Tommy Coyle is fiercely proud of his roots. Before he attempts make a splash in Boston this weekend, he tells Terry Dookry about a personal mission to safeguard his future
Tommy Coyle looks ahead to the end of his career and beyond
THE city of Hull’s poor perception in the popular imagination stems from the idea that it is merely a poverty-stricken port town that reeks of fish. That perception was unlikely to have been helped by a memorable episode of sitcom Only Fools and Horses called To Hull and Back, in which it was reduced to a punchline. However, during World War Two the city endured its own blitz, around 1,200 died as the Nazis reduced swathes of it to rubble in 1941, so it had to go through a slow recovery.
Kingston upon Hull was seemingly destined to never bounce back, but it did to the point where it was named 2017’s UK City of Culture. The damage it sustained during the war plus the comeback it has made could be used as a lazy metaphor, perhaps, for the up-and-down career of proud Hullsenian Tommy Coyle, 24-4 (12).
Just like the city he represents and loves, Coyle was left physically destroyed and emotionally distraught when losing to Derry Mathews for the Commonwealth lightweight title at Hull’s Craven Park Stadium in 2013. It was not a beat down, in fact it remains one of his best performances, yet the nature of the sickening 10th-round reverse left him still craving one of the more traditional titles.
Granted, the 29-year-old has picked up IBF and WBC International lightweight straps during his career yet he always dreamed of netting one of what he considers the top three belts: British, European or Commonwealth. He got his wish at the third time of asking when stopping Sean “Masher” Dodd for the Commonwealth title in six earlier this year. An earlier British title tilt to Tyrone Nurse had ended in a decision defeat.
Often seen as an exciting nearly man, Coyle reached his personal pinnacle then immediately declared that he could walk away from the sport with money in his pocket, his various business interests excelling, and a smile on his face.
“I always knew that I had the beating of Dodd after watching him against [Scotty] Cardle,” Coyle told Boxing News. “I had a great camp, was in a great place, and was very confident. I realised that being in Manchester cooped up in a hotel wasn’t me for. It works for me to work with [the Tommy Coyle Foundation’s Boxing Academy Head Coach] Billy [Dawson] in Hull then go down for technique, game plan and sparring with [head coach] Jamie [Moore] and [his assistant] Nigel [Travis] on a Thursday and Friday.”
Should he take care of business Stateside this Saturday (see page 29) “Boom Boom” intends to squeeze in a few more fights before concentrating on other pursuits, for example he has a budding bar chain called Barrow Boys. Nonetheless, and come what may, he is adamant that his final fight will take place in his beloved hometown.
“This city and its people have not just supported me in victory, they were there for me in their thousands after defeats as well — I’ve always believed in myself because of that support,” he declared. “I think that is also what the fans appreciate. No matter what happens I always give 110 per cent in that ring. I will always go out on my shield.” ³
I WANT TO STAY SHARP, BRING MY KIDS UP AND READ THEM A BEDTIME STORY WITHOUT SLURRING MY WORDS”
“The people of Hull are a different kettle of fish, they almost don’t mind a loser every now and again, so it is only right to do right by the city. I’ve got three fights maximum left in me, two minimum, and no matter what, my last fight will be in Hull, whether it is in front of a hundred people or thousands. I owe it to the loyal fans who were turning out when I was boxing at the City Hall.”
This love of Hull extends beyond the link he has forged through fighting and entertaining the fans, he decided to put something back into the city by opening the first Tommy Coyle Academy in 2014 before launching a second shortly after. The notfor-profit organisation is a source of pride for Coyle and the dividends are the lives changed, new careers launched, and the pride the fighter feels about the venture.
“Kids want to come to the gym and be around — now how can I say this without sounding big-headed — the Tommy Coyle brand,” he said. “That attracts the kids in the local area. We have over 30 carded fighters at the minute and over 200 members. All kids under the age of 17 train for free, we don’t charge them a penny.”
There is an area in Hull dubbed Gipsyville, a non-pc term for the more middle-class description of what is a low-income, low-aspiration area. One of the Coyle Foundation’s success stories hails from there and is due to make his pro debut soon.
