I was never a ‘Sports Mum’, one of those ones that had to get up at 7am on a Saturday to stand by the football pitch or rugby field in minus five to watch my little cherub play for his school team or local town.
My boy was an outdoors kid, loved our weekend camping trips, was always out playing with his friends, away on their bikes, finding tracks and building ramps. I had an annual trip to A&E for about ten years, usually with some type of bump or swollen and sprained limb. Thankfully never anything really serious. He was competitive in his own way but was happy to give most things a go more for simply mucking in with friends.
So at 18 he decided to take up boxing.
Now, boxing is not one of those sports that you can say it is all about the taking part. You win or lose. Usually losing will involve more than a bump or scrape that you would get falling off your bmx.
He trained, doing circuits, sparring, even started eating salad and feta cheese. He was always like a toothpick with the wood shaven off, or as my dad always used to say, there was more meat on a butcher’s pencil. So he started protein shakes, taking advice from his trainers and before I knew it he was talking of his first bout.
Excuse me?? Bout? Fight? Actual, like real boxing?
Yes. He was signed up to do a White Collar event. Now I had heard of this before back in Belfast. Charity nights where guys would get in the ring after having an eight week intensive training programme. So there was one coming up in Manchester and he was on the card for the ‘support’ bouts in between the ‘real’ bouts.
Over six weeks I watched my scrawny lad transform. he suddenly seemed to have grown an inch or two. He had biceps, his chest looked more square. He had at this time also obtained a girlfriend and went on his first foreign holiday with his mates. Where was my wee Chicken Legs??
The night of the Cheshire White Collar Boxing event was on my 45th birthday. My son’s girlfriend and her mum came along, his dad flew over from Belfast with his partner, friends got tickets and we suddenly had a table filled, ringside.
So we checked into a hotel for the night, it was my birthday after all, and off we went to the Manchester Bowlers Exhibition Centre. I was fine until I seen the ambulances parked up round the side. Suddenly it really struck me that this was real, he could really get hurt and so all the questions I had wanted to ask deep down but hadn’t wanted to really hear the answers to bubbled forward.
Thank God he was up first, because if I swear I might have had a nervous breakdown watching the other bouts knowing he still had to come on. Lights dimmed and the compere came on, went through the housekeeping and then it was ‘Showtime!”
The other lad came out first. He was so tall! My lad is about 5’4″…ok now I was feeling sick. Like really sick. My friend topped up my wine glass which I had hardly touched. Now I downed it. In one.
The lights dimmed again and the sound of Eminem, Lose Yourself started, boom boom, boom boom, oh dear God I thought I was going to cry. It was the most emotional thing I ever experienced (ok, apart from giving birth to my children!) and I felt so much pride in the fact that was my boy. That focused lad with the swagger. He was my boy.
And it started. And I turned into a lunatic.
Never do you think you would will your child on to smack some other lad in the ribs and on the chin…but by God we cheered him on. He took some serious hits and at the end of the round both lads looked a bit battered and tired. Thank the lord, it is only two rounds at this level as my head and heart could not take it. Round two started and my boy took control. He danced about, planted the correct punches and dodged a few bullets…we yelled and cheered and suddenly I felt so bad. Where is the other lad’s mum? I seriously hoped she was nowhere near us and hoped she was yelling just as loudly on the other side of the ring, but far enough away so I didn’t hear her yelling to hit my son, or to will her son on to finish it…
It is a brutal sport. Even at this level. But there is something amazing about it. It is the accumulation of weeks of hard work, training, mental preparation and focus. It is hard to watch and I am sure harder to watch if your corner loses.
But my lad won. The other corner was counted out after a barrage of blows. We cheered and roared as my son held his hand aloft wrapped in his Ulster flag, he will always be a Belfast boy at heart. The two lads hugged and shared a laugh, both looking a bit worse for wear, bruised and battered, but both smiling and looking round at their support.
They both went off out of the ring and his dad, girlfriend and I went to find him. The medics have to check them over and he went to do what he needed to do. When we finally seen him his dad was super proud, hugging him tightly, then his girlfriend got a huge hug and kiss as she had looked as sick as I had felt and me, well I was more concerned by the marks on his jaw and I planted a huge kiss. Poor kid!!
So in my head now that it is over, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. If you had have asked me at the time I probably would have said something completely different! So to all the ‘sports mums’ out there, I have no idea how you hold it together, keep cool and do not end up like baying wolves. Maybe its a knack in itself, one that I guess I may have to acquire as I have a feeling that was not the last time I will see my lad don a pair of boxing gloves….
Photos by Andy Wild