Believe in me and I may be forced to believe in you and myself by: Eddie Copeland
Throughout my career as both an amateur and professional boxer I had the good fortune to be looked after by trainers who were more than just boxing coaches and trainers, their influence extended further than just what happened in the gym and the ring. They taught me much, much more, than just how to throw a punch and slip a hook but about life, they changed me from a teenager with little self esteem and no direction into a young man who finally found something he was good at and who learnt something he didn’t know he had… ‘potential’.
My amateur boxing career started in 1974 when I was 17 years old. My first coach was Jack Dyer, head coach at the MANCO club in Stretford. 12 months before walking into the MANCO gym I had been to a Karate school. After doing a few rounds on the bag, Jack Dyer approached me and said, ‘you look fairly handy, if we train you, would you like to box for the club’ I said ‘yes’ and from that moment on I was a boxer.
Jack Dyer was from Bolton and had been a Northern Counties Amateur champion and a tough professional who in his own words, ‘was not good enough to be a champion but anybody who wanted to be a champion had to get past Jack, Jack had 26 pro bouts and brought a wealth of experience with him.
Jack and I hit it off straight away and a bond formed, more like father and son than trainer and boxer. The running of the club was a family affair and his wife Eileen supported Jack and even made my first pair of boxing shorts. Jack and Eileen had a daughter Janet who was a talented equestrian rider and I became the son they never had and I had the privilege of becoming part of their family (I am pleased to say that my friendship with the Dyers has lasted to the present day, unfortunately Jack passed away when he was only 62 in the early 90s, Eileen his widow and Janet his daughter are still part of my extended family).
My past before coming under Jacks wing was troubled, I was known to the Police and was on probation for actual bodily harm and thieving. I couldn’t hold down a job (I had about 12 jobs within 12 months of leaving the Grammar school (I wasted my education and left without taking any exams, in fact I spent the last 12 months trying to get expelled, in the end I wrote them a letter informing them I no longer needed there services and left to get a job, they didn’t try to persuade me to stay).
Jack saw something in me right from the word go and it was his belief in me that started the transformation from a juvenile delinquent to a committed boxer who stopped running around with the wrong crowd and a paradigm shift occurred in me where I couldn’t get enough of the discipline of boxing and training and the feeling of achieving which was lacking in my life (my parents saw the transition and my family were now right behind me because they could see the paradigm shift). I believe the transition came partly because of boxing but mainly because of Jacks belief in me and the work he put into me (not just boxing but also about life, we would talk for hours on a variety of things). It was Jack who discovered me and set me on the road to a different life. I had my first season with MANCO and because the club was in its infancy all the boxers including myself were novices, however Jack brought on boxers such as Aubrey Williams, Tommy Battle and the future central area featherweight champion Mike Whalley. The problem I had at MANCO was I had advanced but my gym mates could not extend me in sparring (either too inexperienced or to light in weight). At the time I was a member of the YMCA in Manchester where I would supplement my boxing training. The YMCA had a boxing gym run by Brian Robinson and I gravitated to the boxing club and Brian’s gym had a number of boxers who were far more advanced than me, a number of professionals would train at the YMCA and although the thought of leaving MANCO and Jack hurt me emotionally I knew I had to move for my own development as a boxer, I know it hurt Jack to lose me but he knew that for my career to reach its full potential I had to go where the sparring would bring me on. I’m pleased to say that Jack and the family after the initial disappointment, accepted why I had to move on and our friendship continued and in fact I used to go to Jacks gym to spar with his lads and give something back.
Brian Robinson and the YMCA helped me develop to another level, Brian had a number of experienced boxers such as Chris Coady and Brian’s training was almost like boot camp, he always trained us like we were doing 10 rounder’s but the boot camp mentality appealed to me and I thrived on it. My first 4 bouts with the YMCA came inside the distance. At that time boxers both amateur and professional would train at the YMCA, Neville Manderson, Eddie Smith and Billy Graham (future trainer of Ricky Hatton). I learnt so much from watching them, training with them and sparring with them (in fact Neville Manderson got me started on how to work the body and Eddie Smith who beat Tony Sibson was a real talent). During my time at the YMCA a young 17 year old arrived from Morocco and came to the YMCA to train, he was the future British super featherweight Champion and world title challenger Najib Daho.
