Danny Hall: Brook's journey from Shirecliffe to the top of the world is a Kell of a story

He grew up in a council house in one of Sheffield's most deprived areas, and went on to become a champion of the world.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 10:40 am
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2016, 10:42 am
Ouch! Johnny Nelson gets a whack from a 14 year old Kell Brook

Kell Brook fights to retain that world title this weekend, against Kevin Bizier at Sheffield Arena. He is a household name now, one of this city’s favourite sporting sons.

Boxing not only made Kell’s life. By his own admission, it saved it, too.

Ouch! Johnny Nelson gets a whack from a 14 year old Kell Brook

“I would say that, yeah,” the 29-year-old, The Ring magazine’s highest-ranked welterweight in the world, told this columnist back in 2013.

“I was one of those naughty kids growing up in a naughty neighbourhood and, looking back on the kids I grew up with at school, a lot of them are still involved with that bad life.

“Some of them are in prison, and a couple are dead.

“Without boxing, I would have easily got involved with that kind of thing, too, because that’s all the kids around that area know.

Kell Brook in the Arena is always one of the more compelling sporting events of the year in Sheffield

“But going to the gym, learning discipline and listening to people gave me the edge at age 10 or 11, because I knew I didn’t want to get involved in the bad life like others around me.

“It’s transformed my life for the better - both physically, mentally and financially, and how I approach life now is completely different because of boxing.”

Brook, who was born a stone’s throw from his first school in Shirecliffe but now lives in Ecclesall with partner Lindsey and their two children, was still a kid himself when the road to stardom began - at Brendan Ingle’s gym in Wincobank.

Albeit, in less-than-perfect circumstances.

Kell Brook with promoter Eddie Hearn

“I was seven years old, and I saw all these big lads hitting bags, and I wanted to get my gloves on and have a go,” Kell remembers.

“But Brendan told me I couldn’t straightaway, and wanted me to do my shuttle runs and learn the discipline first. So I gave up.

“But when I was nine, I started getting into my Bruce Lee films and asked my Dad to take me back down. I did everything they asked of me, stuck at it and I’ve never looked back since.”

A first title - the Yorkshire and Humberside Schoolboy championship - made up his mind that boxing was for him and while schoolfriends from Herries lined the streets of Shirecliffe and Southey until late, Kell was devoted to the gym.

Life at Ingles was no amateur operation, either; Brook worked the same pads as Bomber Graham, Naseem Hamed and Johnny Nelson, but lacked the confidence Ingle thought he would need to reach the top.

So, before his tenth birthday, Ingle encouraged Kell to stand before members of the gym - including the likes of Hamed and Nelson - and speak for a minute, about himself.

“Before I left for America to fight Shawn Porter, Brendan reminded me of that day and how it took me out of my comfort zone,” Kell said.

“It prepared me for what was to come, moments when the spotlight is on you and the pressure is, too.”

Brook’s promoters expect around 7,000 to watch him face Bizier this weekend; including a strong contingent of family and close friends.

“A lot of his wider family still live in Shirecliffe, and I have a lot of contact with some of them on an almost daily basis,” Paul Howard, one of Brook’s former teachers at Herries, said.

Ouch! Johnny Nelson gets a whack from a 14 year old Kell Brook

“From an early age Kell was convinced that boxing would be his life, and it’s great to see him succeed - as it is with any former student.

“It’s also a boost for a community which, without being patronising, needs it a little.”

Howard, now Community Liaison Manager at Parkwood Academy, which stands on the old Herries School site, proudly displays a signed photo of Brook on the wall of his office.

“People come in and ask who it is,” he said, “and now I can tell them that he was a typical lad from Shirecliffe - a jack-the-lad type, really - who had a big talent.

“But he also had a great attitude and work ethic. He stuck at boxing, worked hard - and now he’s the champion of the world.”

Kell Brook in the Arena is always one of the more compelling sporting events of the year in Sheffield
Kell Brook with promoter Eddie Hearn