WHEN Amir Khan burst on to the world boxing scene as an Olympic silver medallist in Athens eight years ago, his then-trainer Mick Jelley became the reluctant focus of national media attention.
The 68-year-old coach of Bury ABC had stumbled across a prodigy he now describes as his “Red Rum” – after the legendary three-time Grand National winning horse – a talent which comes along perhaps once every 100 years.
But the global excitement which now surrounds the 26-year-old former world champion Khan, and the glamour that goes with it, is like water off a duck’s back to Jelley who continues to dedicate all his spare time and – over a 50-year period – thousands of pounds of his own money nurturing the boxing skills of numerous youngsters who have come knocking on his door.
It was 1962 when Jelley took over Bury ABC from his father, Pop Jelley, who founded the gym in the garage attached to his Scholes Street, Elton, house in 1936.
The youngest of six children by 10 years, Jelley boxed briefly as an 18-year-old, like his three older brothers, but he soon turned his attention to helping his father mentor and train young fighters.
Bury ABC has had at least 15 locations, and is currently based at Seedfield Centre.
“I’ve always said, if I’d been paid an hourly rate for what I’ve done in this sport, I’d be a millionaire, maybe a double millionaire,” said Jelley.
“I’ve taken days off work, days off unpaid, taking lads to boxing shows.
“But if you’re a fisherman, you go and buy your bait and you’ve got to drive to the place where you want to fish and it costs you money. It’s my hobby.”
Some hobby. Jelley’s reputation as a top coach stretches the length of the country. He frequently gets calls from youngsters in London wanting to relocate to the north and benefit from his advice.
And it’s not just the ‘Amir factor’ which attracts the attention, according to Jelley. Bury ABC’s reputation goes much further than that.
“Amir is only one element,” said Jelley. “Boxing has been going on in Bury for 76 years and it will be going on for another 76 years.
“Amir has only been around for eight years. My father and I have been producing successful young boxers for years.
“Amir was the Red Rum – end of story. It could be another 100 years before you get another one. It’s pot luck. He had all the right attributes and attitude, and so did his parents, which is something that can’t be underestimated.”
Regardless of Jelley’s confidence in his gym’s capacity to stand on its own two feet without the Khan factor, the coach has an enduring friendship with Amir and his dad, Shah.
“The one thing I’ll say about Amir and his family is that they’ve always been loyal,” said Jelley.
“Some of my other lads and their families have done things behind my back. To be fair, it’s not just the lads, it’s the parents – they don’t listen.
“I say to every lad ‘listen to people who can put you on the right track’. But some think they know better than you.
“Amir’s dad has invited me to every fight he’s ever had. When I had Amir here, Shah used to say ‘whatever you say goes’. He never used to butt in because Shah knew I was looking after his lad and Shah will tell any parent ‘if you want someone to look after your lads, there’s nobody better than this gentleman here, as long as you do what he says’.”