The funeral of Brendan Ingle takes place today (Thursday) at Sheffield Cathedral. Brendan was always a good friend of the Advertiser and, here, sports editor Paul Rickett pays his tribute to a real sporting legend...
BRENDAN Ingle stood there on the middle of the Millmoor pitch on a quiet weekday afternoon, his Irish twang echoing through the empty stands. “Tell Mr Booth that you're grateful for his help and support,” he said to the softly spoken teenager stood beside him, eyes fixed on the Millmoor turf. Then he cuffed the lad, 19 at the time, round the ear.
“Thank you Mr Booth,” said the lad, looking up from the turf for a brief moment, and then the three of them posed for a sponsorship photo. Brendan, Ken Booth and Naseem Hamed, who had just won his first European title.
Naseem, of course, had used Mr Booth's hard earned to help make his way in the sport and went on to make millions and earn a place in Boxing's Hall of Fame. Mr Booth went on to continue running Rotherham United and Brendan went back to his modest house in Wincobank, bang on the border of Advertiser country, where he remained unil he died last month aged just 77.
It was a small cameo in an extraordinary story, that of a Dubliner turned Sheffielder.
Always a good friend of the Advertiser, the phone would often ring with Brendan on the other end.
“Can you come down to the gym,” he'd say. “I've got a kid here who's got it all, he’s better than Nas ever was, believe me he's going to be another world champion and he’s getting a lot of support from the people of Roddram.”
Brendan being Brendan, we'd head off to St. Thomas' gym, get a snap of the protege, have a chat with the lad, and then usually never hear of them again.
The idea, though, was that having a camera pointed at a budding young boxer helped make them feel a bit special and Brendan was always keen to encourage his fighters in every way.
And don't forget that for every unknown that came and went, there was a Herol Graham or a Johnny Nelson, a Naz or a Kell Brook. In total, Brendan trained four World Champions, six European Champions, 15 British and six Commonwealth strap winners.
But for all the belts littering the unassuming former church hall where Brendan raised those champions — and his sons continue to do so — he always seemed to take as much pleasure, if not more, from weaning local youngsters away from a life of trouble.
“Boxing,” he once said “isn't about two guys in a ring.
“It's about teaching people to do things properly, to know right from wrong, have respect. I get kids down here who have nothing, they're the ones who are going to end up in trouble, but if they come here then we'll try and teach them how they can make it a better life.”
And with that he'd almost always grab hold of some scrawny kid in baggy shorts and oversize gloves. “Tell this man what a little sod you were,” he'd say. “And how you now know what's right and what's wrong.”
That was Brendan. And he always had a, shall we say, unique way of geting a message across.
One day I received a message at work.
Brendan wants you to pop down the gym this afternoon, says it's urgent.
I walked in. Some of his big hitters were there, including Johnny Nelson, mock-jabbing and dancing around the circles painted on the floor which were a key ingredient in honing an Ingle fighter's defensive skills. In a corner another boxer was knocking seven menacing bells out of a punchball.
There was an air of raw talent, of honest sportsmen, spit, snot and sweat and I loved going down there.
“Get your shirt off, get those gloves on,” said Brendan. “You're going in the ring.”
Erm, like heck I am.
“You're going to do a couple of rounds with him,” and he pointed at the ripped Nelson, towering there with ebony muscles, fresh from his first European Cruiserweight title triumph.
Erm, like heck I am.
But there comes a time when a man's got to do what a man's got to do. Off came the shirt and into the ring, up three feet off the ground, which by this time was surrounded by a growing number of real fighters, leaning on the ropes and grinning.
“He won't hurt you,” said Brendan.
Too bloody right he won't.
“All you have to do is try and hit him.”
So off went the bell and I tried my best for at least three seconds before realising there was about as much chance of catching him on the kisser as there was winning Le Mans in my old Morris Marina. Johnny danced and ducked and dived, all part of the Ingle Roadshow which went on to become popular at exhibitions throughout the area, tried to trip me up a few times - unsuccessfully - and it all ended in an amicable 0-0 draw.
I dined on that for years. "Johnny Nelson, pah, didn't lay a punch on me."
Brendan, of course, had his reasons.
Johnny had been desperately trying to find sparring partners and some right duckeggs had turned up at St. Thomas' so Brendan wanted to try and get across the point that a bit more sparring quality was needed and any more said duck-eggs needn't apply.
We did the feature and Johnny went on to become the longest reigning cruiserweight champion of all time.
Brendan, bless him, had some weird and wonderful ways.
But by heck they worked...and we won't half miss him.
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