At the end of the 1990s, the whole of Edge Hill knew Lee Siner was a fighter. From Botanic Park gates at the border with Wavertree up to Bennett’s Tile Shop where the area then faded into a student accommodation resort where Scouse accents were non-existent, this tiny Liverpool neighbourhood was fully aware of Siner’s exploits inside a boxing ring.
A decorated amateur at Salisbury Boxing Club at the turn of the millennium, Siner’s future appeared promising thanks to the fighting skills that he first showed on the streets of Edge Hill, and that he later refined inside one of Liverpool’s most famed boxing gyms.
“Siner was pretty much the benchmark in our gym,” remembers Derry Mathews, Lee’s former amateur teammate who went on to capture domestic honours while also flirting with world-class level in the professional game. “Lee wasn’t from the area when he came to our gym. He came all the way from Edge Hill after having fights at a few other clubs, but it was obvious early on that he could fight. He was so developed at a young age and I can still see those in charge making the naughty kids spar him. If you got in trouble at the ‘Solly’ then you had to spar Siner. That was your punishment.”
Following stints at both Tuebrook and Wavertree gyms before he’d even become a teenager, Siner felt at home the moment he walked through the door of one of Britain’s most successful amateur clubs. Housing multiple Olympians, Salisbury, although maintaining community commitments, was equally dedicated to creating champions in the vested code and Siner recognized that immediately.
“I’d been around a few gyms, so I wasn’t no stranger to boxing,” recalls Siner during our morning walk through Botanic Park. “But I went the ‘Solly’ when I was fifteen and straightaway you knew you were dealing with something different. The smell of the place, the vests and trophies that were all over the walls, the bags and the ring. Walking in there for the first time having no idea what was in there was massive to me and I knew at that moment that it was the right gym for me.”
Possessing a fierce reputation in the tough Crosfield estate that nurtured him, Siner’s street fighting profile mattered little to renowned coaches such as Alan Lynch, Tony Challinor, and Franny Smith. Part of an elite squad that included Mathews, David Price, Paul Edwards, David Burke, and Nathan Brough, Siner was a vital part of a fighting team that excelled in various prestigious tournaments during an age when Liverpool largely dominated the amateur boxing.
Enduring gruelling workouts inside a base he frequented four times a week, Siner’s efforts in the gym were rewarded when the action was intensified where top gongs were constantly at stake. Schoolboy accolades became Siner’s, and along his path to glory came the scalp of future Olympic bronze-medallist, Tony Jeffries.
“The fight with Jeffries was the highlight for me,” says the smiling thirty-five-year-old, his grin dominating his face as he reanalyses his battle with Jeffries with a stunning accuracy despite the bout being almost two decades old. “Someone in his team told me I was a good fighter just before the fight, but then said I wasn’t good enough to beat Jeffries. That really got on my nerves and I thought it was a bit disrespectful. The plan was to feel him out, but he went off at such a quick pace that I just had to match him. Once I went with him, I could see he wasn’t liking it and I just kept getting stronger as the fight went on.”
With a wealth of experience attached to his glittering resume, Siner’s conversion from junior to senior was intended to be a straightforward one, but the dedication that had taken him from street urchin to national champion was deteriorating. Where podium finishes and professional aspirations once congested Siner’s frame of mind, the lure of fast pounds held more appeal and that can be achieved easily in a city like Liverpool.
“I wanted to make money and plenty of it. That’s the bottom line really. I got involved with people who could get me to where I wanted to be and that was that. I’d still be in the gym and I’d still be running, but, as time went on, the drive just wasn’t there. I’d be sparring with lads not giving it my all. My mates were beating me on the runs I used to smash. The more money I would make meant boxing got pushed back, but because of how good I was when I was younger, people were always pushing me to turn professional, but I never ever really felt like I could commit.
“Tony Dodson and Karl Skeggs did all they could to get me to turn pro and although the idea always appealed to me and sounded good, I just didn’t have the hunger that I once did and I wouldn’t last when I’d go to pro gyms. Dodson would take me down to John Rice’s gym in the south end of the city all the time and there were some really good lads there, but the way they trained was something I hadn’t seen before and I didn’t think the effort was worth it when comparing it to what else I was getting up to. My boxing background always kept me interested in turning professional, but making money was my priority and I was doing well for myself, which meant boxing was no longer the priority.”
With boxing fading from view, Siner’s life soon became chaotic. Gone was the regular routine of exercise and discipline and in its place were hectic weekends spent partying paid for with money made through whatever means necessary. This lifestyle attracted unnecessary attention and it was a way of life that ensured Siner almost paid for it with his life on more than one occasion.
