Sunday, July 16, 2006

DEMOLITION MAN

Salford’s only world champion boxer, Steve Foster, had no intention of following in his `Viking’ dad’s footsteps. Whatever happened ? James Marshall gets the blow by blow account. Photos by Lyndsey Winnington

Steve Foster’s eyes suddenly burn as he recalls the night in the ring when he showed his true potential, knocking out Livinson Ruiz in the tenth round to gain the vacant WBU Featherweight title. He’s re-living it and you wouldn’t want to be in punching distance of him in this mood. That’s what makes him World Champion...

“He was twitching on the floor looking up at me” Steve remembers “I thought `I hope he’s alright’…But he would have done the same to me in that position. That’s boxing.”

He comes back to the present and his psyche switches back to the friendly Salford bloke who’s recently become a dad. Steve’s at the gym in Moss Side where he’s just finished training - push ups, press ups, skipping for what seemed like an age and banging the living daylights out of a punch bag.

The bandages are still on his fists and sweat drips off him as he recalls growing up in Whit Lane and not being into boxing like his legendary dad, Steve `The Viking’ Foster.

“I didn’t start boxing until I left school” he says “One of my mates, Darren Cleary, who’s just turned pro, was boxing and said come to the gym with us.”

Steve was against the idea at first because he was more into rugby and lifting weights but Darren persuaded him to try the noble art and he discovered his natural talent for the sport.

“I started sparring with people and getting the better of them…they had all been going for a few years and I had only been going for a couple months so I thought `I’m having a bit of this’” he explains “Then I won the novice titles and the ABA’s two years running.”

Junior Viking then went from strength to strength under the guidance of Britain’s top promoter, Frank Warren, and eventually turned professional in 2001. Since then he’s had over twenty undefeated fights, including stopping the English champ, then the British champ, and, last year, the World Champion. The latest of Steve’s 13 knockouts came at the beginning of July when he floored Federick Bonafai in Cardiff on the same bill as Amir Khan and Matt Skelton.

He’s the latest in a long line of Salfordians to put the city on the boxing map. But like Steve’s many conquests in the ring, his childhood home on the Whit Lane estate is now earmarked for demolition.

“I’m gutted because it’s where I was brought up” he says “I still have good memories of down there, hanging about the maisonettes dropping down off the wall. I remember one time Coronation Street got filmed in the Lowry pub. All the Corrie stars were there. When growing up you remember things like that.”

Steve went to St Sebastian’s primary school, then Pope John Paul, before moving to Swinton when he was 12. His dad wanted a better life for the family but he found it difficult at the start to settle into his new school because it was a completely different culture to Whit Lane. Even now he keeps in touch with old mates and has a fondness for the place.

”Everybody knows each other and there’s a lot of respect within that community” he explains “Whereas recently I was walking home with my girlfriend who had three weeks to go to giving birth and these young lads were giving us grief.”

Maybe they didn’t quite know who they were abusing but he had to turn the other cheek. Since then Steve’s girlfriend, Sade, has given birth to a boy, Kai, and maybe the Foster boxing dynasty is set to continue. Steve certainly feels unaffected by the burden left on his shoulders by his legendary dad.

“I don’t think about things like that” he argues “My dad had one of the best followings from a community that I’ve seen in boxing. Ricky Hatton has a lot of support but everyone comes from all over to watch him. My dad’s support was all mainly Salford. Most of the lads who watched him come and watch me now.”

With this massive support following him and his naturally ability Steve is surely going to emulate Salfordian boxing greats like Jack ‘kid’ Doyle, Arthur Chambers, Tommy Brown and, of course, The Viking himself.

Morris, the trainer who got The Viking into shape, looms large around the Moss Side gym today, putting Steve through his paces and making sure he prepares fully for fights. Under this expert guidance Steve Foster, approaching 26 and fast losing the `junior’ tag, is moving up the boxing ladder. There’s a fight against the other world number one, Scott Harrison, in the pipeline. And the sky’s the limit for the lad from Whit Lane.

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