Some things are meant to stay, to remain, to defy. Offering an unconscious, if often illogical reassurance to the otherwise transient chaos of our day-to-day human experience. The things themselves, they’re different for all of us. They may be a person, a principle, perhaps a place, a truism you clutch or a collage of them all but regardless of their form or on which premise they were collected, they provide foundation for the sandcastles of our lives. When one of these tumble and succumb to the tides of time to which we thought them immune, it resonates more deeply than ever we may have anticipated it might.
A few of these manifest in the relationship I have with boxing. Some are vague, abstract concepts like my belief that the social and emotional benefits boxing’s gilded stories of redemption and salvation provide outweighs the physical damage and tragedies it facilitates, others are more tangible and, as in the case of late Brendan Ingle, an individual figure.
I wrote earlier this year about how keenly I’d felt the struggle one of my other childhood heroes, Herol Graham, was enduring. His battle with mental illness continues and I think no less of the man who mesmerised me as a boy, eluding and conquering as he went. But like Brendan, with whom so much of his own story was written, I’d afforded him a kind of immortality. Frozen forever as the glistening, black eel of his prime. The loop of his career that spools in my mind, always cutting out at the moment Julian Jackson threw his ‘Hail Mary’, ‘this time Herol will duck, this time he’ll win’.
In the jury of my memories, I will always conclude that Brendan would have made the difference in Herol’s clash with Sumbu Kalambay, arguably the greatest forgotten middleweight of the modern age, he would beat Mike McCallum and Iran Barkley in his next two bouts, had he been in his corner. A scruffy bout Herol would lose narrowly and one that occurred just a few weeks after his first acrimonious split from the Ingle way. Contrived constants like these, that Brendan would have made the difference, are rigidly forged, despite their subjective origins and often become as inflexible as the truth, dependable touchstones we reach for and rely upon. Everything is all right with the world we might contemplate; Brendan will be working those taped lines, saving some lost and vulnerable soul from the streets, from a hole in the ground, from themselves.
That was Brendan’s great gift; making a difference. Whether it would have been finding Herol that extra round in his rematch defeat to Kalambay in the Congolese’s adopted Italian home, reassuring little Naz when he found a Mexican he couldn’t ‘spark out’ or giving courage to another bullied school kid; Brendan made a difference and never stopped trying to. Other voices can offer more personal anecdotes and more meaningful insight to Brendan the man, the trainer and the friend than I can. Steve Bunce’s tribute in The Independent and his podcast with Mike Costello, offer the most colourful amid the deluge of good will expressed and I would recommend both. For those of us not blessed enough to meet Brendan, the immortality I bestowed on him meant I always presumed there would be time, are forced to build our perception on the proxy of his public persona, the interviews, the quotes and the esteem in which he was held by those who knew him.
His lessons on life, “taking bad kids and making ‘em good kids, an’ taking good kids an’ making ‘em better”, and his treatment of all equally, irrespective of their colour, creed, or talent, is as refreshing as it is simple. Echoing from a post war generation of hard, working class people and a way of life we’re increasingly losing touch with and all with that lyrical, but edgy, Irish brogue.
The Ingle philosophies will outlast him of course, not just in his sons’ continued work at the Wincobank Gym he founded forty years ago, but in the lives he touched and enhanced. Though his core teachings will inevitably be bruised and battered by those that adopt them, like Brendan was when, as a wiry 52 year old, he took 12 rounds of punishment from a fully grown Naz to prove a point to the soon-to-be world champion, they will be resolutely immoveable in the face of all that life and boxing can throw at them. So as the reverberations of his passing subside, as we digest the loss of his seemingly eternal presence on a ring apron; peering out beneath the bottom rope, the whispering puppeteer of a thousands fighters and the barking master of a thousand more referees, perhaps there is solace in that.
That in his stead, the grand old master’s wisdom will remain, impervious to the march of time and something from which everyone will always be able to learn, irrespective of their background or their destination.
I didn’t know Brendan, but I think he would’ve settled for that.