Yak ready for another boxing landmark

Yaqoob Hussain

Yaqoob Hussain

First published in Latest Sport This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

IT says Perseverance above the door of Yaqoob Hussain’s amateur boxing club.

It could rightly serve as his motto considering his longevity in the sport over the last 40 years.

Instead, it is merely a coincidence, a quirk of fate. Perseverance, as it turns out, is the name of the mill where Blackburn and Darwen Police Amateur Boxing Club – the club he founded back in 2002 – has called home for the last three years.

“I’ve never thought of it like that before,” said the 59-year-old, known to all as Yak. “But I suppose perseverance would be the perfect word to sum up my involvement in boxing.”

Yak has persevered, serving the sport in every role possible; boxer, coach, club owner. He was on the North West Regional executive committee for 35 years, nearly three of them as president and he is hoping to be voted in as secretary next week.

And since 1990, he has been a Major Panel referee and judge – the first Asian man to achieve such an accolade.

It’s a perseverance that earned him an MBE in 2011 for services to the sport he so clearly loves.

And he fulfils another ‘first’ this weekend at the England Boxing Junior Championships in London.

For Yak will become the first man to judge from the regional preliminaries to the national finals when he takes his seat ringside at the Army Reserve Centre in Grove Park, London.

“I am really proud,” he said. “I have never known anyone else to have done the five or six stages of the championships in the same year.

“I’ve been to the finals before as a referee and have done the semi finals but I have never done it from the beginning to the end.”

The championships will give Yak the chance to get a close-up look at the country’s best young fighters, the 15 and 16-year-olds earmarked as future Olympians and possible British and World champions.

He knows a thing or to about spotting talent. He had a young Amir Khan in his North West Schoolboy squad when he was 12-years-old and went on to referee the likes of Anthony Crolla, Jamie Moore and Junior Witter who all became world champions.

“Even at a young age, you can see they are very good,” said Yak. “They have a natural talent and you know they have what it takes to go all the way.

“That was certainly the case with young Amir.”

The pairs paths have crossed several times since but there was one incident when Yak grabbed just as many headlines as the boxer.

Khan was already an Olympic Games silver medal winner when he stepped in to the ring for what turned out to be his last amateur bout, a regional ABA title fight against Craig Watson in Preston in2005.

Yak just happened to be the referee.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” he said. “To me it was just another ABA contest but looking back, Amir was big news having won a medal in the Olympics.

“He was well on top in the fight but Craig caught him with a great punch and knocked him down.”

That was when Yak’s role began to take centre stage.

“I told Craig to go to a neutral corner and started the count but he went to the wrong corner,” he said.

“So I told him to go to the correct corner and carried on the count and got to eight and waved Amir on.

“There was only about 20 seconds left and Amir clung on and won the fight.

“Some of the national press had a real go at me saying I gave Amir an unfair advantage with an over generous count.

“But I know I reffed the fight correctly and fairly and had Craig gone to the correct corner then who knows what would have happened.”

Yak rolled with the punches and got on with it. He suffered another blow more recently but this time unrelated to boxing when a trip to the dentist ended with an emergency operation for a suspected heart attack.

“I had a toothache for weeks so went to the dentist to have it pulled out,” recalls Yak. “But that evening I began to feel unwell and my wife ended up calling an ambulance.

“It turned out that a clot travelled down and blocked an artery near my heart. They took me off to Blackpool Hospital where they inserted a stent.

“I was in for five days and when I came out I wanted to go straight back to the gym but my family said ‘you’re going nowhere.’ “Mind you, I was back in there a few days later. They couldn't keep me away!”

Yak was a latecomer to the sport at the age of 19, swapping lunch time breaks of arm wrestling to join the Lancashire Constabulary ABC in Haslingden – the only club in the area at the time.

“Boys being boys it was the sort of thing we did,” he said. “Then a mate of mine said shall we have a go at boxing and 41 years later I’m still here.”

Yak was a decent amateur, flitting between featherweight and lightweight. He fought 65 times in five years, winning 45 bouts and twice fighting for District titles – losing to John Traynor of Cavendish ABC, Manchester on each occasion.

Then he discovered his true love of coaching, rising to the level of Advanced Coach while at clubs across East Lancashire, mainly at YMCA before setting up his own club, initially based at Audley Community Centre but now at Perseverance Mill.

“Whatever I have done, I have always set myself goals,” said Yak. “I did it as a boxer, a coach then has a judge and a referee.”

Yak knows he continually has to fight to keep hold of his boxers, tempted by the lure of bigger clubs with better facilities or the fast buck of the increasingly popular ‘white collar’ boxing.

But he will never throw in the towel. As it says above the door, perseverance is the key.

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