By Thomas Gerbasi
Joe Gallagher never had a chance.
“My life has never been my own,” he laughs. “Once you get the boxing bug, that’s it, your life is over.”
It bit the Manchester native early, and he’s never looked back, becoming one of the top trainers in the game. Yet his schedule is going to get a lot more hectic in September when he officially launches The Joe Gallagher Academy in his home city.
Officially announced last week, the academy (which will have locations in Wythenshawe and Harpurhey) will be open to 16 to 19-year-olds who will not just learn the sweet science, but also receive a full education package that will set graduates of the two-year program on a path where their future doesn’t necessarily have to be in the ring.
“At the end of two years they can go on to further their education at university, whether that would be in sports psychology or sports and media, or they can become a professional fighter or go into something else as well,” said Gallagher. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and something I’m really pleased to do.”
Gallagher knows what boxing can do for a young person. He was once that young kid from a council estate in Wythenshawe, and while he didn’t have a program like this to go to once he was finished with school, he knows what the gym brought to his life. But without the aid of the educational aspects his academy will be providing, he was left with the usual choices a teenager eventually has to make at a certain age.
“There was nothing like this for kids to do,” he said. “There were two options: you went and got a job or you got a little bit of an apprenticeship. I ended up having to go work for my dad in construction, and the boxing career suffered a little bit in that sense. So this is to give children a platform. They don’t have to box to come into this type of academy, but boxing is there and they will learn the aspects of it. So if they haven’t done it before, they will end up doing it. But it’s not about competing, it’s learning how boxing works – the movement, the training, the dieting and the mindset of it.”
Then there’s the schoolwork, which Gallagher believes is essential for not only making well-rounded young men and women, but preparing them for life beyond boxing.
“How do you judge success?” he asks. “When you’re a child and you come into school, it’s the kids that do well in English, do well in Math, do well in other things, and there’s huge pressure in schools to deliver educational results. But you have kids that aren’t academically that clever, but excel in sports. So who’s successful? The academic kid or the sporting kid? And over here, the sporting kids are being left behind a little bit. So we bring in kids who might not be academically very good, but they’ll continue to learn the Maths and the English and grow some life skills. It could be a simple thing like a first aid course to become a first aider, or they become a fitness instructor and they’ve learned people skills, they’ve learned life skills, and they’ve got confidence that they may never have had before.”
In a selfish world and sport, it’s one of the most unselfish acts we’ve seen in a long time. But Gallagher does have reasons for doing this other than just giving back, and it has to do with his fighters.
“It’s not just a boxer-trainer, manager-boxer relationship,” he said of his bond with the fighters he’s brought up. “I’m criticized about being too emotionally involved, but it’s a sport that can bring you in, pick you up and spit you back out, and I want to have a vehicle for my fighters.”
The Joe Gallagher Academy is that vehicle, as he plans on bringing the members of his gym in for Masterclasses and as ambassadors and mentors. And given that his roster includes the likes of Anthony Crolla, Natasha Jonas and the Smith brothers, students will get quite a look at the amateur and pro boxing game. While those fighters will have a place to begin life after boxing if they so choose.
“I have numerous fighters, and when their boxing career is over, what do they do?” he said. “They don’t know what to do; it’s all they’ve ever known since the age of ten years old – go to a gymnasium two, three times a week, we fight, we have a break, back in the gym. And then when they retire at 30, 35, something they’ve been doing for 25 years, they have no structure in their life anymore. And to have them involved in this type of academy, for them to come in, give inspirational speeches, do coaching, kids can relate to these people because they’re people they’ve seen come from backgrounds like themselves, and when people said they couldn’t do it, they did do it. They’ve come back from adversity and broke down a lot of barriers. And having them involved in an ambassador’s role or a coaching role, it makes retirement a lot easier for them as well. So I’m also doing it with that in mind.”
Gallagher hopes to have 50 students enrolled this fall, and if a couple world champions are eventually made in the Academy, that would be a great thing. But it’s not the main thing for Gallagher, who refers to the tributes paid to the late Brendan Ingle recently.
“It’s not about the world champions he made,” he said. “It’s the numerous kids who came through that door who never boxed, but went on to become accountants, painters, decorators and car mechanics. But what boxing did do was instill them with a discipline, respect for other people, confidence, and made them become better people. And what I’m trying to do is the same thing for this next generation.”
Yeah, boxing still has Joe Gallagher.
“Boxing has a lot to answer for,” he said. “The highs are so few and the lows are so many, but it’s those occasional highs that keep us going.”
For more information on The Joe Gallagher Academy, click here