AT sixteen years of age Lee Duncan was headed for a life of crime or idleness - or both.
Playing truant from school, sleeping in until 2pm with no puropose in life he appeared destined to follow his brothers into a young offenders institution.
Then he walked into St Thomas’ Gym in Wincobank.
Like thousands of youngsters before him and the lucky, talented few who went on to fight professionally, Lee Duncan was saved by boxing.
It gave him discipline and goals and, most importantly, self-belief.
Now Lee Duncan has a university degree and has been accepted on to a Masters course, is starting his own security firm and has an interview for a job at a top international finance company.
He’s also preparing for a fight that will give him chance to go for an English title.
Boxing has been doing this for a hundred years for kids from Karachi to Chicago and men like Brendan Ingle in Wincobank and Glyn Rhodes at Hillsborough have been able to shape thousands of young lives that were otherwise going nowhere.
Today in the Wincobank gym the air is filled with the sound of kids laughing and shouting, boxers hitting pads and the whip, whip, whip of a skipping rope on bare wooden boards.
“I first came down here to the gym when I was 16, my dad brought me,” said 25-year-old Lee.
“Brendan was sitting in the corner and the first thing he told me to do was smile. He had a talk to me and asked my dad to leave. I was in the gym for two hours and he showed me how to do ‘The Lines’,
He told me it would help my co-ordination between my hands, head and feet.
And it did.
“Brendan asked me If I went to school. I said i didn’t hardly go and he insisted that I start going to school regularly or I wouldn’t be able to use the gym.
‘So I went back and then during the summer holidays and that six weeks changed my life. I went to the gym every day and he had us picking up litter in the street and helping out. I was shy but one of the first things Brendan gets everyone to do is stand up and sing a song or nursery rhyme.
“I didn’t understand it at first and I thought Brendan was a bit of a nutter but I did it because I trusted him. We were training alongside people like Junior Whitter and learning from them, it was a fantastic experience and I won the South Yorkshire Championship at 75kg when I was 16.”
Alongside his development as a boxer Lee started going to the steam room with the other fighters, taking part in exhibitions, was gradually learning a new way of living.
“He made good progress,” said 75-year-old Brendan Ingle MBE.
“I told him he could go to university if he wanted to and he told me I was mad. ‘University with one GCSE in woodwork?’ he said.
“But I knew he could do it so I kept on at him.”
“I used to lose my temper at school and swear at teachers,” said Lee formerly of Bradway and a pupil at Meadowhead School. “I was excluded for fighting. When I look back on it now I feel sorry for the teachers there was nothing they could do really. I had no motivaton and just disrupted things. I feel a bit embarrassed about it now. It’s hard to understand really because we alwys had stuff like bikes and games consoles that our mates didn’t have.”
“Both my brothers were in and out of young offenders institutions from the age of 11 and have both been to prison and I was heading the same way until I got into boxing.”
Then Brendan Ingle dropped a bombshell.
“I told him he needed to move out of his family home and live on his own to get away from the influences,” said Brendan who trained world champions Naseem Hamed and Johnny Nelson.
“He was getting fed and had a decent bed to sleep in at home but there was no discussion regarding motivating him to make something of his life.
“He panicked a bit at first but he did it and moved on to the next stage.”
The next stage for Lee Duncan included a summer course in Maths and English so he could go back to college to study business, first at foundation level, then at B-Tech and National Diploma level and then to a Business Management and Finance degree from Hallam University.
It also involved him being called ‘Lee Licquorice Allsorts Kid Duncan’ as a fighter whenever the gym put on an exhibition in pub, club or sports hall.”
Why the name?
“I gave him the name,” said Brendan who has a history of giving outlandish names like Slugger O’Toole, Johnny ‘The Entertainer’ Nelson and the never to be forgotten Nigel ‘The Fruit Man’ Bradley.
“People say to me is that appropriate for a mixed race boxer?
”I say what’s wrong with it? Liquorice Allsorts are Sheffield’s finest sweets!”
Throughout the explanation Lee smiles and nods approval.
“It was part of my development,” laughs Lee. I had to go to exhibitions hear people laughing at the name but it didn’t bother me. I was called racist names at school but Brendan deals with that kind of thing up-front here and I think it makes people less sensitive to it.
“It’s not right but it’s not the end of the world to be called a racist name.
“You have to get over it and carry on. People who need to use racist insults don’t have anything to offer anyone. They don’t bother me at all.”
Title bid fighter master of his own destiny
Tonight is a big night for Lee Duncan – and 2014 is going to be a big year.
He fights Jamie Hughes at iceSheffield this evening and is hoping a win will give him a shot at the English light heavyweight title.
Win or lose, Lee has big plans for the future with a new security business about to take off for the former nightclub doorman and a Masters Degree in Business Studies to prepare for in September.
“Looking back to when I was 16, and doing nothing, to now when I have the boxing, university, living on my own, job interviews and a business starting up, it’s hard to believe it’s all happened.
“I go to schools and colleges now as well telling people about university life and I give talks to 300 or 400 people.
“Every time I stand up in front of an audience to speak I think of that first time Brendan made me stand up in front of the other kids at the gym and recite a nursery rhyme.
“To be honest I owe it all to boxing and Brendan. He gave me the positive attitude to succeed.
“My heroes are Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and Brendan Ingle.”