony, speaking tenderly, The beauty of it is that I am at a club like this where maybe sixty or eighty youths come every weekend and you see them developing.”And he turned and cast his eyes around at the enthusiastic crew of young boxers of different races that filled the gym, all dripping with perspiration, full of fight and eager for glory.

Freddie Mills presents a clock to fifteen year old Tony Burns of Bethnal Green, who won his contest against R.Brice of Kingston, whilst Sammy McCarthy congratulates the young boxer during the recent amateur tournament at the Kingston Baths, October 31st 1955.

Tony Burns as a young boxer of twenty years old.

Tony Burns, Amateur World Champion Boxer, with Howard Winston, Professional World Champion.

Tony Burns with Mohammed Ali.

Tony Burns with Reggie Kray in 1997.

Tony is best man at Reggie Kray’s wedding in 1997.

Tony Burns with Frank Bruno.

Tony Burns, Head Coach at the Repton Boxing Club.

You may also like to read about

Charlie Burns, the King of Bacon St

and White Collar Boxing at the York Hall.

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Tony Wise permalink
    November 4, 2011

    Hi Tony,

    Me, his wife often listen to my old man remenising about you two have a few boxing matches in the 50s, dont know if you remember him. He came from Stoke Newington at the time, well if you do and have the time to answer, please get in touch on above e-mail.

    Yours Marilyn (wife)

  2. September 21, 2012

    would you like to see the drawing i done of your self at the age of twenty thank you gordon just a ex coal miner age 73

  3. Edith Judd permalink
    February 26, 2013

    Hi,
    My husband Kenneth Judd (born 1935) used to do box in the Repton Boxing club sometimes with the Krays. Did you know him?
    I am getting information because I am writing about his life.
    I would be grateful if you write to me

    Thank you

    Edith Judd

  4. Andrew permalink
    February 28, 2013

    Tony Burns and his team do a first rate job at Repton. I have seen how they gives self-respect, confidence and loyal support to children (many from difficult backgrounds).

  5. March 30, 2013

    Hello,
    now 43 years old…I met Tony Burns over 22 years ago!!! I boxed for 14 years as an Amateur and the North West Counties squad had a weekend training at the very famous Repton club!
    All I can say is that Tony Burns had a very special gift….there is no suprise that Repton have so many champions!
    I coached for 9 yeras in the UK before relocating to Ireland in 2000. My youngest child has severe Autism, and as so I have been out of the bxing game for many years…until this year. A new club opened in the County where I live, my oldest son joined, and I took up coaching there 3 months ago…..Amazing how quickly you fall back into the game!
    I would Love to have some of Mr Tony Burns flair and success in Boxing coaching….I am actually writing a book on Amateur Boxing Coaching called….putting something back…..something I think al us ex boxers and boxing coaches do. I would Love the oppurtunity to travel to London and spend a few days at the Repton club again and spend some time with Mr Tony Burns, if anyone could help me with this I would be extremely grateful, all the very best to you.
    Simon Byrne-email-marsim39@yahoo.ie

  6. Thomas Marthaler permalink
    April 14, 2013

    Dear Tony

    great story, like to see you soon. Had a wonderful time in the aerly 80thies at Repoton.

    Regards and best wishes

    Thomas Marthaler, Swiss

  7. September 19, 2013

    Hey….remember boxing against the Repton club London, what a club! They beat the North west counties 9-8 with just our light welterweight simon Byrne winning his fight! simon is now in Ireland, not sure where? Have been doing abit of hunting around for past boxers and clubs of my generation. Thank you so much…..all the best Repton.

  8. May 23, 2014

    boxed for moss side amateur boxing club in my senior days and boxed for the one of the best North West Counties side’s. We boxed in Bristol – Birmingham -London in a five day stint before England qualifiers…..Most of the London squad was from Repton! They were serious boxers….just like pro’s! Was a light middle at this time, hardest amateur fight ever! Got beat all 3 rounds. We had a wicked Light-Welterweight Simon burn, who boxed out of manco gmp, he beat the reigning London Welterweight champ in one of the best amateur fights I have ever witnessed! Great memories….wicked club was Repton.

