R.I.P. Joe Rein
- May 24, 2013
What a wonderful article. Thank you.when it comes to story telling their is no one better then Brendan Ingle, a few of his stories are true many of them are spiced up, some just made up...But entertaining none the less.
The following is an article from The Irish Times,
The champion maker
Sat, Mar 9, 1996,
IN WINCOBANK, the pathways are still pockmarked with dishwater grey, scabs of ice. The country beyond gives off the soft glare of February snow. The steep roofed houses are stacked right up the hill. A strange place from which to plan world domination.
"Cup of tea?" asks Brendan Ingle, beneath the lintel of his house, here on this hill, in the east end of Sheffield. He is wearing a hunting hat. Duly, he hunts the grumbling family dog out of the living room.
"Or coffee if you prefer."
"Whatever you're having, Brendan."
"Don't drink tea or coffee." He pauses. "Anyway, it's Ramadan."
Don't ask. It'll all come spilling out anyway. This is Brendan's neck of the woods. Wincobank. Where he does his talking and his boys learn their fighting.
"Up there," he says, pointing right, towards his living room wall. "Top of the hill, that's where Naz lives.
Naz, Prince Naseem Hamed to you, isn't in residence at the minute. The world champion has set himself up in a four bedroom spread in what Brendan affectionately dismisses as the posh part of Sheffield. Ingle likes to ask Naz if, with all his tricks and all his dancing, he can manage to sleep in all four bedrooms at once. Young fellas and their money. Easily sundered.
"Don't you talk that man to death," calls Brendan's wife Alma, suddenly. "He'll talk you to death, you know." And Brendan rolls his eyes theatrically. Starts talking, unspooling his life as he sits beneath the crowded bookshelves which carry the testaments of his eclecticism. Potboilers.
Biographies (Thatcher and Michael Collins snuggled next to each other). Travel. All you need to know about Yemen. Religion. Politics. A few boxing books as well. No manuals for the man who has sent forth so many champions from this patch of Sheffield.
"You know what I say to the kids when they come in across the road," says Brendan. "You know what I tell them?"
"No, Brendan." He leans forward and acts out the scene playing himself in a nice understated way. I'm a bit of an expert on sex," he says, startlingly. "What?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm a bit of an expert on sex and I'm a bit of an expert on politics and I'm a bit of an expert on religion and I'm a bit of an expert on economics, too. Not an expert. Just a bit of an expert. Sure I wouldn't have survived any other way. Mickey Duff, Jarvis Astaire, Harry Leveine. Jack Solomons. Millionaires. They controlled boxing when I came here first. Frank Warren broke that monopoly in the end.
"But I had me battles, though. I took me lumps and bumps. In the ring and out. Twenty two stitches here. Ten stitches there. Trained the hard way. Wife did the pads for me during sparring. Had five kids and worked seven days a week. I did all that. I didn't get anywhere, but I'm a bit of an expert on lots of things."
Brendan's voyage. He has been here for going on 40 years now. His accent is hard Dublin, tempered in Sheffield steel. He left a big and close boxing family in Ringsend and sailed to England one winter in the 1950s. His brother Jimmy met him at Victoria Station and fixed him up with some quick tutorials in the school of hard knocks.
"When I come away on the boat at Dun Laoghaire and the boat pulled out I just thought `bloody hell, will I ever see home again'. Got over to Holyhead at one or two. Train to Manchester. Snow on the ground in Sheffield. Had to walk up the city road. All the houses were browns and blacks and greens. `What have I bloody done,' I thought to meself, `what have I bloody done'.
"Peter had been here about a year. He'd came home once when I was 17 and he had a few hundred quid in his pocket. I knew I'd go then. He took me down to the city centre in the snow, set me walking around one spot that I got to know. Left me there till knew me way around. I thought it was terrible. He said this is your starting point. Knock at every door of every firm, tell them you'll do anything. So I went around. Nothing."
