Terry Flanagan: A local hero

Terry Dooley
15/02/2016 10:19am


When Terry Flanagan (29-0, 12 early) heard the words “And the new” following his second round retirement win over Jose Zepeda for the vacant WBO lightweight title at the Manchester Velodrome in July a wave of emotion washed over him. 

Elation and ecstasy over the win, naturally, and a feeling of vindication after flying under the radar for the majority of his career until Steve Wood, his manager, bagged him a promotional deal with Frank Warren in 2014.

However, there was also a niggling feeling that he would have to prove himself all over again due to the nature of the victory when it was revealed that the previously undefeated KO artist had withdrew due to a dislocated shoulder.

The Ancoats born and bred boxer told Boxing Monthly that he underlined his credentials by crushing American southpaw Diego Magdaleno in two rounds at the Manchester Arena in October.

“I knew I had a point to prove,” he said when we met up in Ancoats on one of Manchester’s infamously rainy days. “I knew I had the beating of Zepeda - I could see in his face that he was rattled - it just never got going. 

“I felt that if I’d have gone out and got beat by Magdaleno I wouldn’t have been able to say I had been a world champion. I know I said I was a champion after Zepeda, but people would have said I got it through a technicality.

“I got a number one contender put on me, what better way to show people that I’m a genuine champion? I knew going in that no matter what happens there are people who would say: ‘He wasn’t this and wasn’t that’ until I showed my class against Magdaleno. That’s when I started thinking: ‘Yeah, I’m a world champion, no one can say nothing about it now’. I annihilated him.”

Despite the win over Zepeda, Flanagan lingered at number five in Sky’s unofficial ratings before leaping to number one following the Magdaleno encounter; he was philosophical when asked if his low-key approach means that other lightweights grab the limelight.

“I can’t be bothered shouting my mouth off on Twitter, calling people out and all that, so I didn’t say anything much about it,” he said.

“The other fighters are out there in the public eye more than I am. The boxing fans know that I’m the country’s number one.”

Flanagan argued that praise and criticism is in a constant state of ebb and flow in boxing, the tide can turn quickly. “People can be Jekyll about things,” he added.

“They just follow the crowd, listen to what people are saying and copy it. Now people are talking about me a bit more after my last fight. Things change like that all the time in boxing. You just have to do your own thing because they’ll turn on you anyway.”

The 26-year-old southpaw is striving to build a future outside the ring. One of six children, he knows how tough life can be and has every intention of coming out of the sport with his senses intact and savings in the bank. Earlier that day, he had made the short trip to nearby Newton Heath to view a house, the first step on the road to long-term financial security.

“I want to make a better life,” he stressed. “I see the likes of [Michael] Brodie and [Michael] Gomez and I want more than what they’ve got after I retire. I’m not calling them, it’s just that you see that [fighters retiring with very little money] happen. Now I’m getting paid well I can buy a nice house.” 

Flanagan’s art has imitated his life; he didn’t have things easy during his childhood and teenage years, either. However, he was thankful for anything that came his way, telling me that he will use his experiences to ensure his family does not take anything for granted.

“Yeah, six of us growing up in a three bedroom house,” he said when asked if they had experienced tough times. “We didn’t have much, but we had family. We’d get told at Christmas time that we weren’t going to get much. It was always ‘First up, best dressed’ in our house.

“You understand when your parents say that about Christmas. I knew they didn’t have much. I wasn’t spoilt, asking them to go and get something they couldn’t afford. It didn’t bother me because they did their best for me. I will give my own family everything they want, but I’ll teach them to work for stuff rather than getting it easily.”

As for the new house, was there any temptation to move away from north Manchester to one of the leafy suburbs in the south of the city?

“Would I heck, I love it around here,” he answered. “My mum, dad and my whole family are here, so are my friends. Why would I want to move away? I’d just have to make friends all over again.”

Ancoats plays a big role in his life. The world’s “First industrial suburb” has seen some hard times since the slum clearances of the 1960s. Some industries were already no more while others were fading: cotton, the foundries, glass works and newspaper printing have come and gone, with the some of the historical buildings falling into disrepair.

