It's a glove affair for Craig Gardner as he realises a dream

15 January 2011 02:57
There is plenty of fighting talk around the city of Birmingham this week, but none more so than at the Eastside Boxing Club.

What was once a derelict warehouse on an inner-city industrial estate is now a royal blue and white gym, with national champions and fighters who may be representing their country at next year's Olympics. It is the gym that Birmingham City's Craig Gardner, formerly of Aston Villa, helped to build.

Plenty of clubs boast that their players are 'giving something back' to the community. Hometown lad Gardner has gone further, putting in a lump sum of his own to get the club up and running.

Boxing is close to the midfielder's heart. European middleweight champion Matt Macklin and light-welterweight world title hopeful Frankie Gavin are Gardner's mates.

Boxing clever: Craig Gardner helped get the Eastside Club up and running

'I'm really proud to be involved in this,' said the one-time Villa man, ahead of tomorrow's Midlands derby at St Andrew's. 'It started up as absolutely nothing two years ago. Three blokes had a dream. There was no roof, no windows and they've set this up from scratch.

'Yes, I've put a bit of money into it, but I'm not the only one. It's just important that this has become a great place to get kids off the streets. One hundred and thirty now and counting.

'We've got two Olympic hopefuls and six England internationals among them. To produce that in such a short space of time is unbelievable.'

Gardner is facing not only sibling rivalry this weekend, but he also has to put up with some ribbing from far closer to home, should Birmingham fail to beat their rivals. Villa's young midfielder Jonathan Hogg, 22, is actually lodging now with Gardner's parents.

His brother, Gary, is on Villa's books and scored twice for the reserves during their astonishing 10-1 defeat of Arsenal this week. Craig's other brother, Mark, plays semi-professional football.

All action hero: Gardner (right) has weighed in with four League goals this season, making him Birmingham's top scorer

Gardner, 24, has had a fight of his own to carve out a career in the game. He was kept on the fringes of Villa's first team by Martin O'Neill and then Roy Aitken, former caretaker boss, gave Alex McLeish a glowing reference when he swapped sides. So Gardner followed too for £3million.

A few have crossed the divide. Liam Ridgewell has overcome the doubters and Gardner, once his true allegiance was confirmed, really only had to don the royal blue shirt and run around energetically to win over the St Andrew's crowd.

'When you support the team, and it's one you have dreamed of playing for, it's different,' said Gardner.

'I wasn't playing any football at Villa. I'm glad Birmingham wanted me. It was the best move Icould have hoped for. I love it here. I don't think there are many local lads who have crossed over.

'It's difficult, but if you want to play, that's what you have to do. My family understood. They are split.

'My brother Gary has been trying to give me some stick this week. I've been having none of it.

'Mind you, he's bigger than me now, so I'd better watch my step.'

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 Explore more:People: Craig Gardner, Frankie Gavin, Alex McLeish, Liam Ridgewell Places: Birmingham, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail

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