Islington People: Boxing coach Lenny Hagland

Ex-fighter recalls meeting Muhammad Ali – and talks about IBC’s expansion plans

With what is surely a strong right-hook up his sleeve, Lenny Hagland does not look like a man to be messed with.

A veteran of 60 amateur fights, the 47-year-old is now chairman of the successful Islington Boxing Club (IBC), based on the edge of Elthorne Park.

Lenny’s father was one of the founding members of the club, which was originally housed behind King’s Cross station when it opened in 1974. Lenny was taken to his first training session aged nine and began a career on the London boxing scene.

He said: “I boxed nationally and internationally, won junior ABA and then ABC titles. I loved it. When I started off, I had my ups and downs. I didn’t win many at the start, but then I improved.

“Overall I was very content, but it came to a time when I’d had enough of all the training.”

‘Retirement’ from competitive boxing allowed Lenny, who grew up in Islington, to take up coaching and he has seen now world-famous boxers come through the IBC doors.

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“Audley Harrison used to box here before he went to Repton [in Bethnal Green], so did Courtney Fry. With our blessing at the time, we let them to move on to other clubs to progress their careers. I don’t think it would be the same now,” he said.

Lenny, who now lives on the fringes of the borough in Manor House, has even met the great Muhammad Ali. Humbly, he claims he was just in the right place at the right time.

He explained: “He [Ali] was at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park and I was there and managed to meet him. Later on my dad took my sister and she actually sat on his lap. He kissed her on the cheek.”

Today, the IBC boasts almost 1,100 members. Despite the numbers, the club is still looking to expand. Lenny explained: “We can’t build on this land until we get a long-term lease or freehold, but when that goes through with the council, the next stage is to put in for grant funding from the likes of the lottery.

“If we get the building that we’re hoping for, people will see that we’re going places.”

Lenny is as excited as ever for the club: “We wear our team colours, we’ve got our tracksuits, we go around emblazoned with Islington Boxing Club. It’s forever Islington and all that game.”