There was once a thriving Italian community - Manchester’s own “Little Italy” - yet the Italian diaspora was dispersed during the clearances, although many come back annually for the Madonna del Rosario (Lady of the Rosary) procession. The residents who remained behind watched their area fall prey to poverty and prevalent drug abuse in the decades that followed.

Now, though, things are on the up, it is a part of Manchester’s regeneration project and the popular, ever-expanding Northern Quarter has brought about the gentrification of some parts of the area.

Despite this, the backbone of Ancoats is comprised of the people who stayed behind and decided to look out for one another. “I’ve lived here my whole life, I grew up on that estate at the back,” stated Flanagan. “The gym’s only over the canal so it’s walking distance. 

“Town’s moving out to us. We’ve had the druggies cleared out of the new flats. When we were kids, you’d see needles everywhere, you don’t see that type of stuff anymore. Any kid who gets into drugs is a fool. I’ve seen growing up what it does to people. You’d have to be an idiot to get into that.

“You’re getting a lot more people in the skyscrapers now, there’s more students. You see a lot of people riding bikes into work, which you didn’t see a few years ago. And we still have a lot of working-class people around here.”

The canals, old factories and abandoned buildings served as playgrounds for the area’s youth. Flanagan, though, always felt safe due to the tightknit community.

“We did what kids do, messing about in the park and all the old buildings,” he recalled. “You knew where everyone was as a kid so it kept everyone safe. Everyone knows everybody. We’re all good friends, we watch each other’s houses. If anyone dodgy comes through the streets we keep an eye on them. It’s got a good community spirit.” 

Steven Maylett Sr, his trainer’s father, opened up his house to BM due to the heavens opening above us. Maylett opened his living room door to reveal a swanky drum kit and suggested that the indie music-loving fighter play about on it while we waited for the rain to ease.

Maylett Jr has played a huge role in Flanagan’s rise. They trained side-by-side for years until injury forced Maylett out of that side of the sport. “He’s a top-quality coach,” stated Flanagan.

“People overlook him because he’s young. He puts so many hours in with me. We’ve both done it together. When else have you seen two lads from the same estate winning a world title together?” 

As we headed to the canal for photos, passing by a few flocks of the locally famous ‘Ancoats geese’, one of the old flats Flanagan had spoken about loomed large in the background, with luxury apartments situated just down the canal as you approach the city centre.

As Flanagan said, the area is changing; however, we are not in £4 for a bowl of cereal territory just yet. He believes Ancoats will retain its rugged charm, especially now that it has a world titlist walking the streets and waterways, which should serve to inspire the youngsters.

He said: “It’s all about wanting it, being determined to do something, working hard at it to get to where you want to be. It shows the kids that they can do something. They ask: ‘What can we do coming from around here?’ or think they can’t make it because they’ve been brought up in an area where the schools maybe aren’t as good. It goes to show that you can achieve something.”

The former British titlist’s next aim is to bring more glory nights to the Manchester Arena. Flanagan headlined there against Magdaleno. His fans could walk to the venue due to the proximity of the city centre and there is a trickledown effect when he fights.

Like most areas, Ancoats has lost many of its pubs, traditionally the places where you build a social network and sell tickets. Maylett Sr told me that people used to flock to The Navigation and Land ‘o’ Cakes. Both of those locals have closed down. Therefore, it is harder for fighters coming through to build a fanbase unless they frequently engage in social media.

Flanagan, though, brings a crowd to The Claredon - one of the last pubs standing - after every fight. Thousands of pounds go into the till. It keeps a sense of community alive in a world that is becoming increasingly disconnected despite the fact we are more connected than ever before.   

“I want to get all the other belts,” he pledged. “If we can line up unifications then they’re the fights I want to take. I’m the best in the division, so want to defend against the best. I walked out last time at the MEN, thought ‘They’re all here for me’ and that spurred me on. I want to see it getting busier and busier, and hopefully fill it before too long.”