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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
On the march with 'Amir's army'
By David Green
BBC News Online, Bolton

Amir Khan's friends cheer him on at the Bolton Arena
Amir's army of friends cheered his every punch
Amir Khan's journey from naughty schoolboy to national hero has been short.

Aged just 17 and with a silver Olympic medal already around his neck, the Bolton teenager has already put boxing and his home town back on the map.

Boxing experts say it is just the beginning for the boy who used to take out his aggression in playground scraps but has since matured into a down-to-earth young man.

And some are even whispering quietly that he could become a future symbol of racial harmony in the North West of England.

It was a mixed crowd of about 150 whites and Asians who turned the Bolton Arena into a cacophony of cheering and chanting as they watched him scare the champion Mario Kindelan by taking the first round by four points to three.

Monanza Dad, Amir Khan's aunt
My brother and him were always having scraps, although Amir didn't always win
Monanza Dad, Amir Khan's aunt
The din continued with only occasional groans as the Cuban used his experience to mount a fightback and take the gold.

But, while disappointed Amir could not become Britain's youngest ever gold medallist, the crowd's pride at his achievement afterwards was clear.

"People are comparing Amir to Naseem Hamed, but he's already done more than him - he's five years ahead of him," said Saqub Dad, Amir's cousin.

"He boxed well today. The other guy was the more experienced boxer and it told, but everyone here is really proud of him."

Zafar Iqbal, a friend of Amir's father Shajaad, said his success would be good for race relations in the town, adding: "It's good for the different communities and good for Bolton that Amir has done so well.

"It's about time Asians showed that we can do something. It makes me feel proud to be British.

Karen Howard, who works with Amir Khan's cousin
Karen Howard helped make Amir Khan's gum shield

"I feel most for his father. I have known him all my life and he has worked hard. I wish I was in his place."

Many of those gathered to watch the match on the big screen had watched Amir grow up.

"When he was younger, he was really naughty and used to fight all the time," remembers his aunt, Monanza Dad.

"My brother and him were always having scraps, although Amir didn't always win.

'Gold medal'

"He was hyperactive but boxing took all of that out of him and made him grow up. He's now a really nice lad."

Karen Howard, who helped make Amir's gum shield at the laboratory where his cousin Shaz works, said his success had captured everyone's imagination.

"We haven't had many Olympic medallists from Bolton and everyone is so proud of him," she said.

"I hope he waits until he's older until he goes professional, although I think everyone would understand if he took the millions now.

"In four year's time, in Beijing, he will be unstoppable. The gold medal is his if he wants it."



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