Golden year for the man who shaped champions

Legendery boxing trainer Brendan Ingle in his his gym at Wincobank in Sheffield
Legendery boxing trainer Brendan Ingle in his his gym at Wincobank in Sheffield
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Legend has it the dynasty began when Brendan Ingle gave boxing gloves to control fighting teenagers at a church hall dance.

“The girls were better than the boys,” goes the line from 74-year-old Brendan who couldn’t have known what he was starting at St Thomas’, Wincobank in 1964.

Now, after half a century in the city he calls ‘paradise’, Brendan Ingle MBE is still handing out the boxing gloves to potential champions and any kid who comes to the gym looking for help, inspiration or just a scrap.

And it’s time to say another thank you.

To celebrate 50 years of St Thomas’ gym in Wincobank former, and possibly returning, world cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson and others are organising a gala dinner event at Magna, Rotherham on November 21 when boxers and celebrities will pay tribute to Dubliner Ingle.

And no-one can say he doesn’t deserve it.

“I don’t know where the time has gone to be honest with you,” said Brendan this week at the gym he now runs with his sons Dominic and John. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since it all started, amazing. What a great time we’ve had and are still having here.”

Ingle has trained four world champions, six European, 15 British and six Commonwealth champions and was named in the top 10 boxing trainers of all time by Ring Magazine.

But it’s his work with some of Sheffield’s most troubled kids that makes him remarkable. To see him with youngsters in St Thomas’ gym on Saturday mornings is to see something truly original.

He gets kids who struggle to read and write and gives them the confidence to stand and recite nursery rhymes in front of 20 other kids.

He and his training methods are helping boys and girls, many whose parents have given up on them, to respect themselves and others, to have discipline in their lives.

Kids who haven’t been to school for months or even years, start going again because he tells them it’s the right thing to do.

No man, woman or agency has done more to help problem kids in this city than Brendan Ingle.

Born and raised in Dublin, Brendan Ingle found his natural home when he came to Sheffield in 1957 as a raw 18-year-old to escape the claustrophobic forces of Roman Catholicism and Irish politics – and to make a decent living.

But there wasn’t a great welcome for him when he arrived.

Sheffield and the world was a different place then with signs on some boarding house doors saying: ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.

That we have come a long way since is down in no small part to men like Brendan Ingle and the work he has done over the last half century at St Thomas’ gym, Wincobank.

“My older brother Pete had been over working in Sheffield and he came home in 1957 with three new suits and £200 in his pocket, I thought that’s the place for me,” said Brendan, the 13th of 15 Ingle children from Dunleary. That’s when my education really began. Sheffield to me is paradise.

“Look at it seriously. You get an education for free, if you take advantage of that no-one can tell you what to do with your life. If you fall out of work you won’t starve, there are sports facilities and cinemas and restaurants and Meadowhall, and the National Health Service to look after you.

“Nothing is perfect but people have so much going for them in this city, I’m grateful for every day here.”

He’s also grateful for the day he met his wife Alma in a jazz club in Sheffield’s Yorkshire Grey pub. He the Catholic Communist, she the Conservative Protestant.

“I knew almost straight away that she was the one for me,” said Brendan. “I remember thinking to myself; ‘within a year I will be married to you’. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I did it.”

They are still together, with five kids and nine grandchildren all living in the Sheffield area. Brendan and Alma still live next door to the Wincobank church where they got married in 1961.

“When I first came over I lived on the Manor with my brother’s brother-in-law and in those days you couldn’t see the city for the smoke and smog from the steelworks,” said Brendan.

“I was a smithy’s striker at Alfred Beckett’s on Green Lane swinging a big hammer. “They said they wanted someone strong in the arm and weak in the head, “ he laughed. “It was just the job for me!”

He also got on fine with his other day job producing champion boxers like Brian Anderson, Herol Graham, Naseem Hamed, Ryan Rhodes, Johnny Nelson and Junior Witter and making the name of St Thomas’ gym famous throughout the boxing world.

But it’s his work in the community that makes him special. Five decades of dealing with kids who have had little or no parental guidance, have no confidence, education or goals in life and trying to make them into decent citizens through the disciplines of boxing, makes Brendan Ingle a true Sheffield legend.

n Tickets for the black tie tribute dinner at Magna on November 21 are £50 and are available from the ticketline on 07799 080511 or email Nelson0202@aol.com