The Pat Benson Boxing Academy was created to honour legendary trainer Pat Benson after he was crowned BBC Unsung Hero 2010 in The West Midlands Sports Awards, held at a prestigious ceremony on December 8th 2010 in The Mailbox Birmingham. This was just reward for a man who has guided Rowan Williams to the Barcelona Olympics, Matt Macklin, Paul and Mark Ramsey to ABA Senior titles, Frankie Gavin to a Junior Olympic title, Shaun Cogan, Dean Redman and Mick Harkin to Irish National titles, Jonathan McBean to National Junior titles and hundreds of youngsters to Divisional and County crowns over the last 40 years.
About Pat Benson
Born in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, Ireland in November 1934 Pat was one of 4 boxing brothers and he joined the Irish army as a youngster, progressing to win a prestigious Irish Junior title, inscribing his name into the boxing history books forever. Incredibly, he returned many years later and guided two of his boxers to glory in the same championship. Pat described this as a poignant reminder of what can be achieved with hard work and dedication.
An unassuming and very modest man, Pat suggests ‘my boxers always do the talking for me’, a no fuss approach from a coach who has guided three boxers to fight for professional World titles. Notably, Mark Ramsey, Matthew Macklin and Wayne Elcock, who won the WBU title by beating Anthony Farnell before losing an IBF challenge to Arthur Abraham in 2007. Macklin is probably our most famous son, recently boxing Felix Sturm, Sergio Martinez and Gennady Golovkin in thrilling World title affairs.
That philosophy has certainly worked. The history section details the emergence of the great Small Heath squads to have been taught and nurtured by the famous fight factory. However one of Pat’s greatest challenges developed in 2004 when the famous Fazeley Street premises was gutted one night by a fire. In those days, there was no insurance policies, no governing body assistance and no council funding. Everything was lost, including many of his boxers who now didn’t have a gym.
This was coincided with the death of Pat’s wife, Teresa, meaning the future of the club was in severe jeopardy. For the love of his family and sport, Pat demonstrated true fighting grit to start the process all over again at the age of 70. The only help was that of his good friend, the late Mick Burke, both of whom shows steely determination and resilience to lay the foundations for a re-birth.
10 years on and, despite Mick’s passing, Pat has incredibly rebuilt the organisation with the help of his grandson Paddy, a University business graduate who has also boxed for England Youth. The pair now work together in a family run club, with a great young emerging squad of current and future champions. Pat sums up by saying positively, ‘We have excellent facilities, some really good people around us and a great family friendly atmosphere which enables us to thrive in this modern day climate.’
However, as well as the glory days, Pat suggests that you impact on the lives of thousands of youngsters who do not win anything. Often, keeping a young person out of prison or providing them with an identity and purpose in life is as much of an achievement and challenge as blasting your way through a title.
‘I had my first fight in Claremorris Co.Mayo as a 10 year old, weighing 4 stone7. You always remember your first fight’, Pat recalls with an emotional smile. ‘There were some very tough times growing up in Ireland. It could be hard, for example, boxing in Belfast, but boxing bonded groups together for the love of the sport. It was one of the only sports where it was irrelevant whether you were catholic or protestant. It was never mentioned in boxing. It is to some degree a mirror image of today’s situation. There is tension within a city like Birmingham, but the sport is something we can all mutually respect and work together in.
Pat emigrated with wife Teresa, to Coventry before settling in Birmingham and joining Frank O’Sullivan’s Ladywood Boxing Club. Due to mass emigration, there was a very successful Irish contingent who joined at the same time, propelling the club upwards and onwards. It wasn’t easy, boxing and working hard all day. Pat was a block paver by trade, helping to build many of the streets and roads now evident in the City. It was price work’, he says, ‘you had to work hard and be good at your job to get paid a decent wage.’ In the ring, he was known for his ferocious punching power, a true knockout artist, as this picture suggests. (insert pic) Pat emerged as a popular coach and decided to set up on his own, restarting the Small Heath Boxing Club in the 1970’s. ‘I always respected the lads who could evade my powerful shots and box nicely. I learnt so much from them and have tried to get my lads to box skilfully ever since.’