sports gazette

Box to Box: From the Premier League to British Boxing Champion

Published: 2 Dec 2016

Football biographies have been staple stocking fillers since the dawn of the Premier League and long before that. Boxing’s propensity for producing inconceivably dramatic stories make it an equally popular section in any bookstore. Box to box combines both stories and is not like any other book because neither is its author.

Curtis Woodhouse is a rare specimen who has lived two diverse sporting lives. The promising Sheffield United academy prospect and eventual first team regular from working-class stock who threw it all away and the romanticised boxer who fought his way up the ranks from the very bottom.

Woodhouse played over 300 games professionally including seasons at Sheffield United, Birmingham City and Hull City. He also represented England at under-21 level alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

While his former England team-mates are retiring from club football today, he walk away from the game young to pursue his true love – boxing.
As a boxer, Woodhouse fought nearly 30 times and Box to Box documents both professions, how as a boxer, he earned the moniker ‘The Troll Hunter'.

Box to Box tells the twin sporting tales of Woodhouse's life, but at its heart, it's an ode to his late father Bernard and the burden he felt to emulate him by honouring a seemingly impossible promise. Woodhouse best surmises his relationship with his father as follows:

"Dad, where will you go when you die?' And he'd say to me: "I'll never die, son. Dying's for everyone else. I'm a superhero."

Due to his complicated career path, the book is relatively unusual, but Woodhouse’s recollection of his footballing career is reminiscent to that of Tony Cascarino’s Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino – no punches are pulled, and there is a refreshing honesty to how both men speak their minds.

Box to Box attempts to explain that not all footballers enjoy playing the game and for many like Woodhouse an affliction is developed whereby football becomes merely a means of income.

I'll never die, son. Dying's for everyone else. I'm a superhero.

Footballers of Woodhouse’s era are an intriguing subject matter. He is a typical player that experienced the transition of a ‘local’ game still rooted in alcohol, to today’s globally televised million dollar Premier League.

Football teams faced immense difficulties attempting to meet the increased demands of the game’s professionalism as TV money poured in during the mid 90’s. The recollection of Sheffield United's preseason trip to Trinidad and Tobago is a typical example:

"But suddenly we heard the ‘bing-bong', and the captain came on the intercom: ‘If the gentleman at the rear of the plane doesn't calm down he will have to be restrained'. So now [United manager Neil] Warnock definitely knows it.

When we landed everyone was absolutely sh*tfaced.”

Box to Box exposes the severity of life in northern England as a member of a mixed-race family growing up in the 1980’s - a subject well documented but emotionally raw in every read, and a fundamental foundation for Woodhouse’s stubbornness within his career.

His father's advice captures this perfectly:

"From now on, if anyone calls you n*gger, smack ‘em as hard as you can, straight in the face. Do that every time someone calls you n*gger, and after a while, they'll stop calling you it".

In pairing up with accomplished author and BBC Sports Writer Ben Dirs, Woodhouse has found the ideal sparring partner for telling his life's unique and provocative story. The writing of the book is direct and unequivocal with plenty of strong opinions expressed, and no fences sat upon.

Box to Box exposes the perils of a young footballer who made too much money too early and was exposed to a life without immediate repercussions. Similarly, as an unproven boxer, he then had to live a frugal solitary existence with harsh constraints on diet and lifestyle.  

Woodhouse’s perspective here is unique. He was earning millions when he left football and yet as his boxing career reached its climax, he had spent all of his footballing savings and was forced to live an entirely different life.

The story of either one of Woodhouse’s two professional careers would make for a lively book, so putting them together in one volume – coupled with his personal story – make a festive favourite for sport’s fans.


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