Pugilism not Vandalism: boxing and the Sheeran family

Paul Zanon
22/01/2016 7:19am

If I asked you to correlate the connection between boxing and the surname Sheeran, you would probably start to scratch your head and think – ‘worlds apart?!’ Boxing Monthly caught up with Jethro Sheeran – musician, avid boxing fan and cousin to Ed - to discover the uncanny connection which unravels into decades of bona fide pugilistic heritage.

The genesis of the Sheeran boxing gene seems to have evolved from Jethro and Ed’s great grandfather James, who was handy enough with his fists to have fought none other than the heavyweight legend Jack Johnson, in an exhibition bout in 1913. Rumour has it Johnson came out on top during their encounter… 

Next up was James son, Bill, who entered the world of boxing, like many, through an experience of bullying. Carrying his violin home every day from school, Bill Sheeran became an obvious target for some of the other kids in the area. Rather than take matters into his own hands, James sent his son to the local boxing club, with the intention of enabling him to defend himself and develop a level of confidence through the discipline. It seemed to have had the desired effect.

Bill’s passion for boxing developed from here onwards and he may well have turned into a successful professional, had a vocational calling in dentistry not stepped in. An exert from the GKT Gazette, from the obituary written by John Sheeran (son of Bill and father to Ed Sheeran), provides us with a jolly and interesting insight to Bill’s time at Guy’s hospital where he studied his trade.

“Bill joked that the Guy’s Hospital motto ‘Dare Quam Accipere’ (‘It’s better to give than to receive’) was an appropriate one for their boxers. While at Guy’s, Bill boxed Charlie Kray, elder brother of the gangster Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie. Walter Bartleman, boxing correspondent of The Star, and later The Evening Standard, told Bill before the bout, ‘He’ll eat you’, but Bill won the fight, with his opponent unable to continue.” 

After qualifying as a dentist, he set up a practice in South Norwood, before settling down in Chislehurst, Kent, and finally moving to his wife’s childhood home of Wexford in Ireland – which became his final stop for the remaining 30 years of his life.

Jethro reflects on some pleasant memories of his grandfather. “The house he lived in Chislehurst was full of boxing memorabilia. He was on the boxing board of control and he’d have loads of great stories about many of the greats including Muhammad Ali. Also, randomly, he had loads of boxing squirrels (not squirrels actually boxing – the animated variety!). He was my inspiration and introduction into boxing. 

“I remember going to his gym, which was a proper spit and sawdust type place. I was into martial arts at the time and he said, ‘whatever you do, don’t kick the bags’. However, as soon as he left, I started kicking the bags like crazy. (Jethro was practising Lau Gar at the time and even ended up winning a British title).  

“I have fond memories of doing the pads with my granddad. He was getting a bit old at the time, but the advice he gave me was still spot on. He was a fountain of knowledge and I used to bombard him with questions all the time.”

Boxing Monthly posed the question of boxing idols to Jethro. 

“Sugar Ray Leonard. My granddad gave me a video of Hagler versus Leonard for Christmas and I was a huge fan from then on. I watched the video again and again, copying any of the moves Sugar Ray executed in the fight. I was hooked. Every opportunity I had, I was in my granddad’s gym practising. Technically – I became pretty good. Obviously, the other big boxing idol is Rocky Balboa! My granddad was also a massive idol. He always instilled into us to be humble and respect others. That filtered down the next generations.”

When Bill Sheeran passed away on the 7th December 2013, Gorey Boxing Club (where he helped to train boxers and whom he was president for a number of years), made a guard of honour. His contribution to boxing was recognised far and wide and rumour has it he had a sticker on his car which said, “Pugilism not vandalism.” Poetically summing up his respect for a discipline which had a massive influence in his life.

Jethro adds a little anecdote to the last few moments of his grandad’s life. “In true Sheeran musical fashion, Bill died singing. Towards the end of his days, he was unfortunately suffering from dementia, but my grandmother said that he was happy singing away and basically sung himself to sleep. The whole town was out in support on the day of the funeral. Kind of says it all really.”

At the funeral in Dublin, the Sheerans were seen boasting red British Boxing Board of Control ties. Ed even made the Daily Mail headlines at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, shortly after the funeral, with “Cheers Gucci – gonna wear my grandad’s tie though.” Sadly Bill, suffered from dementia towards the end of his life, but no doubt would have been proud of his 23 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Especially with Ed performing at the boxing mecca of Madison Square Garden and Jethro performing tracks for a host of world champions.

With a massive interest in boxing as a musician, Jethro has been able to live the dream to an extent, in terms of weaving the two passions. Having performed his track ‘Warrior’ live for Patrick Nielsen’s ring walk in Denmark, Jethro has also written a track for Joe Calzaghe called ‘Undefeated’.

His latest boxing collaboration has been with none other than Sugar Shane Mosley. Boxing Monthly asked how this opportunity arose. “I was approached about an App he’s doing called Tag Key. It’s a social networking type thing. Harrison Wang from his management company got in touch with me via Twitter and said, “We love your music and have listened to ‘Warrior,’ – would you like to come to his fight in Los Angeles and perform this live for the Ricardo Mayorga fight?” Unfortunately, I had some gigs here which I’d already been paid for, so couldn’t go.”

Sugar Shane kindly took the time to speak with Boxing Monthly regarding the track and Jethro. “I like the kid. His music is great, so I played his single at my last fight. My girl loves his cousin…Maybe he and Jethro can do a proposal duet! They are great.”

Wrapping up Boxing Monthly’s interview with Jethro Sheeran, he was asked for his views on the best boxing performance of 2015. “Most definitely Tyson Fury becoming the world heavyweight champion. I was cheering him every round and when the decision was announced, I actually had a tear in my eye. The performance inspired me to write a song called ‘Gypsy King’. Hopefully, he’ll get the chance to listen to it and maybe one day it could be played as his walk to the ring. The track was about being an underdog.”