‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ - the world Brendan Ingle walked into...and helped change

Brendan Ingle and those lines
Brendan Ingle and those lines
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‘Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue…’

They all sang it, one after the other, year after year, black, brown and white, standing on a stool reciting a nursery rhyme to the rest of the kids at the open sessions at St Thomas’ Girls and Boys Club.

Some looking for a boxing career, others for shelter and escape, all looking for themselves.

The kids kicked out of school, the kids with abusive, addicted or missing parents, kids known to the police who no-one could do anything with.

Except Brendan.

The recital was part of the initiation into a special place created and led by a special man and it was an honour to witness those Saturday morning training sessions often followed by litter-picking and sweeping the streets, just like he did himself every morning.

Johnny Nelson and Brendan Ingle

Johnny Nelson and Brendan Ingle

They would turn up at St Thomas’s, Wincobank from all over the country and around the world with nothing other than hope, just as he had when he came to 1950s Sheffield to be confronted with signs saying ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ as he walked the streets looking for somewhere to stay.

But stay he did and he went on to create a way of boxing that changed the sport and bred champion after champion and all with that distinctive, elusive style.

Freed from a narrow-minded Dublin young Brendan, the Irish Catholic communist, met English Protestant Conservative and soon-to-be wife Alma and they created a family dynasty and a history that will be celebrated whenever Sheffield looks back on its great achievers.

The story of Brendan Ingle’s career as a boxing trainer is a glorious litany of British, Commonwealth, European and World champions, of Lonsdale belts and glory.

But the story of his life is bigger than that.

He gave himself to Wincobank and to Sheffield. He loved his adopted city and called it ‘paradise’.

Of course he was no mug. He was a man who ran a successful business for many years and knew his way around the toughest sport in the world.

He instinctively came up with a system of co-ordination training he called ‘The Lines’, now copied around the world and recognised as ground-breaking by sports scientists.

He could talk for days on Sheffield, politics, history, Ireland and the British and even, occasionally, on boxing, always wanting to learn, develop, teach, and always with that hint of untutored genius.

Brendan Ingle isn’t one of those people whose greatness is only recognised after they die.

He had it and showed it for 50 years and thousands in this city have been able to lead better lives because of it.

Thanks Brendan, Sheffield will never forget.