WE become something in different ways. Glyn Rhodes has a good life. He has a lovely home, big too, in a well-to-do area of Sheffield. His back garden looks out over a green valley, where the famous Dam Busters practised for their bombing run in World War Two. He doesn’t live far from where he grew up but he has come a long way.
Rhodes is from a council estate. “If I’d never started boxing I’d probably still be in there. None of my family ever boxed so it was just by chance that I ended up boxing. But boxing’s enabled me, not that there’s anything wrong with where I used to live, but boxing’s enabled me to move away from the area and live here and I love it. Every day I love it,” he said. “I never went on to be a world champion or anything like that, but look what boxing’s done for me.
“That’s what I tell the kids in the gym all the time. You don’t have to become undisputed world champion for boxing to change your life.”
When Rhodes was a child though, he was going nowhere fast. “It always seemed to me more exciting to be doing things that you shouldn’t be doing than just being a nice kid and, you know, going to play football. We always seemed to get involved doing things that were just things you shouldn’t have been doing,” he laughed. “When everybody else was going through a car stealing phase, we nicked a boat off the canal in Sheffield and were sailing down the canal. And we thought we were pretty good because everybody else is only nicking cars and we got this boat.”
On that occasion they were rounded up quite easily by the police when they docked the vessel at Attercliffe. At the time it seemed like a great adventure. But with hindsight Rhodes takes a very different view. “The sad thing about it is now looking back at the age I’m at, that was somebody’s boat. That was somebody’s pride and joy probably. But at the time we never thought that. It was just exciting. On this boat, it was exciting sailing down the river. You’re never thinking to yourself somebody’s probably saved a lifetime of money to buy this and here we are, three little rats, just nicked it and sailed it down river and just dumped it when we’d had enough. So I feel a bit bad about that. I never thought this is somebody else’s property. You just don’t think, do you?” he reflects.
“I think that’s why I get along with kids in the gym. Because I know where they’re coming from and I know what they’re doing.”
It was Brendan Ingle, the legendary Sheffield trainer, who changed everything for Rhodes. “There was a gang of us hanging around on a street corner. Somebody suggested we go and join his boxing club,” he recalled.
“For a 16-year-old kid like me to walk in and meet Brendan, I thought he’s proper crazy. I remember the first day in the gym. He got us all on the side of the ring and he said to us, ‘Right you’re all sparring today.’ So he pointed to a kid, the kid’s name was Walter Clayton and he [later] boxed pro. He got a little flat nose and he was smaller than me and Brendan said, ‘Right you can hit him and he won’t hit you back.’ And I thought that sounds good to me. Little did I know he were a Junior ABA champion. So I get in the ring, I couldn’t lay a finger on him. He absolutely boxed my ears off. But again I got out and I kind of admired it and I respected it and I thought you know what, that’s clever what he’s done to me. Because I must be swinging like a windmill.
“It were only the fact that Walter knew how to jab and how to make me miss, it’s that what kind of fascinated me. A little kid, smaller than me and I’m thinking bloody hell look what he’s just done to me.”
Herol Graham, who quickly became an icon to Glyn, joined the gym at about the same time. “I remember seeing him moving around the ring and thinking this kid’s brilliant. So when he actually walked in the gym I knew who he were,” Rhodes remembered. “Back then I would have given my right arm to be ‘Bomber’ Graham. He had everything. He was a superstar in Sheffield. He had everything. He had the first sponsored car I’d ever known anybody to have.”
The ABA would ban Brendan Ingle, because at that time you were not allowed to train professionals along with amateurs. So he took his boxers professional with him. Rhodes competed on Herol Graham undercards. He enjoyed it, he was active. He made money, he spent money. “Back then the money were good for doing something that you enjoyed doing,” he said, but added however, “One day there’s no next fight.”
“I had 65 pro fights, which is a lot of fights, so that’s quite a lot of money as well. But when I retired I didn’t have a pot to p**s in,” he continued. “One day it’s all over and you have to go and get a job. “I started with Brendan when I was 16 and I stayed there till I was 33. And then all of a sudden at 33 when your career’s over, you have to go get a job. What can I do?” Leaving boxing, leaving the gym, he lost the friends and the structure in his life. “I worked on a few doors in Sheffield, which I didn’t like,” Glyn said. “That’s when guys can start going off the rails a little bit because they’ve lost that circle of friends what are keeping them on track.” He remembered, “One of the things I remember doing when I retired I went to sign on, unemployed. Because a lot of people know you in Sheffield, you’re walking in to sign on and people are coming up to you saying, ‘When are you boxing again?’ or ‘How’s boxing going?’ and you kind of don’t want to say, well, you know what I’m retired and I’m signing on because I’m broke. But I remember signing on and I used to dread it, dread seeing people that you knew because then people realise it’s just another ex-boxer, who’s got no money and he’s here signing on, signing on the dole.”