He settled into steel work, became accustomed to the grey strangeness of Sheffield, the tight back to back houses with the shared toilets, the feeling of always being an outsider. He put down the years indulging in his twin passions: talking and boxing.
Talking politics, religion, history, trade unionism. Arguing with anyone who would sit still. Fighting with anyone who would step outside. Along with a handful of displaced Ringsend kids, he joined Hillsborough Boys Club and spent his energies there boxing and sparring. Let a day dream grow in his head.
"That was 1959. It was in me head to go to the 1960 Olympics. I'd win the senior and junior championships at home and I'd go to the Olympics. I used train three times a day. I hooked up with Corinthians. Sparred with Steve Collins' uncle, Terry. I was holding me own as a welterweight. Down running every morning at six to tower at Sandymount, then down to Red Lighthouse, back in and training some more. In the heel of the hunt, I over trained. I was knackered when I came to the juniors. No Olympics. Going nowhere. I headed back to Sheffield."
Nothing but the same old story? No, heir could always throw a feint. Duck the stereotype. Irish, Catholic and socialist, he met Alma in a jazz club one night. She was English, Protestant and conservative, the right chemistry for a lifetime of talking. So he married her.
Two years later, his house was broken into one afternoon. The intrusion threw Brendan off kilter and he high tailed it for home, Alma with him. Had to be home. Got home and couldn't stick it. Back to Sheffield again.
BRENDAN INGLE lives in this house now. He got married in the church next door. He built the little five a side football pitch across the road, hewing it out of Sheffield stone with his own hands. He put up the boxing club much the same way, begging for girders to hang punchbags from, herding the youngsters in towards the heat of the Supersers and the whirr of the skipping ropes.
He's a bit of an expert on most things now. He knows how to a map a path through life's minefield. He remembers his second boat trip to England. He still had the money from the sale of his house in Sheffield. Some more, too. £600 in all. Got to gambling. Got down to his last £150. Fairly shaken. Gambled on. Stepped off in England, just £50 down. Vowed never to gamble again.
The expertise is put to good use. So much so that last year the University of Sheffield gave the Irish boxing trainer from Wincobank an honorary degree. All those champions, all those kids, all those hours, all that love and affection. It was due some reward. He has melted into the fabric of this place. He observes Ramadan every year, fasting with his muslim friends and fighters, moves seamlessly into the abstinence of Lent and goes hungry one day a week for the rest of the year just to feel the sharpness.
University? At the very mention of the word he is suddenly up out of the chair and itching to get across to the gym. "This is the university," he says, crossing the road, passing his own Peugeot 306, the livery of which identifies the driver as Brendan Ingle, manager of Prince Naseem Hamed. "This is where kids around here learn about things. They wander in here and they start learning discipline." His thoughts are interrupted by a car horn. The car stops.
An elderly man is excitedly winding down the passenger window. Sal is Naseem Hamed's father. Friendly words fly through the frosted air. Sal delves into his pocket, fishes out a sheet of postage stamps sent to him from home. The faces of Ingle and Naseem beam out from each little perforated square. Seeing Brendan and Naz on the Yemeni national stamp moves Sal more than it moves Brendan. The journey rather than the destination is what enthralls Ingle.
With Naseem, whom as a skinny seven year old schoolboy Brendan spotted brawling from the top of a bus one day, he has travelled furthest. After a string of British, Commonwealth and European champions, Naseem is Brendan's first world champion, the boxer who will make him a rich man at last. There's satisfaction in that, but the work a day brawler who hits the gym once a week is just as absorbing to Brendan.
He hurries across to his gym. World champions are not in his thoughts. The gym, the St Thomas Boys club, is bare walled and pumping with heat, energy and music. The ring is at one end, the punchbags dangle in rows down the length of the hall. Rudimentary tools for hungry boxers.
Ingle isn't very big on the idea that people are born to be victims. Can't be, not having seen his boys fight their way out of trouble, out of poverty, out of discipline troubles. He's had them all through here. Tough nuts, thieves, losers, vandals, hooligans. Boxing gives them a framework. This gym gives them a stable point.
