The Man in the Corner – A Tribute to Wincobank Icon, Brendan Ingle
Aaron Jackson pays tribute to Brendan Ingle, the legendary boxing trainer whose Wincobank gym produced six world champions and provided vital sanctuary for countless other young men in Sheffield.
To some, especially those who never saw what deindustrialisation, deskilling and a coordinated policy of deliberate Governmental neglect did to the north’s inner cities, suggesting that Brendan Ingle should be anointed a patron saint of Sheffield is akin to heresy.
The idea that learning to fight can teach self-discipline and self-reliance while giving purpose and hope is one some people simply cannot understand.
He should be, though. Over five decades at the world-famous Wincobank Gym where kids and champions train together, Brendan Ingle did more for Sheffield’s young men single-handedly than any amount of political initiatives.
Up at 4am for an eight-mile run before a twelve-hour shift as a blacksmith striker, Brendan Ingle knew about hard work. He saw the tensions rising as the factories started closing and communities started to fracture and snarl at each other.
Asked by a local vicar to get involved in community work to help the local lads blow off steam, boxing was what he knew so boxing was what Ingle offered at St. Thomas’s Church Hall.
This wasn’t strapping the mauleys on and letting kids batter each other. This wasn’t cauliflower ears and broken noses. Brendan Ingle taught the sweet science: hit and don’t get hit. You could tell a Wincobank boxer. They had a certain swagger. They were slick, confident, cocksure and elusive.
Think of Naz before he got as wide as he is tall. Think of Errol Graham, unbeaten as a middleweight for ten years and avoided by everyone in his division. Think more recently of Junior Witter and Kell Brook. Think matadors with gloves, hands by their sides, swaying, slipping, sliding, humiliating seasoned pros with a wink and a grin. All of that started with Brendan Ingle’s lines on the floor at St. Thomas’s.
Boxers know that in life, as in the ring, you win and lose. That’s why learning to box is good for anyone. It teaches you to take the rough with the smooth. It teaches you to be comfortable in your own skin and with who you are. It teaches you that if you work hard, and do your best, no matter what the outcome, you’ll always know that you did everything you could.
In a world of lazy entitlement and quick fixes, these are valuable lessons. In a Sheffield ripped apart as a matter of policy, this wisdom was priceless.
And it was dispensed with relentless twinkling positivity by St. Brendan, who told Naz ‘it’s no good being a good Muslim on a Friday if you’re a bastard the rest of the week – just as it’s no good being a good Christian on a Sunday if you’re a bastard the rest of the week too.’
With hard work comes belief. With belief comes courage. With courage comes self-reliance. Virtues to live by. Tools to face the world with. Brendan Ingle’s legacy will live on, carried by his sons Dominic and John, both respected trainers in their own right. The Wincobank gym is world-famous, a production line of champions. But the values that made it world-famous weren’t pugilistic.
They were the basic ones of civility, courtesy, and humility. Even at the end of his days, Ingle would still pick up the litter in the local churchyard. Why? he was once asked.
‘I live here,’ he replied. ‘Why wouldn’t I?’
His life is a tribute to what you can achieve if you concentrate on what actually matters.