“So I used to walk in to sign on and hope to God nobody saw me because then I didn’t have to explain what are you doing as well,” Rhodes added. “To find yourself suddenly signing on because you haven’t got a pot to ps in, it’s a bit embarrassing after, like I say, having all them fights.
“And that’s why you end up doing jobs that you don’t want to do. But it’s better than going and signing on.”
It was a period in his life that he found difficult. “We’re in this sport where we’re supposed to be tough and hard. You have to act hard. You have to climb in the ring and you have to act like you’re not scared. When really boxers aren’t like that. I know a lot of boxers that are not like that. So it’s good that people like Tyson Fury have come out and said he suffered with his mental health,” Rhodes considered. “If people like Ricky Hatton and Tyson Fury can talk about it, it’s good for everybody.”
His fortunes though would change. Rhodes walked into a building site to ask for a job. It turned out to be a gym that was under construction. He ended up working there as the boxing trainer. “Then I realised I could do this. I was doing what I’d been taught by Brendan,” Glyn recalled. “If you think about the amount of time I spent at Brendan’s gym, 16 to 33, I had a good teacher … just by being around him and watching him and seeing what he did. All I did then is did what Brendan did but my own slant on things. Then after a year, the gym got really busy. I thought to myself rather than working for somebody else, being a trainer, I think I can do this myself. But it were a big step.”
He founded the Sheffield Boxing Centre and would eventually move the boxing club into a school building, where it’s been for the last 23 years. Herol Graham would walk back into his life too. Even though he didn’t feel he could teach “Bomber” anything, he worked Graham’s corner. “Herol took me as a raw novice trainer to the top level. I’ve gone from retiring myself, just training six-round fighters, four-round fighters. Now I’m in Atlantic City training Herol Graham for a world title. No only were we in Atlantic City for the fight but we trained in Miami beach because Lennox Lewis was top of the bill boxing Shannon Briggs. So we were in Miami training in the same gym as Lennox Lewis and Manny Steward! So here I am, not long since being a trainer and we train in the same gym as Manny Steward and Lennox Lewis. It were brilliant so I owe Herol a lot. Not just for being my friend and being on the undercard when he were boxing but what he enabled me to do as a trainer,” Rhodes explained. “Here I am a little kid off a council estate and I’m in the gym with Lennox Lewis.
“Everything about it were brilliant, apart from the result [Graham lost to Charles Brewer in 10 rounds]. But that’s boxing.”
Another man, Richie Wenton, also brought Rhodes in. With Glyn as his trainer Wenton won the British title and would challenge Marco Antonio Barrera. Glyn had been boxing on the undercard when Michael Watson was gravely injured against Chris Eubank and, together with Wenton, he would also experience tragedy more directly. “He [Wenton] ended up boxing for a British title against Bradley Stone who sadly died. So I got propelled from being a normal person to, probably a year on from signing on, to training a kid who’s got a British title but we never got to celebrate that because Bradley died,” Rhodes said. “That was my first encounter of a tragedy and that hit me really hard… How can I go in the gym and train kids knowing this is what could happen? So I did find it really hard when Bradley Stone died. I thought to myself, why don’t I just get a job and, you know, be like a normal person, go to work?”
Years later tragedy would overtake his life again. He trained Scott Westgarth, who died after winning a 10-round title fight in February of 2018. “Scott dying left a big cloud over the gym, the whole gym because he were a great kid,” Glyn said. “He were a chef, fitness fanatic… The nicest kid you could ever wish to meet.”
It was only after the contest, when he was changing, that Westgarth felt unwell. “I remember he went into the shower and he said, ‘I feel sick.’ He was sick, which is a bad sign. That’s the first thing you’ve got to look for, a boxer vomiting. But he was still alright. So the doctor came back and said, ‘Look I’m sending you to hospital.’ So the paramedics came in with a stretcher. Scott said, ‘I’m not getting on that. I’ll walk to the ambulance.’ He was still with us then,” Glyn said. “The paramedic said, ‘No you’ve got to get on the stretcher’.”
