Copeland the History Maker

Stacey Copeland secured her place in sporting history by becoming the first British woman to win a Commonwealth boxing title in 2018, but not before a successful football career.

Stacey was born into a boxing family with her father, Eddie, a former ABA champion and her grandad running a gym in Stockport, where she would often train as a child. The sweet science was always in her blood, and she held aspirations of following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, only to be denied.

Until 1996, women were banned from boxing in the UK. It would be another two years before the first official women’s boxing match would take place in the country between Simona Lukic and Jane Couch at Caesars Nightclub in Streatham, London. With Stacey already well into her teens, it appeared that boxing had passed her by, and she was already impressing on the football pitch.

“By the time that happened in boxing (the lifting of the ban for women’s boxing),” Stacey told Fen Regis Trophies. “There were a lot more opportunities opening up for girls in football leagues and local teams.

“I was able to join a girls team at Stockport County, and that set me on my way.”

“Being a Bit Freaky”

Stacey joined Stockport in 1995, a year before the ban on women’s boxing was lifted. Though there were more opportunities for women and girls in football than boxing in the mid-90s, it was a way off the offering almost 30 years later.

There also remained the attitude that women and girls shouldn’t be playing football, and that was something that Stacey had to overcome as a youngster coming through in the game.

“You got ridiculed and mocked,” said Stacey. “We were seen as being a bit freaky, doing something that was not what women were supposed to do.

“For me, I just grew up thinking girls and women didn’t want to play football. I had no idea of the history…the ban that was on women, and women having played in front of thousands of spectators before that.

“It was either that, or people being massively supportive and genuinely loving watching women’s football, and there was plenty of them.”

It was through football that Stacey remembers winning her first trophy at a football camp, where she picked up the best player and best attitude awards. She says that those trophies, especially the best attitude award, were “really important”.

“I had been getting into trouble at school,” Stacey recalled. “I was put in a summer football camp and I got the best player and best attitude…that one was really important, from a school perspective, to show that there was something there worth working with.”

Stacey would play football until retiring in 2010, following spells at Stockport, Tranmere Rovers, and Doncaster Rovers Belles. She would also play in the United States for college sides Lander Bearcats and St Edward’s Hilltoppers, before a brief spell at Swedish club Vasalunds.

The highlights of Stacey’s football career included reaching the 2002 FA Cup final with Doncaster, as well as representing England at Under-18 level in 1999 and 2000.

Return to Boxing

With women’s boxing, and the opportunities within the sport, growing it was an easy decision for Stacey to hang up her boots. Even through her football career, Stacey was still active in the gym.

“It was my first love,” Stacey said of boxing. “I just didn’t get to pursue it. I had always kept up with my boxing training throughout my football career.

“Boxing was a massive part of my off-season training when I went to play football in America.

“Pretty much all of my twenties I was away, whether that was playing in America, a pre-season in Brazil, or finishing my career in Sweden.

“The whole time that I was away, I would find a local boxing gym and continue my training. It’s not something that has ever left me.

“When I had done everything I wanted to in football, I wanted to pursue those early dreams in Boxing. Even though I was old, 29 at that point, I was still young enough and fit enough, along with years of experience in top-level sports, that put me in a good position to still be an elite sportsperson.

European and Commonwealth Success

In 2011, Stacey made her amateur boxing debut and would go on to represent England at the 2014 Women’s European Amateur Boxing Championships in Bucharest, Romania, winning silver in the welterweight category. The Manchester fighter was part of the same team as Natasha Jonas, Savannah Marshall, and Chantelle Cameron.

“The squad that we had that year at the Europeans was pretty incredible,” Stacey said. “Look at what they have gone on to do.

“They were much younger than me at the time. I didn’t have the opportunity to box until much later. Time wasn’t on my side.

“Those girls have both laid the foundations and come through the other side, reaping the benefits of it. Unfortunately, I was just too old to do that, but when you look at what they’ve gone on to do it is fantastic.”

Stacey turned professional in 2017, winning her first four fights at the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester. That put her in the position to challenge for the inaugural Commonwealth female super-featherweight title, facing the South African Mapule Ngubane in Zimbabwe.

A win via unanimous decision in her fifth, and what turned out to be her final professional bout, saw Stacey become the first British woman to win a Commonwealth title.

“Everything you put in is for moments like that,” said Stacey. “When you step up and meet the moment and achieve what was ultimately a dream, there is no feeling like it.”

Life after Boxing

Stacey’s boxing career was ended as injuries, consisting of 12 broken bones and nine surgeries over the years, eventually caught up with her in 2020. Though having to retire was tough for Stacey to take, she has managed to keep herself busy as she is a presenter for BBC Radio Manchester, and has also been featured in the Netflix documentary Game On.

The former Commonwealth boxing champion explained that the opportunity to work for the BBC first came about in 2016 after an operation that did not go to plan.

“I had what should have been a straightforward meniscus surgery,” she said. “Unfortunately, they made a mistake, and I had a second-degree chemical burn all over my leg that put me out of the European and World Championships.

“I knew that was pretty much the end of my amateur career. I decided to do 28 Positive Days, where I would do something positive either for me or for someone else, and one of those was applying to the BBC’s sports reporter Kick Off scheme.

“It resulted in an interview…I got picked and ended up doing a sports reporter scheme and that was my first involvement with BBC Radio Manchester.”

From there, Stacey has since gone on to become a regular for the station. As well as contributing to BBC Radio Manchester’s Tuesday Night Football and Sunday Sport programmes, she also presents the Late Show on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.

Stacey’s story is, in many ways, the ultimate underdog story, having overcome obstacles of sexism, limited opportunities, and injuries to win trophies and medals at the top of not just one sport but two.

By Aaron Gratton

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