“Four or five years ago this kid was pinching bikes, taking cigs out of his dad’s tobacco tin, and he had no real sense of direction of purpose,” said Coyle. “He came to the Academy for something to do, and he said: “It is f**king freezing outside, I’m only here because it is free”. I took him into the ring and felt that this kid had something.”
“I wanted to improve minds and change lives,” he added. “Boxing has been good to me, it has set me up in life. It gave me a place to be at half-six every night when I was a kid. If it wasn’t for that I’d probably have been in the back of some random warehouse pinching scrap metal to earn a quick buck. I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved away from boxing with the next generation.
“People find this hard to believe, but I’m not motivated by financial success, it is all about legacy and what people will say about me when I’m gone. I’m killing those two birds with one stone this way.”
Coyle’s is not a tale of a kid turning to crime or the usual stuff you read. Still, he did have one character flaw as a youngster: he liked hitting people and had no compunction about doing it outside of the ring before discovering his calling.
“I just loved having a fight. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder so if someone said
I LOVED HAVING A FIGHT. IF SOMEONE DID SOMETHING I DIDN’T LIKE, I WOULDN’T HAVE AN ARGUMENT I’D JUST GO STRAIGHT AT IT”
something I didn’t like I wouldn’t have an argument with them, I’d just go straight at it. I’m not saying I’d have got into trouble. I wasn’t one of the baddest kids, so boxing didn’t save me or anything like that. But it definitely gave me a place to be, a sense of purpose. A lot of lessons that I’ve learned in boxing are the disciplines I’ve adapted to my business life as well.”
Management often involves a partial letting go of one’s ego. If you put people into place you should trust them to do their jobs, the old adage “Too many chefs spoil the broth” has been boiled down into a pithy single line: micromanagement.
Coyle strives to avoid doing this by selecting people with the expertise to perform a role and then simply allowing them to get on with it. These are skills that he feels are innate to him, extensions of his personality that have dovetailed into his life’s work.
“I don’t necessarily have a good business brain, I have a good work ethic and seem to attract good people,” he explained. “I’m a bit of a talent magnet who attracts the right people. I come up with an idea and they develop it for me. I give them the room to work on it, the chance to express their own identity, and I don’t interfere too much. We’ve got a good business model. I’m creative, have a vision, know where I want to go and I know how to get there so have people who help me.
“We are all only good at a few things, so we should stick to what we are good at. If everyone does that within an organisation you will only achieve good things. I’m a leader, I also know how people work. Some people react well to criticism, some prefer praise. I know how to deal with that.”
This ability to let go should mean that these various interests continue to grow apace even when the bright lights of boxing no longer shine on him. “I hope so,” he said. “I was just mindful that I messed around in school so had no GCSES or Plan B. The outside the ring stuff became more important as I have my own family now, I have to provide for them: put clothes on their backs, food in their bellies, and keep the house warm for them. “Boxing has almost been like a vehicle for me to push through my local businesses while I am still relevant and can drive attention to them, and it has worked — we are linked with people like Siemens now. Boxing has been an accelerator for my business.” As we neared the end, questions became more general and generic. You expect that the old chestnut “Who is your hero?” would throw up someone like Sugar Ray Leonard or, given his business interests, Lord Alan Sugar, yet Coyle’s inspiration hails from closer to home and can still be seen working the family’s fruit and veg barrow in the city centre. “My dad is my best friend in the world, my hero, and I love him with all my heart — he is a special man,” he answered. “We will have the veg stand forever, it is what we know and love. My brother [Lewie] played for Leeds United, my other brother [Joe] is a professional golfer, so there is always something for my dad to be talking to the customers about. “We had world-class parents who made everything possible for us in sport. They’d spend their last penny on the latest football boots or boxing gloves, they are good parents who made it all happen. I want to do that for the local kids, for the families who have got three or four children and are struggling.” As for his own children, Coyle’s principal job is to ensure that he gives them everything that they need to make the best possible fist of life. “There is more to life than boxing,” he said. “I want to stay sharp, bring my kids up, read a bedtime story to them without slurring my words, and I want to be able to make sound decisions in the boardroom and classroom for the kids my Foundation helps out. “I have two boys who I need to show how to be proper young men so that they grow up the same way we did and are happy. They will eventually have to make their own decisions and make themselves happy in life — I want to make sure that they are in a position to do that.”
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