Carl Froch and Darren Fletcher - photo by Dom Henry
Not too long ago I went to my first ever boxing match – between local hero Carl Froch and Lucien Bute – and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when I heard Carl was doing An Audience with... at The Approach I jumped at the chance to see one of Nottingham’s favourite sons with his guard down, so to speak. The evening followed the usual format of a 45-minute Q&A conducted by 5Live’s Darren Fletcher, followed – after an interval in which the guest signs stuff and has his photo taken with the fans – by questions from the audience .
While the first half of these events – essentially a jet-heeled ride through someone's biography – are always interesting, it’s often the random questions of the second half that provides the entertainment, the most random of this evening being: “Carl, did you win at bingo the night after the Bute fight?” The Cobra evaded the question like he would a Bute haymaker, from which I think we can draw the conclusion that our Mr Froch has a soft spot for the nation’s favourite game! Danny La Rue, 72...
Anyway, that is just one (admittedly frivolous) example of how these nights offer an up-close peek at the lives of people we normally only see on the TV, in a sports arena, or in YouTube clips from the mists of time. Darren Fletcher is an affable sort and obviously well versed on the career of his interviewee, be that Carl Froch, Peter Shilton, or Mark Crossley (though Crossley, who has done a few of these, tends to just take the mic’ and launch into a two-hour comedy routine!), but also brings a flow and conversational feel to proceedings, a quirkier, more intimate take on the standard highlights package.
I had the feeling that ‘Fletch’, like the few hundred people in the room, is a genuine Froch fan. He was also appreciative of Carl’s other half, Rachel, prefacing a question about how the boxer manages to abstain from sex while training with “I think it’s fair to say you have an attractive partner...” For a brief moment, it appeared he'd walked on to a big right-hander, but Froch simply jabbed back crisply with a line from Rocky: “women weaken legs”. Fletcher didn’t seem wholly to grasp the concept, however, and repled “well, if it were me doing all that training, I’d fancy a sh*g when I got home”.
It was one comic moment in an engaging first half that touched on a tough childhood being brought up single-handedly by his mother; his early days as a pro training with David Haye while living in ‘Murder Mile’ in Clapham; working as a bricky’s labourer and “wishing my life away”; narrowly missing out on selection for the GB squad at the Sydney Olympics; and several other less-than-glamorous aspects of the ‘hardest game in the world’, not to mention the dedication that has to go into being at the absolute top of a sport that happily chews people up and spits them out if they don’t make the grade.
Carlton's finest told his public how he fell out of love with boxing for a few years in his late teens as he moved to Newark and discovered that the locals would rather steal his bike or jump him on his way home than face up to him in the ring. Luckily for all of us, in his late teens he found his way back to Nottingham and would rekindle his affinity for the pugilist's art between shifts answering phones for NTL on Daleside Road. The fact that he’s had to work a ‘normal’ job is possibly what makes him such a down-to-earth bloke and nothing like the trio of “silver-spoon jobs” of British boxing he mentioned who went soft with multi-fight TV contracts behind them. Carl has most definitely done it the hard way, fighting only the best – and of course having some of the best do all they could to avoid fighting him (though he did tell us he now thought Joe Calzaghe was “a decent bloke” after all!).
This tendency not to duck opponents is probably the reason his ascent to the top has not entirely been a bed of roses. We learned how he was once in a fight – a big fight, although for obvious reasons we cannot reveal which one – with an opponent who was holding on and trying to eat up time, at which point Carl had a wee Mike Tyson moment and decided to give his ear a little nibble with the intention of then lamping him one when he turned to complain to the ref. Unfortunately, he said he felt so guilty about doing it – “like a naughty schoolkid” – that he dropped his guard when the ref intervened and took a couple of good shots to the mush for his trouble!
There was also the incredible anecdote of how, struggling during his ‘Super 6’ fight with Arthur Abraham, he spotted Adam Booth, David Haye’s trainer, in the crowd, who gestured that Carl should look for body shots. When the next one landed and did evident damage, Froch duly acknowledged the advice…in the middle of the fight.
During the interlude, Carl posed for and signed pictures with just about everyone in the room, giving them the chance to hold his world title belt for the not unreasonable sum of £10. Unfortunately, demand was so high that the interval then ate into the second half a little.
Even so, the questions came thick and fast, and aside from the one about bingo we learned, among other things, that he wasn’t sure he wanted his young son to go into boxing (but would welcome the discipline of training), that the hardest punch he ever took was from Robin Reed, that he enjoyed UFC, and that he has a real passion for the property development. On a slightly more downbeat note, he mapped out the three-fight plan to wind down his career, including a rematch with Lucien Bute in Canada.
However, the greatest cheer of the evening came when he spoke with gusto and sincerity about how he’d like to finish with a bout at the City Ground – “my Vegas, my Madison Square Garden” – and hoped that the Nottingham fight would be against Mikkel Kessler, although when he’d spoken to him to try and arrange it, the “David Beckham of Denmark” seemed more interested in asking after Carl’s mum! Not advisable, I would suggest.
The next Audience With… at The Approach Bar is on Thursday October 11 with Nottingham Forest legend John McGovern, the man who twice hoisted the European Cup aloft.
Photos by Dom Henry (c)