Boxing: Brooding Brodie's inspiration

Bob Mee talks to a fighter who knows the shadowland of Spencer Oliver
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WHEN Michael Brodie saw television pictures of Spencer Oliver being carried by stretcher from the Albert Hall ring, he was numbed. Brodie, who holds the British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight championships and is the No 1 challenger for the European title, would have been next in line to fight Oliver. Old friends from their days as teenagers in the England amateur squad, they would have gladly put personal feelings aside to fight each other for money.

Now Oliver will never box again, even though he has made an astonishing recovery from the brain injury which struck him down a fortnight ago. While Oliver cannot remember anything about his fight with Sergei Devakov, Brodie will never forget sitting at home in Salford with girlfriend Donna and watching the tragedy unfold.

"I was gutted," he said, the horror still in his voice. "You never think it will happen to you, or to anyone you know." Brodie is a man who talks the way he fights, without frills or unnecessary explanation. He flannels nobody. "It did give me a bit of a scare," he said. "I thought about it. I was so upset. At first I didn't want to box again, and Donna didn't want me to, but slowly I thought it all out. It'swhat I do. It's my job and I haven't done what I want yet."

Within minutes he rang his manager, Jack Trickett, at his Stockport hotel. "Michael just said to me, `I don't want to go on boxing'," said Trickett. "I told him to chuck it. Anybody with half a bit of intelligence would have said the same. You can't make a lad box."

He and Donna sent flowers and a card to Oliver in hospital, and he rang Trickett to tell him he would go through with next weekend's defence of the Commonwealth title at Bethnal Green, against Simon Ramoni of South Africa.

Brodie and Trickett have been together since 1994. It is a relationship built on respect. "Michael is very, very sensible," said Trickett. "He comes from Miles Platting, which is a rough area, but he's never been in any kind of trouble."

While he still sees his father, Brodie was raised by his mother, Mary, who died of cancer nine years ago when he was 15. After that his elder brother David took over the care of Michael and their younger sisters, Carmel and Clare. "The brother was only a little bit older than Michael, but he did a great job," said Trickett.

It was a situation of which the manager was aware when they met, but the reality of it was drummed home in their early days together. I didn't take any commission from him when he started. But I made sure he put what would have been my share in a bank account. I wanted to help him understand how to look after money. Later on, he started adding to it himself.

"But we were coming back from a fight one night in the car and I just said in passing, `Your account should be between seven-fifty and a grand by now, Michael. That's good.' As soon as I said it, he went quiet. I looked at him and he'd gone bright red. I let fly. I said, `You've spent the money.' I called him everything, and he just sat there bright red. I said, `That was my money I'd given you to put away for yourself - what have you done with it?'

"He just looked at me and said, ever so quietly, `I bought my mum a headstone...'

"I thought, oh no, not that. I'd rather he'd have hit me with a left hook than that. It just took the floor away."

Michael's mother remains a constant source of inspiration. After his fights, he usually finds a moment in the middle of the celebrations to raise his eyes and say "Thank you". "I always say it. Every time. I feel she's there with me when I fight."

Now he has his own family to raise: Donna's daughter Darryl, who is seven, and Bonnie, who is 16 months. Professionally, he is a traditionalist. Today's fancy titles do not interest him. The British and Commonwealth title already pocketed, he wants the European championship next. However, Brodie's sights are on Ramoni on Saturday.

"I haven't seen him, but he's a good boxer. They wouldn't have sent him if he wasn't. I'll work it out once the bell goes." It would be a big upset if he lost, and then should he beat Devakov, a world title is perhaps 18 months ahead. "We're not in a rush," said Trickett.

Not once did Brodie mention money. "No, I want to fulfil my dream, my goal. Money's not the point." You know without his saying it, the point has something to do with Mary Brodie, who passed away those nine long years ago. "I am just glad to be doing something that would make her proud of me. I know she's proud of me."