Robbie Pattinson’s face breaks into a knowing smile when he describes the preparation for a fight tonight which is the biggest of his promising amateur career. “It’s all intensity, intensity, intensity,” he says. “Nearly spewing every session.”

This is the price any boxer must pay before stepping through the ropes but for Pattinson, the gruelling work is carried out more keenly than normal. It is only 10 months since the 21-year-old was stabbed in an appalling attack during a night out in his home town of Wigton.

The kitchen knife wielded by Scott Topping was embedded in Pattinson’s face. After waking from an induced coma, doctors told Robbie that, had it gone in by a further millimetre, the blade would have severed a key artery, and killed him.

Topping, who had taken cocaine and been violent towards others before attacking Pattinson, was given a life sentence in October for attempted murder; this is the story of his victim’s recovery. When we spoke on the phone a few days before our meeting, his coach, Andi Crossman, described Robbie as a “warrior”, and when the two men talk in the office of Wigton Amateur Boxing Club it is clear that no other description will do.

Pattinson is fighting the more experienced Patrick Brown, from Sale, for the north west regional belt in the 81-86kg category. The men will meet in three three-minute rounds in Blackburn. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” Pattinson laughs. “It’s a big deal, especially after what happened last year.”

The events of April 12, 2019 are not easy to relive but, as the serious context for his return to the ring, Pattinson is prepared to go back. He says he can remember “everything” about what happened yet the past few months have hardened his wish to make the most of the present and future. “You’ve got to bounce back or you don’t,” he says. “I’m still here, so…”

That in itself is down to marginal fate. A normal night out had darkened when Topping had followed Pattinson and his girlfriend Vanna out of the Throstle’s Nest pub, offering violence. Pattinson threw two defensive punches, flooring the humiliated Topping, who, a short time later, sought revenge. Having retrieved a knife, he drove nearly six inches of the blade into the left side of Pattinson’s face, going through the back of his throat to the base of his skull.

When Topping was later arrested, he asked police: “Has he died? I hope he’s died because if he hasn’t...unlucky.” Pattinson, though, attempted to dislodge the knife. “Oh, I tried hard,” he says. “It was in there solid.”

How painful was it? “I don’t know. It was more shock, and then adrenaline took over.”

Less than a minute after being stabbed, he managed to flag down a passing friend and the pair sped to A&E at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle. After a series of scans, he was then put to sleep, allowing surgeons painstakingly to remove the weapon. Upon emerging from a three-day coma, the toll of the attack was then taken.

“I was very weak,” he says. “I’d lost nearly half my blood. As soon as I woke up the doctors were telling us they couldn’t believe I was still alive. I just felt lucky, really. It’s all you can think.”

Robbie says Vanna, his partner of six years, never left his side during his days in hospital, and that his family was hugely supportive at this traumatic time. Andi, who regards the young man almost as one of his own having worked with him in the boxing club since he was eight, also cannot forget the phonecall he received 20 minutes after the attack.

“It was like my world had collapsed,” he says. “I tried to phone Robbie but his phone was off. I was ringing around everyone I could think of. My girlfriend convinced me not to go to the hospital, because there was nothing I could do to help at that moment. I never slept all night and managed to get in touch with Vanna the next day.”

When Andi visited, he saw the large patch on Robbie’s face, covering the deep wound. “I hated seeing him like that,” he says, “but if there was anybody I knew was gonna pull out of it, it was him. He’s one of the hardest lads I know.”

Robbie was soon well enough to leave hospital, and it was no surprise to Andi when he walked through the door at the boxing club only five days after he had been attacked. “It’s a second home for him,” the coach says.

Fellow boxers rallied around him, and not just in the close-knit Wigton club. As news spread about what had happened, Eddie Hearn sent a get well message, as did notable fighters such as Mark Murray, Billy Hardy, Shannon Briggs, Anthony Fowler and Josh Kay. “It’s hard to imagine a normal person can get things like that,” Robbie says. “For them to take the time out.”

It took time, and careful steps, before normality could return. “I was left with dizziness all the time, bad heads," he says. "I couldn’t eat because the knife went through my throat. I still can’t feel the left side of my mouth. The surgeon said that feeling might come back, but it maybe won’t. It could take years.”

