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A beacon of hope in the shadow of Grenfell… the boxing club which honed Dubois is thriving again

Mick Delaney squeezes between the ropes and holds out a mitt-covered hand. He has been taking blows at the Dale Youth Boxing Club since the 1970s.

It was based in ‘The Morgue’ back then — a hall in Notting Hill, west London, that supposedly served a different purpose in wartime — equipped with four bits of rope and no canvas. These days, Dale Youth is a half-mile away, in a plush gym under the Westway flyover.

But Delaney’s rules and routines haven’t changed much. Still he won’t leave without the floor being swept. Still the head coach gives up his life to craft champions in North Kensington — even two decades after leaving the area he called home. ‘They say old habits die hard,’ Delaney tells sportsmail.

Mick Delaney has crafted champions James DeGale, George Groves and Daniel Dubois

In recent times, however, the trainer has tweaked his commute. Now, en route to the gym, Delaney visits another of this club’s former homes, another building now synonymous with tragedy and loss.

Dale Youth spent many years training inside Grenfell Tower. The scorched building’s summit remains visible from the new gym doors. Delaney won’t go too close now. Not since the aftermath of the fire in 2017, which killed 72 people including loved ones of his fighters from him.

‘I drive round that way,’ he says. ‘Just to go past it.’ Here, five minutes’ walk away, the sole relic from Dale’s old home are the honors boards, detailing the conveyor belt of talent that has made this one of Britain’s most storied gyms. Among the names: James DeGale, George Groves and Daniel Dubois, who on Saturday challenges for a secondary version of the world heavyweight title.

Delaney in front of the honors board that was salvaged from the gym inside Grenfell Tower

Delaney in front of the honors board that was salvaged from the gym inside Grenfell Tower

A few days later, Delaney and Co will pause to mark five years since the tragedy that devastated this community. More turbulence and trauma has followed but Dale Youth fights on, forever in the shadow of death and destruction.

‘It’s a good thing that it’s so close,’ Groves says of the tower, which still looms over this interface of inequality where mansions and housing estates entwine. ‘It is a reminder for them: this is where we are and where we are from.’

It’s Tuesday. Senior night. Just as it was five years ago. ‘The night of the fire, we trained,’ remembers Delaney, who grew up on these streets. By June 14, 2017, Dale had recently returned to Grenfell after a couple of years in a damp car park while the gym was refurbished and the building had a makeover. Or, as a dad once put it, ‘They tarted it up, and stuck the cladding on’.

‘We walked down there at 9.30pm, got in the car and drove home. Everything was quiet,’ recalls Delaney. Come 5am, he was awoken by the news.

Former super-middleweight king George Groves goes down to the gym every Sunday to help

Former super-middleweight king George Groves goes down to the gym every Sunday to help

Groves, then a professional world champion, offered to come down and help. ‘There’s nothing you can do,’ he was told.

Among those lost was Tony Disson, whose three sons boxed at Dale Youth. Tony helped to clean the gym. He called a friend as the fire raged and said: ‘Tell my boys that I love them.’

On the memorial wall, a harrowing mosaic of artwork and scribbled tributes, his picture is surrounded by messages including: ‘Happy Father’s Day, love all your boys.’ A young girl, who lived in the tower and came to the gym, lost her family from her; five relatives of a former coach perished too.

Then there were the unknown residents Delaney would pass every week. ‘They’d give you a wave,’ he recalls. One teenage boy, whose close friend died, was among the locals to join Dale Youth following the fire.

The club is now situated in a plush gym under the Westway flyover after their old site was destroyed in the Grenfell Tower disaster

The club is now situated in a plush gym under the Westway flyover after their old site was destroyed in the Grenfell Tower disaster

Groves spent much of his amateur career at the foot of the tower. ‘You could hear, feel, smell the club before you got there. The windows would be steamed up before you got through the door,’ he remembers.

After tragedy struck, Delaney returned to the car park until the BBC show DIY SOS offered to rehouse them under the flyover. ‘It was derelict,’ Delaney recalls. But thanks to volunteers, Prince William and Dennis Wise — who provided a minibus and whose son boxed in the tower — the doors opened nine weeks later. A community center was built next door. ‘So it’s now a little bit more than before,’ says Groves.

Coach Lee Buckingham runs classes for Grenfell survivors and NHS sessions. Some are referred because of drinking or drugs. Others need a confidence boost or just to leave the house. Some are 82. ‘We’re happy to let people use it,’ says Delaney. ‘As long as they leave it the way we do.’

To think Delaney almost packed it all in after the fire. ‘For a few weeks, I thought, “I’ve served my time. . . then I thought, “No, I will carry on. Because those kids, they’re waiting for you to open that gym.’ He adds: ‘I was born and bred in North Kensington and when I was growing up, there were so many kids getting in trouble, I’m not saying they’re innocents round here now. . .’ But, for just £2.50 a week, kids might take another route.

Daniel Dubois' Miami showdown with Trevor Bryan on Saturday night is the talk of the gym

Daniel Dubois’ Miami showdown with Trevor Bryan on Saturday night is the talk of the gym

This place has always been about more than its most famous sons. For Delaney’s seniors, though, Grenfell is added motivation. ‘They’re more ambitious now than ever,’ he says. ‘What happened that evening proved how precious life is to people.’

Volunteers like him, meanwhile, glue this club together. Groves comes down every Sunday to help — new joiners don’t often realize they’re doing pads with a former super-middleweight king.

‘I’d be wrong to say that I’m doing this purely to give back,’ says Groves. ‘Honestly, it gives me tremendous joy.’ The chance to see Delaney is another lure. They traveled the world together. Some memories hang in the coach’s upstairs office; many were left in Grenfell.

Groves recalls trips to Las Vegas where they’d bump into Mike Tyson. ‘This is before he was soft, gooey and friendly,’ says Groves. ‘If he hadn’t had his medication yet, he might bark at you!’

Delaney talks to Sportsmail's Daniel Matthews in his office at the gym in North Kensington

Delaney talks to Sportsmail’s Daniel Matthews in his office at the gym in North Kensington

Dubois hopped between several gyms in London. ‘But this one really stands out,’ he once said. No wonder Delaney gets a ‘cuddle’ whenever they cross paths. The heavyweight was ‘every bit as good’ as Groves or DeGale as a youngster. Now his Miami showdown with Trevor Bryan is the talk of the gym.

In this community, meanwhile, the fight goes on. For justice. For better days. Among the jarring sights between Grenfell and the gym is a food bank. And yet Delaney insists one of the UK’s worst modern disasters has brought people closer. ‘It can only get stronger and stronger,’ he adds.

Throughout it all, Dale Youth has been a beacon of rebirth. ‘It still has that soul that an amateur boxing club needs,’ says Groves. ‘That can only be through the people who run it.’

And by remaining bound to your roots. ‘There was talk years ago about moving,’ adds Groves. The response? ‘This is our spot, this is where we are, we don’t want to move… they’re not interested in franchising or going global. They’re the Dale Youth — they want to stay where they are and keep churning out champions.’

TV: Daniel Dubois v Trevor Bryan LIVE on BT Sport 1, coverage starts at 7pm.

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