“We’re teaching these kids a way of life.”

Continued from “The best feeling ever.”

We’re at Collyhurst and Moston boxing gym and I’m in the middle of interviewing 15-year-old boxer, Ellie O’Brien. She’s been telling me about winning her first boxing bout.

“What do you think this place does for local young people?” I ask.

“It keeps you off the street,” Ellie says, emphatically. “You’re here making something with your life rather than out doing nothing. You’re making your future aren’t you?”

“And how does affect other parts of your life?”

“It’s made me a different person. I feel more committed. You can’t only be a boxer in the ring, you’ve got to be a boxer outside the gym as well. You’ve got to be eating right, sleeping right. On the nights I’m not here I run for six miles. You’ve got to have the right attitude.”

Ellie’s dad is here to pick up her brother. “It’s really improved her confidence,” Lee says. “She’s a totally different person. It’s all she talks about.”

“So this club has a big impact?”

“Massive. Not just on Ellie but on the whole community. It’s so important what Tommy, Pat and the other trainers do for them. If it wasn’t for this, all these kids would be messing about on the street with the rest of them. It keeps them on the straight and narrow.

“Ellie’s disciplined now. She goes home after her training and gets on with her school work. It’s massively changed her life.”

The older kids are warming up now, shadow boxing, hitting punch bags. I catch up with Tommy again.

“It’s very impressive,” I tell him. “It’s not the most glamorous place but what you are doing is really important.”

“These kids need this place,” he says, passionately. “When I was a kid, I needed this place. Let me show you what we’re doing in here.”

Tommy leads me through the weaving boxers. “Don’t be hitting Len now,” he says to no one in particular. A door on the other side of the gym leads to what looks as if it was once a storeroom. Now laptops sit on a couple of tables.

“I’ve made this into a classroom,” says Tommy. “You know, there are some kids who won’t go to school but they will come here. They love it, they feel at home here. They might never be boxers but we can teach them other skills too.

“These kids feel part of something and we can help build their confidence from within. I know, as a kid, boxing saved me.”

“You’re creating a safe place,” I say. “And that’s very important.”

“Brian’s favourite quote was, ‘We don’t teach kids boxing, we teach them a way of life’. And that’s what we’re still doing. Yes, we’re boxers, but we’re respectful people and we help each other.”

“It’s really inspiring,” I say. “And what about your involvement with Forever Manchester and the Fourteen programme? How has that worked?”

“It’s been really useful not only with the funding we’ve had but also with making connections. Off the LRG (the Local Reference Group) we’ve done quite a lot of work with MaD Theatre and with FC United. They’ve all been great, we’ve a really good group.

“We’ve had some funding for video equipment and we’ve made a little video with MaD that the police are using now, so that’s been good.

“Yes, first and foremost we’re a boxing club but lots of kids want to do others things within the safety of the club, and the Fourteen programme has allowed us to do that.”

A new book about the boxing club’s 100-year history will be published later this year. We’ll be reporting on it here.

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“The best feeling ever.”

“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.”

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