Sometimes it works. He calls over his latest pro, Davey Codwell. Davey has just bought a tuxedo so he can travel to the big time shows with Ingle. A tux is the passport to this brave new world. Codwell has lived in a flat, away from a violent home situation since he was 15, lived on £60 a week which he ekes out with weekend work. Stands on the cusp of a pro career. Doesn't know what would have become of him without boxing.
And sometimes Ingle fails. "If you want loyalty," he likes to say about his failures, "buy a dog." He tells the stories of failure. Like most social workers, the failures haunt him and the successes just grow away from him. Take Chalkie. Ingle brought a kid in here years ago, just nine or 10 years old. Problem kid, with a tough lonely road to walk. Looked after him, taught him, moved him in with Alma and the kids across the road, fed him, clothed him and loved him as one of his own.
One night Chalkie robbed the Ingle house. "You've robbed me Chalkie," said Brendan helplessly. "After all this, you've turned around and robbed me."
He tells all this and the sadness in his voice has turned to weariness. All Chalkie had to do was say he sorry and the fence was mended. Now there's distance and if Brendan wants loyalty he'll buy a dog."
It's part of the process. He talks of Herol Graham. He took Herol in and taught him what he calls his free thinking boxing, his philosophy whereby the science of defence takes precedence over the practice of mere slugging. Hero was good, so good you couldn't hit him with a handful of rice. He fought twice for the world championship, but along the way there were sharp words and had times. Everyone wants part of a winner.
"Here's how it is," says Brendan. "I take 25 per cent from the start. If my sons work with a fighter, they get another 10. That's for my time, for all the experience, all the knocks I took, all the mistakes I made, all the battles I've had. I take the chance with a kid. When he's getting £100 for a fight, he's happy to give me £25. He gets £400, he's happy to give me £100.
"He gets £4,000 and next thing somebody is whispering in his ear. Don't be giving that mad Paddy £1,000. I'll do it for £750 or £600. Come with me Lots of people to get their hands on the finished product."
Graham was the breakthrough fighter for Brendan Ingle. There has been a steady troop of champions through these doors since. Brian Anderson. Johnny Nelson. Slugger O'Toole. Neville Brown. Chris Saunders. Naseem Hamed. On the night when Naseem beat the peerless Robinson to become world champion, Brendan knew he had taught him - almost everything in his head.
"If you saw him switch hitting. Leading either way. Nobody could predict what way - Naz was going to move. That's the boxing I've dreamed of."
It's afternoon and the gym is full now. Brendan's boys are everywhere. Dreamers. Naz is doing a photo session. Neville Brown, who fights Steve Collins in Cork tonight, is punching the heavy bag. "Nev is going to win, says Brendan. "Mark my words. He's a good scientific boxer." Neville nods his head.
March is a busy month for Ingle. After Millstreet tonight, he takes Naseem to Glasgow next weekend. Then he has other irons in the fire. "Here's me heavyweight," he says, apropos one such iron. "This is Pele."
Pele is 23 and very big. He has three knockouts from three starts and Brendan plans for him to be world champion in five years. Even for the man who took Fidel Castro Smith and renamed him Slugger O'Toole, the appropriation of the name of the world's greatest footballer seems a bit cheeky.
"No," says Brendan outraged, "that's his name. The Da is mad for Brazilian football, He has a brother named Santos."
And so time passes. Down the decades, talking and boxing. He's rooted here with these people and these boxers. The National Front tried to get him out for running the first multi racial boxing club in Sheffield. The amateur boxing association tried to get him out when he started cleaning up their titles. Big time boxing folk tried to buy him out or force him out. Yet he rolls on. An independent republic of boxing perched on the side of a hill in Sheffield.
The only Irishman ever to appear on a Yemen national stamp talks about slowing down and then laughs at the very thought.
"I'll drop dead in the middle of a ring after a fight some night and when that happens yiz will all know that Brendan Ingle died happy.