Brian Robinson trained his fighters like pros and he held a pro licence which caused him problems with the ABA. Brian suggested I go to Cavendish ABC and have a year with them and then turn pro with him. As it turned out my career and Brian’s turned out differently than we both expected.
My next stop was the famous Cavendish club in Hulme. The Cavendish club boasted top class boxers such as John Trainer, Kevin Williams, Carlton Lyons, Peter English, Bobby McKinley and Solomon Jeng to name but a few. The sparring was top notch and the gym had the benefit of Bill Nedley who was a real driving force behind the club and the senior coach was an ex England international boxer called Kelvin Travis who was eager to develop as a coach and his and my career developed at the same time. Kelvin became one of the England team coaches and he learnt as much as he could from England Coach Kevin Hickey and Regional coach Ian Irwin all of which he poured into his boxers. The coaching and training I received from Kelvin, brought me on leaps and bounds and 6 months after joining Cavendish I won my first title, the East Lancs and East Cheshire light welterweight title beating Najib Daho (my former YMCA gym mate) in the final. I then went on to win the North West counties title and the Northern Counties title before losing on points in the quarter finals to Sylvester Mittee of the famous Repton club. Under Kelvin’s coaching I went on to win the Northern Counties title 3 times, ABA champion in 1979, Multi-nations gold medalist in 1978 and represented England in international matches.
Kelvin was not only a good technical and conditioning coach, he was a good motivator and good at identifying flaws in opponents. The year I won the ABA title, it was possible I would meet Terry Marsh (my main threat) in the quarter finals (if we didn’t meet then, the next time would be the final, (in those days the 2 English winners went through to the semi finals at Belle Vue Manchester and were drawn against the Scottish or Welsh Champion). Kelvin had studied Marsh and observed that when attacked he would move back to the ropes and slide off to the left. For 6 weeks solid we practiced feint the jab, throw a left hook and come over with a straight right to which he would be moving on to. The whole thing required fast feet to get me to him. First round of the bout I cut the ring off and got Marsh towards the ropes and executed the move perfectly, the right hand caught Marsh bang on the chin and Terry went down for the first of 2 standing 8 counts (Marsh told me later that he remembers nothing of the bout from that punch).
On turning professional I had the good fortune to be managed and trained by one of the best in the business Terry Lawless but that is another story which I will save for another time.
I had total trust and belief in my coaches and I cannot thank my coaches enough for the trust and belief they showed in me and for the way they shaped not only my boxing career but my life. To Jack Dyer, Brian Robinson and Kelvin Travis to which sadly only Kelvin is still with us, I salute you all 3 and owe each of you a debt of gratitude to which the only compliment I can pay is that off passing it forward. I have taken what each has passed on to me along with my own experiences and learning and pass it forward to the boys and girls that I train, many that were like me as a youngster, not a lot of self esteem, lacking self discipline and direction and coach them to believe in themselves and realize their potential.
The following quote sums up my experience with my coaches:
Flatter me and I may not believe you
Criticize me and I may not like you.
Ignore me and I may not forgive you.
Encourage me and I will not forget you.
Believe in me and I may be forced to believe in you and myself.
Thank God they encouraged me and for that I will never forget them and their belief in me made me believe in them and in myself.
For all coaches and trainers out there who on a daily basis are putting in hours in gyms around the country and working with young people whether you find champions or not, you are on a daily basis touching young people’s lives in a positive way. You instill in youngsters:-
It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts and;
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
David Cameron talks about the ‘big society’, boxing gyms and coaches all over the world have taken on the role of taking on kids from all areas of life and transformed them into decent human beings and given them an attitude of ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t.
Look within our association and remember and see those who have and are currently passing it forward; Jack Edwards, Ken Daniels, Jimmy Lewis, Paul Dunne, Roy Richardson, Frank and Andy Nightingale, Geoff Shaw, Ian Harrison, Tony Atherton and Solomon Jeng. I apologize if I have missed any past or current coaches (there are too many to mention who have passed on).
On behalf of all who have been taken under the wing of trainers and coaches thank you for your commitment, encouragement and belief, your legacy will be changed lives and inspiring others to pass it forward.