‘What Bren taught me, you can’t learn from a book or a lifetime’

Leamington boxing coach Edwin Cleary pictured with Brendan Ingle MBE earlier this year.
Leamington boxing coach Edwin Cleary pictured with Brendan Ingle MBE earlier this year.
  • Legendary boxing trainer Brendan Ingle MBE died last week, aged 77. Here, EDWIN CLEARY, who trained under Ingle in Sheffield for four years, looks back on his time with the great man.

I am trying to think of some words worthy of my time with this great man and to be honest there just isn’t the space in this paper

So I’m going to go with the first day I met Brendan, a day I’ll never forget.

Cleary in his pro days with Ingle.

Cleary in his pro days with Ingle.

It was September 1996 and I was looking to turn professional. I was to meet Brendan at 10am at his gym in Sheffield for a trial but I turned up early (I wanted to set a good example).

The gym was closed so I went to his house which is situated near to the gym.

I knocked at his door and Brendan answered. He asked me who I was as he’d never met or seen me before but the trust in his voice stood out. He gave me the keys to the gym, saying go on, open up, I’ll be over.

I remember walking to the gym thinking I could have been anybody, what a really trustworthy man.

I opened the gym and the first thing I saw were these lines all over the floor which I soon realised were for footwork and in time realised these lines were the basis of his coaching.

Soon after the gym started to fill, then Brendan walked in. He straight away was asking me questions and giving me advice on life.

How do you learn? What are your five senses? Who’s responsible for you? If you’re in the boxing gym every day you’ve got a chance and so on. He then started to explain to me how the lines work and how they teach hand, eye and foot coordination, balance and distance.

Once the gym filled up he called me to the ring asked me to get in. “Tell everyone who you are and where you’re from.”

Then he asked me to sing. Shocked and flustered, my mind went blank. I’d only been there five minutes and didn’t know anyone. He then told me to sing a nursery rhyme, I Can Sing A Rainbow, which I did - the most uncomfortable and embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life.

He said adults are afraid to try new things and make mistakes as they might look silly. Now you’ve sung to the gym you’ll never worry about trying new things or making mistakes here and it can’t be any worse than your singing (I’m not a great singer). He then put me on the lines for what was hours but seemed like ten minutes.

I could see all theses kids working the lines, spinning out, switching, it seemed like an organised mess but everyone knew what they were doing and looked like champions.

Later he took me to a working men’s club where a handful of his boxers had their hands tied behind their backs. Then he asked these grown men, who by that time had had a few drinks, to try and hit them in the face.

Not one of the boxers got hit and as hard as the drinkers tried they just couldn’t hit them. I was amazed.

From exhaustion or embarrassment they would only last a minute.

Then Brendan would say things like, you guys couldn’t hit them with a bag of rice.

And any fool can punch.

On my first day I was shocked, wowed and educated all at once and so excited to start.

In one day, Brendan had sold me his gym, his methods and his mind.

Anyone that knows me will know it’s sometimes very hard to get a word in. Brendan use to say I was too quite but around him I just wanted to listen.

That was just the first day. I spent four years with him and you can’t image what I learnt in the four years I was there.

What Bren taught me, you can’t learn from a coaching course, book or a lifetime.

Brendan use to say you can’t buy it, rent it or pretend to have it - experience. The experiences I learnt from him were priceless.

His techniques are unorthodox and unique and a lot of his techniques were mocked in the trade and still are.

But he’s produced more champions than any other coach, three world champions from kids.

I experienced the same when I first started as a coach. But now with the success of our gym I don’t seem to hear them any more and when I do I just smile as we keep producing champions.

Charm and disarm, another Brendan quote.

One Saturday while I was helping with the kids’ class, he said Edwin you’ll make a good coach one day.

If I could be half as successful as him I’ll be the happiest coach in the world.

His methods are running through my gym. Everything I teach comes from him. It’s why for a small club we have big dreams.

Brendan will be remembered for creating dozens of champions, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Junior Witter and Kell Brook to name a few but he would tell you it’s the thousands of kids whose lives he changed that made him most happy.

Everyone was treated the same, no matter what their background, religion or their colour.

I’m sad but I also feel so blessed to have spent those years with him.

RIP teacher, coach, trainer.