Death of trainer who forged steel city fighters

Brendan Ingle, Boxing Promoter
Brendan Ingle, Boxing Promoter
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It was then, as now, a city whose young men, as the police put it, were running wild.

Boxing, it was believed, could be their salvation, and Brendan Ingle the man who could help them fight their way out of poverty.

That was half a century ago. Yesterday, his death at 77 brought to a close a chapter in Sheffield’s sporting history that made it the most prolific supplier of champions in the world.

But to Mr Ingle, that was not what had mattered.

“The only words I ask of them are please and thank you, and if you make a mistake, say you’re sorry and get on with your life,”he said.

Born in Dublin but adopted by Yorkshire, he became one of the boxing’s most influential figures.

He trained four world champions, including Naseem Hamed and Johnny Nelson, and the gym he founded in Wincobank became a beacon for those who fancied their chances.

Nelson, who reported that Mr Ingle had died at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital having suffered a brain haemorrhage, was among those to pay tribute. “A good, good man has left this earth today,” he said. “A good friend. A good father figure. And the best trainer in the world.”

Nelson, who held the cruiserweight world title longer than anyone, from 1999 to 2005, had been transformed by Mr Ingle into a champion after having lost his first three fights.

Another legendary boxing figure, Frank Warren, who had promoted Hamed while he trained under Ingle, said: “Boxing has lost a legend and I will look back fondly on the many great moments we shared together in the sport.”

It had been a local vicar, desperate to provide an outlet for the rogue youth of that populated his part of Sheffield, who had asked Mr Ingle to help.

He knew him as a professional middleweight who had moved to the area at 18 and had fought 33 bouts, winning 19.

It was the beat era of the Sixties, and he set up a weekly dance at the church hall of St Thomas. But the locals preferred brawling to dancing, so he gave them boxing gloves.

“All the nutcases were coming in,” he said in 1999. “After the Sunday dance people would turn out on to the street and start fighting down Newman Road.

“So after 11pm we’d lock the doors, I’d fetch the gloves out, which, thinking about it now was crazy. I would referee. Nobody ever got hurt.”

His unusual methods – he would get fighters to sing the colours of the rainbow while they practised their footwork, in order to improve their co-ordination – also helped Clinton Woods and Junior Witter on their way to world titles, and since his sons, Dominic and John, took control of the gym, Kell Brook, who held the IBF welterweight title for three years from 2014, has been another graduate of the Ingle academy. Its sign on the door famously read: “Boxing can seriously damage your health, but teaches self-discipline and gets you fit. Smoking, drinking and drugs just damage your health.”

In 1998, Mr Ingle’s work on behalf of Sheffield’s youth, to many of who he was seen as a father figure, earned him an MBE. In 2014 he told The Yorkshire Post: “People say I’m strict – but I just ask these kids to do as they are told.”

One of 15 siblings, he is survived by his wife, Alma, and their four children.