  9. May 29, 2014

    My late father boxed in East London for a few years! He was big into the fitness and really loved the sport of boxing. He always said the good Amateurs were better than the pro’s and proved this by fighting for nothing more than your pride! One of my Mothers cousins boxed for Repton, But cannot think of his real name, as he was always called by his nick name, which was Tiller.
    Was checking on the internet for any memories of my late father’s boxing career. I know he boxed in the English championships, the ABAs…. He also represented a London side in Manchester at the Bellevue arena? against a counties selection.
    I knew that the Repton club was old, but never realised that it turned out so many champions?
    I got chatting to a black cab driver one night coming back from a boxing show in London and he talked about Tony Burns and what a legend he was! As far as I know all of the amateur coaches in the UK are just volunteers and not paid? What a joke, and after all the work they do, and keeping young men and women on the straight. By the way, well done on the brilliant page.

    best wishes
    Terry

  10. Michael Pickett permalink
    July 26, 2014

    What ever happened to Micky Carter my own brother Les Pickett boxed him at Wembley Arena in the 1968 ABA final and was reserve to him for Mexico Olympics Tony Burns was in the corner that night.London back then to a young lad from Merthyr Tydfil was like being in a different world today I travel down every day as a courier driver.Repton to me was and always be the biggest boxing club in Great Britain

  11. Graham poole permalink
    October 9, 2014

    Hi Tony,

    Do you remember a young ABA boxer from East ham ,..Danny Mogford?Ive been out with Colin Friswell the electrician today,your name came up in conversation,

    Regards

    Graham.

  12. joe cliff permalink
    February 12, 2015

    did tony ever box for st.pancras abc and yes,what did happen to micky carter,hope he,s well. he was one of the best prospects ever but i seem to remember that he was rediculously cheated in an olympic contest and packed it all in ,in protest…carry on the great work tony,all the best. joe

  13. joe cliff permalink
    February 13, 2015

    sorry tony,you would never have boxed for anyone but repton.i was getting my wires crossed with tony lewis of st. pancras,a similar, very capable fighter of the same era.all the best and apologies,joe

  14. micky carter permalink
    April 5, 2015

    to michael pickett and joe cliff thanks for the thoughts guys all well with me… retired from the City now. Remember the fight with Les Pickett as one of the two hardest i ever had! Tommy Glencross from Glasgow being the other(i won that on a 2/1 split)… the Olympics was a disaster Japanese ref panicked! C’est la Vie ..and Repton a great club but Fisher Athletic who i represented in Mexico was as full of great people as you would ever meet… a lovely 9 years i had in boxing a special sport thanks again for the thoughts mick

  15. Robin Carter permalink
    January 15, 2016

    I remember Micky Carter greatest fighter ever. I’m his kid brother Robin wonder if he remembers me.

  16. May 6, 2016

    Wow, stunning site. Thnx ..

  17. Mohammed Malik permalink
    October 8, 2016

    Me myself talk directly I am Mohammed Malik and I have a feeling of being the next heavy weight champion in the world and I need someone to guide to the right path I want someone to take me to the ring were I can become like Mohammed Ali

  18. Barry Silkman permalink
    October 11, 2016

    Unreal first I read what happened to Mickey(Michael Carter). I googled Mickey and Robin (his brother) Carter then I read Robin has left a comment. We all grew up as kids together in Petticoat Lane. Michael won his first 66 bouts(I think 66) then was counted out on his feet whilst not even hurt at the olympics. It was scandalous he went down got up at count of 5 and the ref kept counting. The referee was thrown out and I believe never refereed again. If my memory is right Mickey was offered a lot of money to turn pro but was so gutted he went and worked in the stock exchange. He was brilliant Micky Duff said the best amateur he had ever seen. I became a professional footballer, don’t know what happened to Robin. I hope Robin sees this I’d love to meet up with him and Mickey again it would be amazing. If anyone sees or knows either of them please tell them to contact me. Barry Silkman

  19. Barry Silkman permalink
    October 11, 2016

    Just realised Micky Carter wrote on here. Michael I’d love to hear from you my number is 07729007007

  20. Brian permalink
    December 7, 2016

    Hi I am not sure if this is the same man who coached our boxing team or not. I was only about 9 or 10 I think so it would have been 1950-51. I was boxing with the Rosary Club in Marylebone in London. One day a new coach arrived he had a tube attached to his eye that was draining fluid from it. As far as I can remember he told us he fought under the name of Danny Kid Burn but its such a long time ago I am not sure how good my memory is of those times. He told us he had been stabbed in the eye with a knife and that why he had the tube in it. He still got up in the ring to spar with us. I can only remember what a nice person he was and so caring, I was very small for my age and also being so young that most of the lads towered over me. I remember when I was in the ring with them he said to them if they hurt me too much they would have to fight him next. I am not sure if this was the same man in your profile. Can anyone tell me if it could be him.

  21. Emma Tarlo permalink
    December 30, 2016

    Hi Tony I have heard many story growing up with my grandad Harry micheal Smith and the story he told most was with the young krays he said that he was a PE instructor in the army and I am just wondering if there are any records of this information please when the kray boxed and when one of them lost they though a stool across the ring I would love to find out more but sadly he passed away now thank emma

  22. Joe Cliff permalink
    September 17, 2017

    Just found out how to get back on this site,and just found out that Mickey Carter replied to my query of how he was.So pleased that he is well and he got on with life after the ridiculous descision against him in the Olympics.We from Sunderland wish you and yours all the very best and good health for the future….Joe Cliff.

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