Monday 20 May 2019

Obituary: Brendan Ingle

Loquacious Dubliner whose boxing club in Sheffield produced a stream of champions

Brendan Ingle, who has died aged 77, was an Irishman who became the most influential British boxing trainer of the last 30 years, producing a steady stream of British, Commonwealth, European and world champions from his gym in the Wincobank area of Sheffield.

What set the loquacious Dubliner apart from his peers was the revolutionary hands-down, elusive technique that he taught his fighters, based on speed, athleticism and reflexes.

Its most famous exponent was the colourful Naseem Hamed, whose brash and somewhat arrogant demeanour established him as one of world boxing's biggest draws in the late 1990s. The talented and precocious youngster was only 11 when Ingle predicted that he would be a world champion, a prophecy fulfilled when Hamed stopped the Welshman Steve Robinson at Cardiff Arms Park to capture the World Boxing Organisation featherweight crown on September 30, 1995.

For the next three years British boxing's "odd couple" could seemingly do no wrong - their partnership being the subject of Nick Pitt's acclaimed book The Paddy and the Prince in 1998.

Yet, as Pitt discovered, cracks began to show as Hamed increasingly sought more control over his career; his eventual split with Ingle was bitter and irrevocable. Although Hamed claimed to have tried to heal the wounds in recent years, the pair were never reconciled.

Ingle, however, reckoned that his greatest success was Johnny Nelson. Having been a mediocre and nervous amateur spending most of his time hoping that his opponent would not show up, Nelson turned professional and became a long-reigning world cruiserweight champion.

Brendan Ingle was born in Dublin on June 19, 1940, one of a dockworker's 15 children, and took up boxing as a schoolboy. Having moved to Sheffield to work in the booming steel industry in 1958, he won 19 out of 33 contests in an unremarkable professional ring career that ended in 1973.

Having been approached by a local vicar to help run the youth club, Ingle proceeded to transform an old church hall into the highly successful St Thomas's Boys and Girls Club boxing gym, helped by an enviable ability to communicate and relate with the type of youngsters whom most people would cross the street to avoid.

Ingle did not suffer fools, however, and his patience was not inexhaustible.

Explaining his decision to stop accepting young offenders referred to his gym by the Manpower Services Commission rehabilitation scheme, he said: "They called them 'hyperactive under-achievers', but I called them absolute nutters."

His first major success was the mercurial Herol "Bomber" Graham who, despite his nickname, provided the blueprint for the unorthodox and highly defensive style - based on the footwork and balance of Muhammad Ali - with which Ingle fighters would become associated.

Graham was good enough to secure British and European middleweight crowns and provided the template on which Hamed's style would be based. In fact, Graham's defensive qualities were so extraordinary that Ingle enjoyed parading his protege around the pubs and clubs of Sheffield, inviting inebriated patrons to land a punch on the young fighter while Ingle stood beaming, hands behind his back.

One of the few who succeeded was a young woman who, unbeknown to Ingle and Graham, was actually a serving police officer. "She slapped me with a massive backhander that nearly knocked my teeth out," a rueful Graham recalled years later. Although Graham seemed destined for the top, he ultimately failed to win a world title. By the time of his first defeat, against the veteran Italian Sumbu Kalambay in May 1987, he and Ingle had parted company.

After watching his former charge lose on points at Wembley Arena, Ingle said: "That's nine years down the drain - they've tried to turn Herol into a fighter when he's a boxer. He was boxing an old man and the old man beat him. I just left sick for him."

Undeterred, Ingle was soon honing the skills of the young Hamed, who the Irishman rather fancifully claimed to have spied from the top deck of a passing bus flattening a number of playground bullies. Yet Hamed ultimately proved to be his biggest disappointment. Ingle had expected Hamed to win multiple world titles, but the pair split acrimoniously in 1998.

Ingle acknowledged that the sport had changed: "There are so many other interests for people these days that not everybody is as keen as they were in the golden days of boxing to take a punch on the nose."

Appointed MBE in 1998 for services to boxing and work with young people, Ingle listed his prime interests as "Christianity, socialism and training boxers". Although he had taken more of a back seat in recent years, his work has been continued by his sons Dominic and John, whose fighters include the world champions Kell Brook and Billy Joe Saunders.

Brendan Ingle, who died on May 25, is survived by his wife Alma (nee Chaloner), whom he married in 1961, and by their three sons and two daughters.

© Telegraph

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