Boxing coach John Brindle was at home when a police officer knocked on his front door with a troubled-looking teenager in tow. “Can you do anything for this lad, John?” the officer asked, “he’s getting in to a lot of trouble with us lately.”
“The lad was having a breakdown really,” recalls John. “It was horrible seeing him in that situation. When he calmed down a bit I said to him, ‘Look I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the head coach of a local boxing club’. He sort of snapped out of it and stopped crying. He’s started coming along to the gym every night now, training with us and coming to matches at the weekend. It’s great to see such a transformation in a short time. It tugged on the old heart strings I can tell you!”
John, an Occupational Therapist’s Assistant who works with vulnerable adults by day and an amateur boxing coach by night, is well known in Clayton for helping youngsters to turn their lives around.
With more than 70 kids signed up to his boxing classes each week – they are the latest of hundreds who have passed through John’s gym doors.
“The kids come in here from a range of backgrounds,” John says. “Some are really shy, wouldn’t say boo to a goose, or they’re a jack the lad. Whichever way they are if they stick at it with us, we can sort them out. Fitness, mental health, challenges and discipline are the key.”
Many of the so-called ‘tear-away teens’, are inspired by the club’s camaraderie and training, and have gone on to find rewarding careers in the armed forces.
“Lots of the kids have gone into the services. Most of them go into the paras,” adds John.
“I remember this one kid was so shy, I’d look around the gym and think, I’m sure we’re missing one here. He couldn’t even look me in the eye or say hello, I’d just see a small pair of feet under a punch bag! “This kid came from a challenging background, was drinking and all that. Now he’s in the Royal Marines, and he still comes back and coaches for us when he’s on leave. It’s brilliant to see – makes it all worthwhile.”
Another former club member and success story is Ellis Nuttall who was 14 when she began boxing with the club. Ellis went on to win a national title aged 18 and has now opened a boxing club of her own, in Wigan.
Not all youngsters at Clayton Amateur Boxing Club are from troubled backgrounds. Take 12-year-old Bradley Hargreaves whose mum and dad Rachel and Mark sensed their son could head down the wrong path and took him to John.
“We weren’t happy with the children Bradley was hanging around with,” says mum Rachel. “We noticed he was retreating into himself a lot. Not really communicating with me or his dad.” Mark adds: “We heard that Bradley was in the park one night with his mates, supposedly playing football, but some of them were drinking and smoking. We fetched him from the park and brought him down here to John -and he’s never looked back. How Bradley has changed as a person is unreal.” Rachel nods in agreement: “It’s like he’s skipped forward a few years – mentally and physically.
“What John and the team here do here for kids is remarkable really.” Mark adds: “They do it for virtually nothing as well – £5 for three sessions a week.”