Watch as Sheffield Wednesday legend makes disabled Owls fan’s ‘dream come true’
Sheffield Wednesday legend Lee Bullen made a disabled Owls fan’s "dream come true" when he surprised him with a heartwarming gesture at his boxing gym.
Ian Charlesworth from Stocksbridge was a shadow of the person he is today when he first stepped into Riley’s Boxing & Fitness Centre in Grimesthorpe before lockdown. But, after working with volunteer coach Steve ‘Pop’ Haywood, in his own words: “I have gone from a nobody to a somebody.”
The 43-year-old suffered brain damage after a car crash aged just 19 and was in a coma for 12 weeks. He spent one year in hospital.
His mum, Gail Carr, 64, was initially told her son was going to die.
Ian has also struggled with his balance in the years following the crash. Since he began boxing training, however, there has been significant improvement in more ways than one.
"Confidence, balance, movement in his arm, his walking is better than it was and there’s been weight loss and mental health improvement,” listed his younger sister Louise, 35.
Sixty-four-year-old Pop from Charnock added: “He had his arm at 25 degrees across his chest for 25 years but we have got it back round by his side.
"It’s been unbelievable. He’s getting lots of comments and it’s building up his confidence. He comes down to Riley’s and everybody is helping him, he feels a part of something.”
Owls Under-23s coach Bullen visited the gym yesterday to surprise Ian and present him with signed replica home and away Sheffield Wednesday shirts.
Sheffield boxing promoter Dennis Hobson also came down to check out the Steel City’s latest prospect in the ring and make the occasion all the more special for a delighted Ian and his loved ones, which also included his two nephews, 21-year-old William and three-year-old Ellis, who was wearing his Owls kit, as well as niece Isobelle, 15.
“It was a right surprise,” Ian told The Star, “I thought I was just coming in to whack some bags, but obviously not.
"I have got two new kits, I can’t believe it.”
A personable Bullen spent time chatting to Ian’s family and finding out more about his story before posing for photos.
"His reaction was brilliant, there’s no money in the world can produce a reaction like that,” the Scot and former Wednesday captain said.
"For someone who’s been through such a traumatic time like Ian has, to have this to come to is second to none. Exercise is such an important thing.
"Things like this needs to be highlighted more, it’s an amazing story.”
Ian’s trainer Pop also has a remarkable story of his own.
He spent 17 years in jail for crimes including drug offences, burglary and handling stolen goods before he was released six years ago and turned his life around after decades of offending.
"I’d had enough,” he said of his decision to turn his back on crime.
"I got out in 2015 and that was it. I just woke up one morning and said: ‘This is not for me’.”
Just as it has for many others, the sport of boxing helped Pop stay on the straight and narrow.
"I fought a kid who was 30 years younger than me and I drew,” he proudly recalled.
"I’m the fittest man in the gym, I will go in the ring with anybody.
"I have never been happier.”
Robert Riley, 55, who runs the gym and fitness centre – which boasts about 400 members - along with South Yorkshire Police officers Gary Longmore and Ben Hall, described Pop as “unbelievable”.
He continued: “He’s such a wonderful person. He’s give, give, give. He never takes anything. I’m just so in awe of him.
"There isn’t a man on this planet who has done what Pop has done.
"What he’s done for Ian is unbelievable. This is like his redemption.”
These days, Pop spends most of his time at Riley’s, coaching and mentoring youngsters, as well as helping his protégé Ian.
He said: “Before, Ian was just going through the motions so I took him under my wing and started training him.
"It’s heartwarming to see. There’s life after injury.”
Gail, who also lives in Stocksbridge, added: “Sometimes he just used to want to lie in bed all day, it gives him something to get up and go for.
"It’s been very hard, when he came out of hospital he didn’t get much help, it’s been a struggle for him.”
She continued: "I’m absolutely over the moon, I’m very, very proud of him. I think he’s an absolute star.
"It’s absolutely fantastic Lee Bullen is here, we are all big Wednesday fans.”
Bullen got involved after his friend Mick Medley, a builder who he met through his wife’s estate agency business Spencer, told him about Ian’s progress.
"It’s amazing, the positivity that it brings,” he told The Star.
"It goes under the radar when there’s disappointment on the pitch. The amount of stuff Sheffield Wednesday do off the pitch goes unnoticed sometimes, they do a lot of good stuff.
"It doesn’t cost anything to get involved in things like this. Both Wednesday and United have such a big part to play in the local community that can brighten peoples days.”
Before he left, Bullen told Ian he’d be back in a month to see how he’s getting on.
Reformed man Pop said: "Today, Ian’s dream came true. Now how good is that?”