“Left hand…right hand,” encourages Ellie. “Now shadow box… switch… and stretch.”
While the 15-year-old is warming up the youngsters, Tommy Mcdonagh shows me a photo on the boxing gym wall. “This was taken five years ago when we took over. That’s Lyndon Arthur, he’s professional now, unbeaten in four fights. That’s Zelfa Barrett, unbeaten in 15.”
He shouts across the training room: “Everyone get some gloves on!”
And then, to me: “We try and get them as young as possible and bring them on.
“I joined this club when I was just eight, like a lot of these,” he says. “I had my first fight at 11. I boxed for England as a schoolboy, and then as a youth and was National Champion two or three times, 66 amateur fights altogether.
“I turned pro at 18 and had 40 professional fights. I was WBU Champion, and competed for English, Commonwealth and World titles.”
“All from this club?” I ask, looking round.
Collyhurst and Moston Lads Club ABC is 100 years old this year. For much of its fascinating history it was run by Brian Hughes MBE – the ‘Godfather of Manchester Boxing’ – who was coach and mentor to dozens of local young boxers including Tommy and his partner, Pat Barrett.
Tommy ties the laces on one of the lad’s gloves. “In 2010, when I was retiring from boxing, Brian handed the club over to Pat and me and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
He’s back with the youngsters now, “Four punches: one… two… three.. four. And back”. I borrow Ellie for a little interview.
“My little brother started coming down,” she points out one of the junior boxers, “so I’d come and use the gym to get fit. When I saw him training I thought I’d give it a go.”
“It looks like you’re the only girl here. How do you feel about that?” I ask.
“It doesn’t bother me. I get on with all the lads. It’s like we’re a big family.”
“What was it like getting in the ring for the first time?”
“I was nervous, but once I was in there doing it, I enjoyed it. I had a good feeling about myself.”
I know nothing about boxing and admit it to Ellie. “But is it equal, when you are sparring with the boys?”
“We’re both the same. We don’t go out to hurt each other.”
Ellie tells me she has now had five ‘skills’ – a non-competitive exhibition of what she can do – and one proper fight at Ashton Masonic Hall.
“Did you win?” I ask. Ellie smiles modestly. “Congratulations.”
“I did what I had to do and all the training paid off. When they announce your name as the winner, it’s the best feeling ever.”
Continued in “We’re teaching these kids a way of life.”