Boxing: After walking the walk Amir now talks the talk

Hamed's former trainer sees the right qualities in Britain's young prospect - both in and out of the ring. Alan Hubbard reports
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The Independent Online

At 18, Amir is not so much a young man in a hurry, more one on a mission. Among the first calls he made soon after his short and sweet dispatch of his opponent David Bailey was to the Bolton Lads and Girls Club in one of the more deprived areas of his home-town. It was there that he first pulled on a pair of gloves, his father's antidote to his hyper-activity, a decade ago. These days the club is a hive of multi-ethnicity, and Amir's message had even more resonance in view of Thursday's attempted atrocity.

It was the same one that, across the Pennines in Sheffield, a 65-year-old Irishman with the zeal and energy of a man half his age was delivering to another bunch of impressionable youngsters. Brendan Ingle is one of boxing's most renowned trainers, nurturing among others another Muslim kid, Naseem Hamed, in his formative fighting years. Nowadays at the legendary gym in Wincobank, which he has been running since 1961, he is still fashioning putative champions as well as giving some meaningful input into the lives of not only the ambitious but the less privileged, and the occasional miscreant sent along by the local police.

Ingle reckons to have between 50 and 70 youngsters working out every night, three-quarters of them from ethnic minorities. "They come from everywhere. We have Asians, Arabs, Iranians, Turks, West Indians, you name it. They come here because they all aspire to be a new Naz and now, of course, another Amir. Kids look up to him, and see what he has done.

"I've trained Muslim kids for years, but there's more to it than just boxing. I tell them how important it is to get a good education and to be a decent person. Yes, we've talked about the terrorism, and I tell them about the IRA and how we lived through that.

"Sometimes they mention suicide bombers - though none of them say they condone them - and their belief about going to paradise. I say to them: 'Do you know where paradise is? Your families all came here, like me, with nothing. When I came from Ireland I only had the clothes I stood up in. I washed the one shirt I had at the weekend and wore it until I got a couple of week's wages and could afford some new clothes. I tell them the best thing their fathers did was come here, because they now have access to a good education, a good medical system, a better life. Paradise is here, in Sheffield'.

"I ask them if they are good Muslims; do they pray five times a day, wash five times a day? Most say, 'Oh, we go to the mosque, but not regularly'. I tell them it's no use going to the mosque on Fridays and being a bastard for the rest of the week.

"Our discussions are open and there is certainly no indi-cation any of them are being influenced by outside forces. Like Amir, they say, 'We are British and our home is here'.

"Obviously you get one or two nutcases, and you have to sit down and explain things to them. I tell them about the Irish troubles, and how my parents were brought up under the British. I tell them never to fight over religion or politics, and always listen to the other fella's point of view."

Ingle says he would like Amir to visit the gym and talk with them. "I am sure he will. Look, I've had nothing to do with Amir, but anyone can see he's a great kid and he has good people around him. Yes, I'd love to have trained him, but he couldn't have a better man to do that than Oliver Harrison. He's a genuine guy, a hundred per center.

"Technically, Amir is excellent, and he has a great attitude. That's important. He's much different to Naz, who was always flash and cocky. Training him was a bloody nightmare. It got worse as he got older. In the end his arrogance was his downfall.

"He came from a poorer family background than Amir and he couldn't handle the wealth that came to him. Money became his god. He started to talk down to people. He wanted everyone to become a Muslim. He even tried to convert me, a good Catholic boy!

"From what I gather, Naz is doing very little with his life. He gets up about midday and goes off to play snooker. He's 31 and well over his fighting weight. Any talk about him boxing again is crap. He doesn't have the motivation."

Following his split with Ingle six years ago, Hamed's fights became more like religious conventions, with as much proselytising on the way to the ring as there was posing when he reached it. Now he seems to have gone to ground and gives no interviews. A decision is expected shortly on whether he is to be charged with serious motoring offences, including perverting the course of justice, in connection with a recent road crash.

"I've got some good kids here," says Ingle, surveying his Class of 2005. Among them is Kel Brook, a 19-year-old of mixed race who has been with him since he was nine. Brook has won four national junior titles, Multi-Nations gold and all nine of his professional bouts. Interestingly, he is a light-welterweight. A potential opponent for Amir? "Yes, but he's championship material, too. Maybe they could meet up for a title. If anyone can beat Amir, it's my man. But I would say that, wouldn't I?"