Danny Flexen speaks to Ellie Scotney, an accomplished female debutant who refused to allow injury, tragedy or disenchantment to derail her destiny
The vast majority of us like to believe in something greater than ourselves. For some it’s a particular cause, for others it is destiny, but for many, throughout all walks of life, it is God. The belief that we are at the disposal of an omnipotent being, and that everything we do has a broader purpose, can be both comforting and galvanising. Celebrities and sportspeople in this country can however be rather shy about their faith, especially compared to their American counterparts who take seemingly take any opportunity to thank the almighty.
If I told you Ellie Scotney won the 2017 Elite national amateur title at 57kg with a broken hand, you might flippantly term that feat ‘a miracle’. For the Catford prospect, who turns pro on the March 28 O2 show headlined by David Avanesyan vs Josh Kelly, her faith is far more about the day-to-day.
“I wasn’t brought up religiously at all and out of my family I’m the only one,” Ellie, the youngest of seven siblings, tells me via an erratic mobile phone signal. “There is stuff that happened that I woudn’t have got through without it. When I broke my hand I was in a bad way; that got me through that. I got to church every Sunday but, for me, it’s more about the way I think and act, the way I go about my everyday life; I just feel more content.
“I didn’t get baptised until last year. The circumstances in which it happened weren’t good ones but I’m so happy it happened the way it did now. My auntie got cancer terminal and she was the only one in our family that had a religious side. She really wanted to get baptised and she said, ‘I’d love it if you did it with me.’ That was special and I’m thankful we had that moment; we were very close. We were baptised in march, she passed in August.”
Just in case divine intervention proves insufficient to guarantee in-ring success, fortunately Scotney is something of a boxing prodigy. She won an English title at Youth level, having entered after only four bouts and was in serious contention for a GB Olympic qualifying place for Tokyo 2020 before leaving the programme last year. Allied to this fistic excellence is an engaging, lively personality, infectious laugh and cheeky smile. If that seems a tad superficial or even sexist, let me contend that with women’s boxing on an undeniable upswing, these are all factors in creating a superstar, of any gender, in the digital age.
Scotney began competing aged 17 but had been in and around gyms for most of her life. The self-aggrandising “Nine-year-old fat kid” followed older brother Michael around like a bad smell and that relentless pursuit extended to the sweatboxes of South East London.
“Whatever he did, I thought that was the right thing to do,” she recalls. “I used to literally beg him to take me to boxing. My dad, I don’t have anything to do with, he walked out when I was 10, so it’s always been my mum and brothers and sister, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Girls boxing wasn’t a big thing then, I’d have to hide in the hot room if someone come in the Lynn [Boxing Club]. I did it until I was 10 then walked away, became a normal girl, but my first coach, Colin Waters, passed away in that time; I always said I’d come back and I didn’t but I knew I would at some point.
“I remember watching the 2014 Commonwealth Games, when Mick Conlan boxed Qais Ashfaq, and thinking, ‘Wow, this looks good.’ The following summer I lost 15kg in the six-weeks holidays. My mum had been pushing me to go back.”
Scotney’s new-found commitment paid off with victories and titles aplenty. The aforementioned injury derailed that momentum, however, and her passion for the amateur code never really returned, despite capturing a European under-22 silver medal less than a year ago.
“I broke my hand just before the 2017 seniors,” she remembers. “I didn’t take time out, I was stupid, trained with a cast on and it kept itching. I remember my mum seeing me in the middle of the night, my cast on the floor, and a sore, as it had got got infected. I just carried on hitting with it, then got on to GB. I boxed with it broken, then they got it fixed and – I didn’t know until the scan – I had a bone floating. I spent 14 months without punching and it absolutely killed me. I went up to 70kg, mentally I was gone, I think it was worse than losing.
“Last year I had some family bereavements and it was hard being up in Sheffield, my character didn’t really fit well with the programme. I fell out of love with the sport, something had to change. I walked away, a lot of people like to live the GB life, but for me it was just settling. That wasn’t the path I was meant to go.”
Having handed in her vest, metaphorically speaking, this longtime boxing obsessive needed a new way to channel her enthusiasm. With the likes of Terri Harper, Savannah Marshall and Shannon Courtenay thriving both in the ring and on TV, there is arguably no better time to turn pro as a female fighter. Ellie, as sharp a thinker as she is a puncher, realised this too and decided to make the move. Recognising the benefit of working with someone who knew her well, she retained her amateur coach Samm Mullins, but when it came to contract negotiations, Scotney found herself scrabbling around in the unfamiliar. The solution she arrived at came almost by accident, or perhaps it was planned all along, just not by the parties involved.
“Adam Martin, Garfield I call him, I used to work with him at the Fight 4 Change charity,” Scotney explains. He knew I wanted to turn pro, and I had a meeting scheduled with a promoter. I rang Adam and said, ‘I got this meeting tomorrow and I don’t know what I’m looking for.’ He said he had no clue about girls but he was meeting Adam Booth that night and would ask him about me; I thought nothing more of it. He rang me up later and said, ‘He wants me to give you his number.’ I gave him a ring, he told me the ins and outs of the boxing business. Then we met up, had a talk and went from there. I didn’t go to the meeting in the end but eventually signed with Matchroom.”
So Scotney has an astute and experienced manager in Booth and will make her pro bow on the undercard of another former GB rep who the so-called “Dark Lord” happens to train in Kelly, and it takes place in her corner of the capital. You could be forgiven for thinking the whole journey was scripted, and the 21-year-old (until her birthday next month) is understandably excited.
“It’s crazy, everyone goes to the O2 to watch boxing,” she enthuses. “Even if I get a ticket to the O2 I get that buzz. The last time I boxed in London I was 17. It just don’t seem real.”
I once interviewed Naseem Hamed, one of my childhood heroes, and something he said stuck with me: “Thoughts become things.” That is certainly true for Ellie Scotney and she, like Hamed, values and has harnessed the power of faith. Could just be coincidence but, on March 28, seeing will surely be believing.