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Oh, yeah, the Opera House,” Anthony Joshua exclaims in a box at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as his face creases with amusement and nostalgia. Rather than revealing a sudden passion for opera in Covent Garden, the world heavyweight champion relives memories of the very different Saturday nights he used to spend as a teenager clubbing in this corner of north London.
The Opera House in Tottenham was one of his favourite clubs around 12 years ago when he and nine of his friends used to drive their battered cars from Watford or Finchley to have a party and cause some pretty harmless mayhem.
The 31-year-old Joshua relaxes as the stories flow from him and, at least for a while, it is possible to ignore the hundreds of people building the ring and the long walkway from the dressing rooms on the covered pitch far below where we are sitting in this vast football stadium.
On Saturday night 68,000 people will cram into the arena with attention fixed on the ring where Joshua faces one of the most demanding nights of his career when he defends his WBA, WBC and IBF world titles against the unbeaten and highly skilled Oleksandr Usyk. But Joshua can enjoy a break from thinking about this testing challenge as we return to the heaving and thumping Opera House.
“We all had cars,” he says as he explains how they would get to Tottenham. Joshua, whose wealth now runs into the hundreds of millions, drove an old Vauxhall Astra while his cousin, Ben Ileyemi, who introduced him to boxing, used his mum’s Peugeot 206. They would park their cars a few blocks from the Opera House, so as not to spoil their image, and then pile into the club.
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“I started boxing when I was 18 so this was when I was 19 and 20. We all had cars but before that I would get on the buses from Watford or Harrow.”
When it was not his turn to drive he would be drinking. “Courvoisier and cider. Remember that White Lightning [cider]? I would drink that in the passenger seat and then, in the queue I’d be saying: ‘Yeah, I’m alright, bouncer