In 2010, Siner was the victim of a stabbing as he dined in a Liverpool restaurant. The incident was front-page news in the Liverpool Echo as the local media highlighted his plight. Five years later, Siner appeared in the news again when someone blasted him with a shotgun yards from his home. This incident was far more serious than the stabbing and Siner spent weeks in hospital with doctors unsure whether he’d make a full recovery. Repeated damage had been done to the Liverpool man’s body and, despite recovering physically on both occasions, the drama of both incidents pulled at his mental health.
“I wish I could go back and have a proper word with myself, but life isn’t like that and all I can do is make the most of what’s in front of me. Back then, it felt like I had so much power and that gave me a different type of buzz than boxing. People knew who I was, I had money in my pocket, and it felt like I could basically go around doing what I wanted to do. I was drinking all the time and partying all over the place, and I never thought about the consequences about what it could be doing to me. I’d seen it happen to other people who had gone off the rails and ended up in a bad place where their mind can’t be repaired, but I always thought I was too strong for that.”
While a prisoner in Liverpool’s Walton Prison in 2017, Siner’s poisonous cocktail of alcohol, drugs, and violence reduced him to a lonely heap inside his cell. Positioned there due to an assault charge that occurred in a Liverpool pub where Siner was highly intoxicated, the promise demonstrated at an early age had all but disintegrated. With only torturous thoughts to keep him company, Siner’s conversations with himself focused on what had brought him to his current position and whether he had the energy to return to a normal life once released.
“I’d made my mind up that I didn’t want to be on Earth anymore and all I was thinking was what would be the quickest way off. I had nothing apart from a few close people, but I was questioning every single decision I had ever made and was wondering was any of it worth it. I’d lost friends, been stabbed, been shot, done so many bad things to people, I didn’t trust a single person. With all of that going around my head every single day, I reckon I could’ve been forgiven for taking an easy way out, but the fighter in me wouldn’t let me quit like that.
“I started speaking to people and getting the help I needed. For the first time in my life I could talk to people and tell them how I was feeling. It’s something you always hear when people tell others to talk to someone, but it worked out well for me and it was just what I needed. I’ve been clean living for two years now and that is another big difference in my life, as it’s allowed me to think more clearly and I see things now that I couldn’t see back when I was younger when I had an altogether different focus. My missus lives clean like me and she’s been a massive help to me throughout all of this, and for the first time in a long, long time, I can honestly say I’m truly happy and in a good place.”
The tranquil location that Siner describes once again includes boxing. With every portion of his once-manic life now furnished with focus, Siner is now ready to rewind back to the early 2000s and embark on a professional crusade that now has different rewards than what he saw twenty years ago. Like Edge Hill, no longer crowded with terraced houses, grey maisonettes, or public houses on most street corners, Siner has undergone a radical transformation thanks to early morning sprints on Everton Hills along with tiring sessions at Terry Spencer’s thriving Widnes gym. The current blueprint includes a pro debut before 2020 closes its curtains, and Siner is excited to demonstrate his ability inside a professional ring at long last.
“The pro dream never really went away for me if I’m being honest even though it probably didn’t seem likely. It feels like it’s my destiny in some way as boxing was all that mattered to me when I was younger and turning pro so I could be someone like Shea Neary was all I wanted when I was a young lad in the ‘Solly.’ Meeting Terry Spencer has been one of the key moments these last few years and the effort he’s put into me, not just in the gym, but in every way imaginable, can’t be forgotten. Terry has really gone all-in on me getting me to the point where I’m on the verge of resuming my career and he deserves so much credit for that.
“The original idea was just to have a few on the unlicensed circuit, but what would be the point with my background? Turning pro with some small goals is a much better option and once I made the decision then I had quite a few people wanting me to get down to their gym, but it was always going to be Terry. He’s young and ambitious, and when you have somebody like that then you know you’re getting the full attention. I didn’t just want to be another fighter in a gym, I needed a trainer who was going to be there at all costs. This is my last shot at boxing and with everything that has gone in my life, I won’t get a second chance at it. It has to be now.”
The lengthy highway to Siner’s maiden outing has been a hazardous one with many of the bumps along the journey self-inflicted. At 18, Siner’s quest for sporting acceptance appeared to be a straightforward one with the hardest fights of his life ahead of him inside the regulated arena provided by boxing. Instead, 17 years on, Siner makes his inaugural bow as a solace seeking heavyweight with his most arduous battles very much behind him.