LIKE a prize fighter coming out swinging in the final round, Edwin Cleary saves his most impassioned words until the moment I’m about to leave the boxing gym where he is head coach, writes reporter Oliver Williams.
Having spent the best part of an hour learning about the set up of the Wise Terrace gym, meeting some of its members and finding out more about Edwin’s plans for the future, I’m already impressed.
But as I’m about to head for the door he tells me one last thing about his approach to training young fighters.
He said: “I don’t tell them I can fulfil their dreams but I want them to have a dream because if they do they can achieve anything.”
A former pro who once trained alongside Prince Naseem Hamed, Edwin has his own dream which involves moving the gym to a new premises to expand what was set up five years ago.
“The gym right now is generally really busy but it’s not just that its about taking it to the next level looking for somewhere which is roughly twice the size and adding a full-size ring along with the two we already have,” said Edwin.
“All the guys here, the chairman Adrian Bush, our sponsor Eddie Fitzpatrick and all the coaches are all fantastic and do their bit but if they all come down here at the same time it’s just too busy and the kids don’t get the full training sessions.
“I was told we’re looking for something roughly about 2,500 sq ft if I go in there and the place it right I’m not really too fussed about what it looks like, ideally it would be under the railway arches which would be fantastic because having the trains going over would be really atmospheric.
“But I’m looking for somewhere like a residential area like Kingsway or Sydenham so I can attract more kids from those communities.
“We a get a lot of people who don’t really want to box in the ring and that’s fine but we need an area where can cater for them.
“Ninety per cent of people will never fight, they might be fans, they might come to watch the lads box but they will bring in revenue for the gym.”
Most of the gym’s younger members are pupils at Myton who live in the school’s catchment area.
But Edwin has ambitions to bring boxing classes into other schools with his protégés passing on their skills to classmates.
“If it’s done right I might even be able to do it for free, or maybe just ask for a donation, but it would be something to promote boxing, promote the gym and give the kids the confidence to help teach,” Edwin said.
Cleary’s has a pool of young talent with children picking up the sport in their early years and taking part in ‘skills bouts’ as part of the gym’s shows.
Members are of varying ethnicities and from a range of backgrounds but they are all united by a will to train, learn and improve.
Edwin said: “I barely move from my seat here, I teach them the footwork and then let them teach themselves and what boxing teaches is self discipline and self motivation which schools don’t always teach.
“The beauty of boxing is nobody really cares what colour you are or what your religion is or whether you are rich or poor.”
Newcomers at Cleary’s start by learning the basic footwork and ‘working the lines’ laid out on the gym floor.
Eventually they will be taught 24 different punching combinations covering both orthodox and southpaw styles with members expected to memorise each one.
A quick demonstration, with younger members taking turns to fire-off these combinations as Edwin calls them out by their specific number, shows me the impressive hand-eye co-ordination required to keep up with Edwin’s regime.
Sparring at the gym is restricted to body shots only, Edwin said this encouraged boxers to get more stuck in and to be less concerned about being hit during training.
On the wall above the gym’s two rings are motivational quotes from famous boxers and trainers from over the years.
In his younger days Edwin was inspired by Jack Turpin, a former featherweight and the brother of World Middleweight champion Randolph Turpin.
He later trained at the Sheffield gym of Brendan Ingle, a former boxer turned trainer and manager who was made an MBE in 1998 for his services and contributions to British boxing and his work with young people in the Sheffield area.
“I met Jack Turpin, and he must have a been a great coach in his day, but it was the stories he told me about Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano and those boxers from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and those are the generations I like,” said Edwin.
“The first Brendan would do was that he’d tell you were you were rubbish and it would demoralise you but then over a period of time you’d see that it was just something he would say to make you realise what he’s teaching you is better.
“He would repeat himself a lot, which a lot of good coaches do, and there was a lot of banter in the gym which gets lads down there every day.
“When I first went down to Sheffield I thought it was great gym but it was more like a youth centre and it has to be like that for somewhere the kids can hang out.”
Edwin wants to expand on what he learned from his time at Ingle’s by creating a ‘boxing academy’ which will involve talks by a sports psychologist and nutritionist .
He is also in negotiations to have Ricky Hatton visit the gym to help raise funds.
The next Cleary’s show takes place at The Assembly in Spencer Street on Friday from 7pm with tickets costing £10.
There will be 16 bouts featuring boxers from the gym.
Since Cleary’s started competing three years ago all but one of its shows have been sell-outs.
“Without being big-headed I always thought it was going to be good anyhow but I never thought it would be as good as this and to be living through it is even better,” Edwin said.
If you can help Cleary’s find a new premises call 07723 389774.
To buy tickets for the show on Friday call 311311 or go to The Assembly box office.
● Three of the Cleary’s boxers who are on the card for Friday night’s show took a break from training to speak about the gym and the benefits of being a member.
Despite towering above everyone else in the gym, super heavyweight Paul Dable was nonetheless very approachable.
Rather than knocking seven bells out of a heavy bag like you see in films, the 30-year-old was working on his footwork while shouting words of encouragement and exchanging friendly insults with other members across the gym .
“Boxing’s good to focus your mind and good for discipline,” He says.
“There’s a real team atmosphere here and I keep an eye on the younger members and encourage them to lead healthy lifestyles and not to drink.
“Before I boxed my life had taken a turn for the worst so this is a clean slate for me. If more kids came here rather than hanging around on the streets there would be less problems in the community.”
Paul lost his debut fight at the last Cleary’s show in October but was keen to step back into the ring almost immediately and bounced back with a victory in his second bout at a Tamworth ABC-hosted event.
“Wheter you win, lose or draw the main thing is that you take something out of it,” he said.
Wali Jan Mangal moved to the UK from Afghanistan in 2007 and joined Cleary’s about 18 months ago.
The 18-year-old said: “I just really enjoy it here, I miss some of the people back home but here it’s just like a family.”
Having taken up boxing when he went to Kingsway Primary School, 12-year-old Hargobind Nijjar said he was looking forward to getting into the ring to fight in contact bouts in the near future.
The Myton School pupil said: “Boxing has taught me how to keep myself safe and it’s also enjoyable.
“I know I’m ready for the next step.”