Boxing fraternity lines up to honour ‘great man’ Swindells

WELL-RESPECTED: Late boxing coach Wilf Swindells (far right) at the Empress Gym with (l-r) Stefy Bull, Dave Hulley, Jamie McDonnell and Mickey Davies.
WELL-RESPECTED: Late boxing coach Wilf Swindells (far right) at the Empress Gym with (l-r) Stefy Bull, Dave Hulley, Jamie McDonnell and Mickey Davies.

THE extent to which a person has impacted the lives of others can be measured in the outpouring of tributes when they pass away.

So, it is fair to suggest that few people have heavily influenced one particular sport in this area as much as Mexborough’s Wilf Swindells, who sadly died last week at the age of 64.

A boxing coach for almost four decades, he encountered and nurtured the great and the good of Doncaster and the Dearne’s boxing fraternity in that time.

Commonwealth silver medalist and Olympian Mark Epton was his prized protege.

World title-chasing Jamie McDonnell took his first steps as a professional under his guidance after signing with Doncaster’s Mr Boxing, John Rushton.

And McDonnell’s current trainers Stefy Bull and Dave Hulley were both shown the ropes by the man renowned for his knowledge of the game.

The big hitters in local boxing have lined up to pay tribute to Swindells, all laying bare their debt to the man for his helping hand in their success.

One such poignant tribute came from Rushton.

“Unfortunately loyalty it all too rare in boxing, it’s a difficult thing to find, but you never had a problem with that from Wilf,” he said.

“He might have been short in stature but he was huge in terms of loyalty and I always admired him for that.”

Those who worked with Swindells have certainly returned that loyalty over the last week, providing touching tributes.

Swindells coached at the Castle gym in Conisbrough in the 1970s where he first encountered the likes of Hulley and Epton.

Hulley would form a coaching team with Swindells at Mexborough Catholic Club when the Castle gym disbanded in the latter part of the decade.

He said: “He was a massive inspiration for me.

“He taught me so much in that time and never stopped teaching me really.

“I’ll always be grateful for that.”

As boxing became a full time pursuit, Swindells switched to Mexborough Athletic Club, taking most of his proteges with him.

It was then Epton rose to prominence under Swindells’ watchful eye, winning silver at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh before representing Britain in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Epton said: “Wilf first trained me when I was ten years old at the Castle Club and he stayed with me through the Olympics, then when I turned professional up until I retired after six fights.

“My success was down to him in so many ways.

“He was a superb one-to-one trainer and brought on some fantastic lads in this area.

“Wilf was very much publicity shy, he didn’t really talk to the papers despite all the success he had.

“He’s been a great friend to me, like a member of the family and I will really miss him.”

When Epton signed professional forms in 1991, Swindells also switched his operation.

He soon began working with Rushton who was putting together a stable of fighters and promoting shows in Doncaster.

Their working relationship lasted until Rushton left boxing in 2009.

Rushton first encountered Swindells at the Catholic Club where he was boxing as an amateur

He said: “I’ve had some great times over the years with Wilf, going all the way back to when I was fighting myself but mainly of course when he was working alongside me.

“It’s easy to spot someone in boxing when they don’t really know the sport but Wilf knew it inside out.

“He told me it was the best decision he had ever made coming to work with me.

“But I told him it was the best decision I had made because he was so valuable to have working with you.”

Rushton’s son Jason was one of the fighters trained by Swindells – along with Jon Jo Irwin and a young Jamie McDonnell – up until a tragic turn of events in 2009.

Jason collapsed following a Central Area title fight with Brian Rose and was put into a drug induced coma after bleeding and bruising was discovered on his brain.

Despite a good recovery, Jason lost much of his vision and suffers from memory loss.

But he spoke fondly of his former trainer as he paid tribute.

He said: “There are lots of things I don’t remember now but I’ve got a lot of fond memories of working with Wilf.

“I spent some great times with him and we got really close when he was training me.

“I really looked up to him because his knowledge was so deep.

“You look at Mark Epton, what a fighter he produced in him.

“He always said listen to your dad because he knows best.

“But I used to listen to them both because I knew Wilf knew best too.

“He would always tell me that I was a good fighter and you knew he meant it.

“I was always proud to hear that from him and I’m proud to have worked with him.

“It was great to achieve so much with him and my dad in my corner.”

When Rushton walked away from the sport following his son’s accident, it was another protege of his and Swindells that took up the Doncaster boxing mantle.

Stefy Bull teamed up with Dave Hulley to begin training the next wave of fighters.

But Swindells was on hand to offer his help.

Bull said: “Wilf trained me from the age of 16 right through my professional career up until my last couple of fights.

“You couldn’t meet a more humble and honest man.

“There was plenty of times when Wilf could have taken the spotlight but he just stayed in the corner and got on with his business.

“We used to call him the Mr Miyagi of boxing – he was just the wise older head that would have all the best advice for you.

“He told you straight what he thought, you’d know whether he thought you were good enough or not.”

Swindells would be among the first people through the door each day at Bull and Hulley’s gym at the Empress.

He would assist the two with training and impart his wisdom onto the young fighters.

Bull said: “He was a remarkable tactician and massively helpful for us.

“When he talked, you listened.

“His stories were brilliant and the young lads in the gym always loved to here them.

“He was a great man and he’ll be sadly missed in the gym.”

Swindells missed a string of training sessions earlier this year and Hulley knew something was wrong.

After he complained of headaches, Hulley took him to the doctors and he was referred to Doncaster Royal Infirmary where a brain tumour was discovered.

Hulley found him a bed at High Grove Nursing Home and continued to take him down to the gym when he was fit enough but he deteriorated quickly.

The similarities between Swindells and Hulley are clear to see, particularly in the way they let others do the talking while they get on with their business.

Hulley said: “I’m proud to be compared to him but there’s no comparison really.

“You can definitely say he was a great man.

“Any success we’ve had in training boxers over the last couple of years has come through Wilf’s influence.

“He helped out right up until the end but the things I’ve learned from him over the years have helped me and Stefy massively.

“You only have to look at the list of names he’s trained and what they’ve achieved to show how good he has been.

“It really won’t be the same without him.”