Did being young and fit help Robbie recover? He nods. “In a way, I’m kind of glad it was me and not someone else,” he says. “You don’t know if they would have survived or not.”

After regular check-ups, he was given the all-clear from his surgeon to resume boxing, although Andi was still cautious. “I bought him an executive headguard, where the bar goes right across the face,” Andi says, “and we got him training step by step. When you hit something the shockwaves go right through your body, and he took that alright, so we moved onto sparring. I put him in with his cousin first, so you’ve got that family thing – if I tell him to go light, he’s gonna go light.

“Robbie said it was alright. He had that numb feeling but never once complained about getting punched. One day he took a good one off Dave Charters, one of our senior boxers, who hits hard. Straight away I stopped it – ‘Did that hurt?’ – and he said no. I was comfortable then.”

This was, incredibly, a matter of weeks after the stabbing. “I was surprised at how long it didn’t take,” Robbie says. “I was more or less back into it straight away. I just felt that if I didn’t come back, get it over and done with, what happened would keep nagging on me. I tried not to dwell on it.”

The court case last autumn was, he says, something else he was “glad to get over and done with”. Does he have any feelings towards the man who nearly killed him? His voice dips. “No…no.”

Pattinson understandably wants to look forward, and sets powerfully about the bags in the cold Wigton gym as Stuart Walker takes photos for The Cumberland News. On his phone, Andi shows me the x-ray of the knife in Robbie’s head, zooming in on the precarious millimetre between life and death, then talks some more about his fighter, and the club that means a great deal to both men.

A north-east native and former British amateur champion, Andi founded Wigton Amateur Boxing Club in 2009, initially in the boys’ club behind St Ursula’s Convent School, and now in premises on Water Street. It has 13 competitive fighters – “no egos, we’re all the same,” Robbie says – and many more young people who come to train.

As well as iconic boxing photos and cuttings of their young fighters’ achievements, the walls display lists of club rules (“no swearing” being one), plus newspaper bills and posters reflecting anti-bullying campaigns and further examples of the good a hard sport can do.

It feels particularly important given what happened to Pattinson. “Our aim is to keep kids off the streets,” Andi says. “This town’s had a bad name. Robbie’s not the only one to be stabbed in the last 12 months.” He says the boxing club welcomes any young person, “even if it’s just to come in and keep dry for an hour.”

“As long as you abide by my rules,” he adds, “that’s all you need. It’s about how you conduct yourself outside, as well as in the ring and the gym. There are people with closed minds to boxing who think we’re teaching violence. We’re not – we’re teaching discipline.”

Andi says the club, which has just gained charitable status, has been praised by police and politicians, but wishes it could be supported accordingly. “I’ve put my own money into it,” he says. “We’re trying to get funding for a minibus at the moment. Funds are tight, but I’ll have this place open as long as I’m alive.”

He tells stories about anti-social behaviour in the area, but other tales where young lads from Wigton have defied a negative “reputation”, such as an incident when some saved the life of a man who had fallen and split his head open near the boxing club. “I told the papers about that,” he says. “You need to see good news as well as all the bad.”

Andi says boxing saved him from a life that could have gone differently, and because he “couldn’t live without” the sport, he uses the idle threat of taking it away from young members who misbehave. He says he identified Robbie as a potential champion from the start, because of his “attitude”, but the young boxer also acknowledges the sport’s wider effect. “I was one of those kids who used to be knocking about on the streets,” Pattinson says. “I wouldn’t say I was a bad lad, but when you’re young you do stupid stuff. Boxing took me off that path.”

The path to Blackburn tonight involves hard graft which Robbie must fit around his plastering job – two-hour sessions in the gym up to four nights a week, plus a run on Saturdays. He is determined to win the belt on Valentine's Day ("Vanna enjoys watching – I think," he smiles) but there will be unavoidable perspective when he takes on the man from Sale.

“That night,” Andi says, “if he’d had to wait for an ambulance, he’d be dead. If the knife had been pushed inside a millimetre more, he’d be dead. If he’d managed to pull it out himself, like he tried, he’d be dead.

“Everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t his time. He's got things to do. This fight…he’s just beaten death, mate. You don’t get a harder fight than that. As long as he goes out there and gives me his best, and comes out alright, that will do for me.”