Boxing coaches named as Hometown Heroes for Birmingham 2022

May 19, 2021 | by Matt Halfpenny


Two England Boxing coaches are among the 14 people named as Hometown Heroes ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Haseebah Abdullah and Kevin Dillon have been chosen as inspiring local community champions – made up of coaches, managers, umpires, and fundraisers – who have dedicated their lives to grassroots sport.

Windmill Boxing Gym, Smethwick’s Haseebah (pictured above, centre) was England’s first hijab-wearing boxing coach who has been key in developing participation among women in her community.

She has also played a huge role in changing official dress code rules to allow women to wear a headscarf and full-length clothing.

Known for making others feel welcome and comfortable, Haseebah has seen the confidence of the club members soar and membership numbers increase.

“It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected as a Hometown Hero”, she said. “My aim has always been to provide a service, a home, a safe haven and a platform for equality in my sport and community.

“I’ve fought really hard to earn my place as a boxing coach, challenging stereotypes and overcoming many barriers. Receiving this recognition proves to me that we should always be the change we wish to see!

“As a coach I will continue to dedicate my time to create positive noise, break down barriers, accommodate different needs and be a driving force for equality and participation.”

Kevin (pictured above, extreme left) is the Head Coach at family-run Lions Amateur Boxing Club in Brierley Hill and is part of the team that puts together the Black Country Blokes podcast.

He contracted viral meningitis which left him visually-impaired and, despite not being able to compete in boxing, he has channelled his efforts into coaching instead, helping hundreds of boxers aged from six to 60 in his time at the club, aiming to get the best out of them, both physically and mentally.

As those who listened to his podcast will know, he is also passionate about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all of the boxers he works with.

In 2019, Kevin launched a podcast called ‘Black Country Blokes’, which covers the struggles and successes that men experience, with topics such as mental and physical health, fitness, work and family life, aiming to remove the stigma around taboo subjects. Bringing this ethos into his gym, Kevin also set up a men’s support group which involves an hour of training, followed by an hour to talk openly about whatever is on their mind.

To mark the announcement, a video of former Birmingham Poet Laureate and boxer Matt Windle (pictured above) – AKA the Poet With Punch – will see him perform a bespoke poem about the Hometown Heroes, which will be published on the Birmingham 2022 website and social media.

He said: “I know how important it is to be surrounded by supportive people – those that will always have your best interests at heart – when it comes to training at a local club.

“A coach that champions the players will also be providing a place where people can come together, feel safe, build friendships, and gain an appreciation for healthy discipline.

“The Birmingham 2022 Hometown Heroes are the type of people that set up the pitch in the pouring rain or are a shoulder to cry on when you didn’t win your competition – and without these – grassroots sport just wouldn’t be the same. It was my absolute pleasure to dedicate a spoken word poem to these 14 individuals – they are fully deserving of this recognition.”

Over the coming weeks, each Hometown Hero will also be profiled in an individual video filmed at their club and will each receive a special glass award to mark their achievement.

After receiving hundreds of nominations, the final list of Hometown Heroes was chosen by a judging panel consisting of Sarah Rennie, Chair of Birmingham 2022 Accessibility Advisory Forum; Ammo Talwar, Chair of UK Music Diversity Taskforce; Mike Chamberlain, Chief Executive of Sport Birmingham; Piero Zizzi, Founder of Proud Baggies and Abigail Shervington, Lead Community Engagement Manager at Birmingham 2022.

Full list of Hometown Heroes

  • Haseebah Abdullah, Coach at Windmill Boxing Team, Smethwick
  • Naseem Akhtar BEM, Project Manager at Saheli Hub, Balsall Heath, Birmingham
  • Salma Bi BEM, Coach, Umpire and Fundraiser, and Director of Sporting Pathways, Birmingham
  • Jeevan Chagger, Chairman, Coach and Umpire at City of Birmingham Hockey Club, Birmingham
  • Ricardo D’Alva, Coach at City of Birmingham Rockets Basketball Club, Nechells
  • Kirsty Davie, Team Manager and coach at Birmingham Moseley Women’s RFC, Birmingham
  • Kevin Dillon, Head Coach at Lions Amateur Boxing Club, Brierley Hill
  • Dave Heeley OBE, Runner and Charity Fundraiser, West Bromwich
  • Joan Hunter, Coach at University of Birmingham Netball Club, Birmingham
  • Steve Mroso, Coach and Team Manager at Team Birmingham Elite Basketball Club, Birmingham
  • Yasmin Nessa, Co-founder of Saltley Stallions Women’s Football Club, Birmingham
  • Kevin Redmond, Coach at Solihull Moors FC Ability Counts, Solihull
  • Sarah Scanlon, Umpire at Ernesford Grange Netball Club, Coventry
  • Ranjit Singh, Coach at Wolverhampton Wrestling Club, Wolverhampton

For more details, click here.

More on Birmingham 2022

To find out more on Birmingham 2022, including how to become a Commonwealth Collective volunteer, click here.