The world of boxing is in mourning at the news that John Hillier, one of the original founders of Crawley Boxing Club has sadly passed away.
The man credited with not only helping to form the famous old Crawley club, but also the trainer of its greatest ever boxers, lost his fight for life last Saturday.
It was back in 1960 that John, together with Arthur Hopcraft, Chippy Bellchambers and Eric Deamer formed the club that was to become one of the most successful in the world of amateur boxing in the Southern Counties.
John Hillier was a giant in the boxing world, famed not only for his brilliant attributes as a trainer, but also as one the sports’ true gentlemen.
When he helped set up the club nearly 60 years ago little did he know he was to become a part of history.
It was in those early days in the club’s old headquarters in Station Road that John first spotted an 11-year-old curly headed boy walk through the door to learn his craft.
Along with Dougie Bidwell he went on to mould the career of Crawley’s greatest ever sportsman, Alan Minter.
Minter, under the guidance of John, went on to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, collecting on the way British, Commonwealth and European titles, an ABA crown as well as an Olympic bronze medal.
And Alan’s younger brother Micky, who won a hatful of titles, remembers his old coach with much affection: “John wasn’t just a great trainer, he was a genuinely lovely man. He coached me both as an amateur and as a pro, he really was a special man.”
But before Minter, the hugely popular Hillier had coached brothers Geoff and Peter Hopcraft to Southern Counties Championship success.
Geoff, who went on to serve the club for nearly 40 years as chairman said: “I first met John in 1960 after moving from London to Crawley. He, among others, including my dad, founded Crawley Boxing Club.
“John and his family became close friends and he soon became my trainer, my inspiration, and took me to several Southern Counties Championship wins, which in those days was no easy task. John was the best, a true gentleman both in and out of the sport.”
Meanwhile brother Peter, himself now coaching Crawley’s latest crop of junior boxers added: “John started the club up in the old huts in Tilgate Forest with my dad before we moved to the gym in Station Road. He was quite simply a brilliant coach, and a perfect gentleman.
“He trained me for all of my bouts for Crawley, helping me win both senior and junior Southern Counties titles.”
The old Station Road gym was packed with talent in those heady days, all of whom had so much to thank John for.
Micky Minter, Bob Edgeworth, Clint Jones, John Pincham, Denny Forsyth and Henry Spencer were just a handful of young fighters who can point to the passionate Hillier to thank for their hugely successful careers
Welterweight kingpin Pincham described him as: “A great trainer, who was always very good to me. I liked him so much, he was great in my corner.”
Meanwhile Spencer added to those compliments adding “He was such a good trainer, a really nice chap, he’ll be greatly missed.”
In the early 80s John took out a professional manager’s licence, and went back to the unpaid ranks to recruit a new trainer Ron Parsons, for his growing stable.
Parsons said: “He took me up to the British Boxing Board of Control for my pro’ licence, to work under him was fantastic.
“He paid so much attention to detail and was the ultimate pro.’ He was a lovely man, a real gentleman. Without doubt the finest trainer Crawley Boxing Club has ever had.”
Rees Hopcraft, the current chairman at the club paid his own tribute: “I was saddened to hear of John’s death. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him, and was one of the best trainers we ever had. He will remain a part of the proud history of Crawley Boxing Club.”
John’s funeral service will be held on Wednesday, January 17 at 2.15pm at the Sussex & Surrey Crematorium, Balcombe Road, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 3NQ
All are welcome.