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IT is cold, grey and damp on an August Friday morning in Manchester. Steve Foster Junior crosses the busy Princess Road with his large black kit bag slung over his shoulder. Already in training gear but with a heavy dark green stone island coat to keep out the chill. He smiles, puts down the bag and looks at the heavily fortified door to Champs Camp, Moss Side.
“No-one here yet?” He looks left and right, casting his eye at the heavy traffic heading in and out of town. “Should be here by now. Ah well.”
He sits on the ledge below the front shutters, just a few of inches from the pavement. He has found his love of the fighting game again and is back to complete his own chapter to a familiar tale – the ageing, beaten fighter desperate to come out of retirement to hear the sound of the crowd and ring of the bell. Another war or there’ll never be peace.
But while he might be nudging 37, Steve’s no old man and the wounds he carries have little to do with his career in the ring. He won a WBU title in 2005 with a tenth round stoppage of Colombian Livinson Ruiz and enjoyed arguably his best night in the ring when demolishing European champion Levan Kirakosyan five years later.
There were bumps in the road to that night – domestic defeats to Derry Mathews and Alex Arthur – but it was an acrimonious break-up with his long-term partner that thrust the Salfordian into a new world, struggling as a single dad to son Kai while juggling a professional boxing career.
“Those last couple of years, my son’s mam had walked out, so all through my training I had him on my own. I had to work around him and my mind just wasn’t right. I was on autopilot, just doing it, just getting through it. It wasn’t good enough. Looking back now, I just think I could’ve done better.” He explains without bitterness.
“Life’s not easy, there’s always something, there’s always bills to pay, money and all that. There’s always something there, but when it’s to do with your kid, when he’s crying and asking for his mam and asking if she’s ever coming back and I’m trying to train … it wasn’t nice for me to see my son upset like that. He was coming home from school looking for his mam and she wasn’t there.”
There’s a sadness in Foster’s big green eyes as he speaks of his troubles. Kai was born with myasthenic syndrome, a condition that weakens muscles. It’s four years since Steve took full custody of the now eleven year old.
“I know anyone can use anything as an excuse,” he says looking up at heavens threatening to open again. “He wasn’t too well when he was born and he’s got a bit of a disability. It was on my mind before I fought Derry Mathews. I don’t want to say I was depressed but I was certainly fed-up and it is hard to speak to people – you’re a man aren’t you? I don’t want to make excuses – whoever beat me, beat me and fair enough. I just should’ve pulled out of my European title defence with Ermano Fegatilli one million percent. I should’ve pulled out of Prizefighter too.”
Fegatilli took a uninaimous decision and despite wins over several journeymen, Foster struggled when stepping up to face quality operators like Gary Buckland and Anthony Crolla. His quarter final points loss to Jono Carroll in December 2014 was his last fight to date. Disillusioned with the game, he walked away.
“Women, mither and boxing? It’s not needed.” He laughs with a little shake of the head. “Especially when you’re training. It just doesn’t work. I had all sorts of problems, loads of bullshit. Just head games and I was stupid for falling for some of it. But you know, you’re training, you’re trying to focus, you’re dieting, you need to chill out and all you’re getting is mither? All your emotions are up and down all the time.
“Looking back now, it really wasn’t very nice so I suppose I did alright really!” He grins again. “If you’ve got no problems, no worries and you can just get on with your boxing, then it 100% makes all the difference.”
The future is bright. He’s back training in Champs Camp (when it’s open). It’s the place he knows best, the place where he worked for eight years prior to hooking up with Jamie Moore. Now, Ensley Bingham – the former British light-middleweight champion and one-time foe of Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright – is keeping a watchful eye over him as Foster plots his comeback route.
Boxing’s in the family of course – Steve ‘The Viking’ Foster enjoyed phenomenal support during his rise to a world title shot, also against Wright back in the 90’s. Junior was a relative latecomer to the sport he’s now keen not to leave too early.
“I’m not doing this for money because I’m doing alright with my landscaping business,” he explains. “It’s not just cutting grass, I’ve got quite big level contract work. It’s not for money, it’s something I need to do for my own brain and my heart.
“My son’s always asking me about boxing. I want him to see me box. I want him to be proud of his dad, do you know what I mean? I want to do it for my kids and for the supporters that used to come to my fights. They’ve always been saying, ‘when are you fighting again? You’ve got it in you!’ I’ve been like, ‘nah, nah, I’m done. I’ve had enough’. But then, for some mad reason, I went to watch my dad in a white collar fight for charity and in the changing room I got butterflies in my stomach.
“I put the gloves on and said, ‘I’m having it again!’ That just gave me the spark. I’ve been watching boxing videos and I’ve got the hunger for it. I mean, if I do it and nothing comes of it, then I’ve done it and I can sleep better at night.
“That’s the way I feel about it. I’m not shouting about being champion of the world and that I’m going to beat everyone out there, I’ll take one step at a time. I know I’ve won a European title and the WBU but I’ve got the buzz again. When I was boxing I felt stale. I was getting ill but I didn’t want people thinking I was full of shite, pulling out of fights,” he adds.
“A six-rounder, eight-rounder and if something comes off and I’m fit in the gym, then I’ll have that fight. I feel I have some unfinished business in the sport and for myself. It’s just something I need to do and I’ll probably fight at lightweight before the end of the year. If I got down to super-feather I’d be over the moon. But if it’s like the R Kelly song that me mind’s saying yeah, but me body’s saying no, that’s it innit? That’s the question answered,” he says with another smile.
It’s now nearly midday. There’s still no sign of anyone to open up so Foster remains sat next to the front door. A young woman in a smart charcoal coloured suit stops to ask if he knows where Café Nubia is. Steve shakes his head and says ‘no, sorry’. She smiles and carries on marching in search of her destination. Steve Foster Junior’s still looking for his.
Dominic McGuiness’ book Million Dollar Crolla is due out later this year