So the rest of Westgarth’s family could stay together, Rhodes volunteered himself to go along in the ambulance to the hospital with Scott. It was in the ambulance that everything changed. “Have you ever seen something but then wished you’d never saw it? But then you can’t unsee it. You can’t unsee something that you’ve seen… I wish, even to this day, I never got in the ambulance,” he said.
What unfolded was horrifying. “He had a big puffer jacket on at the time, Scott, and, this is probably just my imagination, I remember when the doctors took the scissors and cut up his sleeve and as he pulled the sleeve back like that, feathers went everywhere,” Glyn said. “I just remember trying to blow all these feathers away. And in my mind, it was as though there was thousands and millions of feathers everywhere. There probably weren’t.
“I remember when we pulled up at the ambulance station of the hospital and the door swings open and I remember all these feathers blowing about again because it caused vacuum. I remember thinking there’s feathers everywhere.”
He followed Westgarth’s stretcher through inside the hospital. “Your mind kind of goes blank. I remember picking one of Scott’s shoes up. I don’t remember when it fell off,” he said. “I remember standing in this hospital room with flashing lights and everything, thinking what the f**k do I do? I’m just stood there holding a shoe, I couldn’t remember where the shoe f**king come from. And I’m thinking, is somebody going to tell me what to do? I didn’t know which way to go.”
They still thought he would pull through. But Scott died, from complications arising from a blood clot on the brain.
“It kind of hits you like a wave, you’re thinking this can’t be f**king right. I’ve just come from Doncaster Dome, he’s just f**king won, he just had his hand raised and now you’re telling me that he’s died. It was surreal,” Rhodes recalled. “What do we do? Nobody prepares you. What happens next?
“It was just surreal. Like, is this a f**king dream, am I having a dream?” It’s impossible to come to terms with, the loss of someone young, strong and loved by those close to him. Rhodes struggled with it. A large banner and tributes to Westgarth hang from the walls of their club. “For me it was hard,” Glyn noted. “I didn’t want Sheffield Boxing Centre to become a shrine but I also didn’t want people to forget about it.” Harder still was coaching Tommy Frank through his Area title fight that followed afterwards. “I was having flashbacks and I was thinking I can’t do this. And I remember taking Tommy on pads in changing room and I had to keep leaving and going somewhere else, because I was cracking up. I was f**king cracking up. But I didn’t want Tommy to see me looking like I’m cracking up so I had to take him on the pads, warm him up and I’d just disappear, saying I’ve got to go to the toilet, when really I was going f**king hell in my head. It was f**king horrendous.”
“I was thinking I’ve got to pack this in,” he added. “People don’t understand how close you become to people.”
Rhodes has seen the most horrific aspects of the sport, more intimately than most. But he is aware of its benefits. It did change his life directly. He still has the school report from just before he drifted into the Ingle gym, when his teacher wrote in no uncertain terms that his attitude was “very disturbing in a boy of his age” and could “only lead to disaster in later life”.
“You always think to yourself where would I be if I’d never met Brendan and I don’t know,” he wonders. “I always feel like I’ve got this volcano in my tummy and it’s always bubbling, ready to go… It doesn’t take much for it to explode.
“There were times when I used to think to myself, I wish I could have harnessed it a little bit better. But I didn’t know where it were coming from, I don’t know where it comes from.”
But he pours his energies into a positive avenue. His club, the Sheffield Boxing Centre continues to help a host of young amateurs. It has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity and runs a variety of programmes, from supporting bullied children to exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. Rhodes himself was awarded an MBE for his services. His craggy face breaks easily into a smile. He explains his visit to Buckingham Palace for that ceremony.
“I had this vision in my mind that as I was being called out to get the award, I had a vision of tripping up and the more I tried to put it to the back of my mind the more I was thinking about it. And I’m thinking, ‘No please don’t trip.’ It’s one of those occasions you want it to last forever but you want it to be done as well.”
Sitting in a lovely home, overseeing a thriving club, Rhodes can still feel that it is somehow fragile. “You can lose everything at the drop of a hat,” he says wryly. “Me being me I could spoil it all.”
Though scarred by tragedy, Rhodes has lived this good life. “Look at what boxing’s done for me. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve done things I never dreamt of doing. I’ve met people I never dreamt I’d ever meet,” he said, adding without sadness, “Boxing’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”