By Chris Caldwell
THE red-bricked facade of the Bankhall Girls Institute, which was built in 1889 to help young women in the working class Kirkdale district improve their education, provides an imposing link to Liverpool’s past and it’s present-day redevelopment.
The Stanley Road building, which is somewhat poetically situated an almost equal distance between the famous Canada Dock and Everton Football Club’s Goodison Park, connects the proud city’s industrial heritage to its renaissance as a modern-day city of culture through its ressurrection from a crumbling educational relic, which was once used to improve the lives of the area’s young women to a boxing gym, which now offers hope and a second chance to those who enter its daunting doorway.
And one of those taking advantage of the opportunity provided at Rob Butler’s Rydal Gym, which inhabits the striking edifice is an Omagh native, who has found a new direction in his life by helping others find their own path through the pugilistic art.
After taking part in over 50 fights in the amateur ranks, Dee Taggart embarked on an eight year professional career that yielded 14 bouts. He worked with John Breen and Eamonn Magee, made his debut in the celebrated surrounds of Belfast’s King’s Hall and was on the undercard of high-profile encounters.
Unfortunately for the Strathroy-born battler his career didn’t reach the heights he once dreamed and aspired to hit.
When his journey as a professional boxer reached its end, Dee admitted that he became ‘lost’ without the purpose, discipline and structure the sport had given him. His judgement also slipped, leading him to accept fights for cash against anyone, anywhere and at any weight.
“I lost my way a bit after my pro career went wrong,” he admitted.
“I was lost, I was taking fights against anyone, just fighting for money because I didn’t have any. I’d have fought anyone. I’m a lightweight or a super-featherweight, but I even took a fight at heavyweight, it was crazy.
“It wasn’t an easy period, it took me a long time to realise and it wasn’t until I stopped that I realised I was lost.”
Fortunately for Dee, a trip to Liverpool and a chance visit to a gym changed his life. He had accepted a job as a barman in America, but, as fan of a certain club based at Anfield, he decided to visit the city on the Mersey before he left and while there he happened upon the Rydal Gym.
“I walked into the Rydal Gym on May 21, 2014 a broken man – mentally, physically, emotionally and quite literally,” admitted Dee, who was almost left in tears by the members of the gym, who discovered he was sleeping rough in the facility. So, to show their fondness for the man they call ‘The Hat’, they built him an apartment above the gym when he was on a visit home.
“I believe in fate now because nothing else explains how I went to Liverpool with £14 in my pocket and ended up with a home and a career working with pro fighters,” continued the 34-year-old.
“I went to Liverpool for a couple of weeks before I was meant to go to America to work in a bar and I just happened to walk into a gym and there’s Rob and everything just clicked. I decided to stay for five weeks to help out and that was two years ago! I’ve found a home.”
The founder of Rydal Gym, where Taggart has rediscovered his love for the sport, found a new focus and regained his lust for life, is the colourful Rob Butler, who has experienced plenty of highs and lows himself and is now keen to help others get their lives back on the straight and narrow.
He is a former welterweight, who went from training as a professional in the East End of London to ending up in prison on a tax evasion charge.
It was while he was ensconced at HMP Altcourse from 2004 that Butler started a boxing school for his fellow inmates and upon his release from prison he opened his own gym before taking over the Rydal in 2010.
Since then he has been providing a second chance to those who have gone down the wrong path, or like Dee, those who need a friendly and helpful nudge in the right direction.
And the Tyrone man hasn’t looked back since joining the Rydal ranks. He rejoined John Breen’s crew for one night only to help out in Fergal McCrory’s corner during the Coalisland man’s bout on the Ryan Burnett undercard at the SSE Arena in Belfast last month and has fully embraced his role as coach and mentor to those entering the professional ranks and those searching for self-improvement.
“I am now working full time as a boxing coach and doing my professional apprenticeship under the guidance and trutelage of brother Rob,” beamed a rejuvinated Dee.
“I also do some personal training and specialise in clients who are competitive boxers or are really interested to learn about boxing.
“I used to say the only two things that ever made sense to me were fighting and helping people.
“My fighting days are long over so I now like like helping people; to fight, to learn about the benefits of exercise, or just to lose weight and feel good.
“My dream was all I ever had, but thanks to Rob I have a new one. Everything has taken off since I met Rob,” he concluded.