THE ENZO CALZAGHE STORY: The genius behind boxing legend and local hero
2:39pm Wednesday 17th October 2012 in News
Enzo Calzaghe is the genius behind the genius and Britain’s most decorated boxing trainer, leading son Joe to an unbeaten career and winning world titles with two other fighters.
In his autobiography, A Fighting Life, out tomorrow, and written with Argus sports writer Michael Pearlman he lifts the lid on his amazing journey to the pantheon of sporting greats.
ENZO Calzaghe is the most successful boxing trainer of modern times – training three different World Champions and winner of the BBC Sports Personality Trainer of the Year.
He never fought in the ring, but he still turned his son Joe into one of the top ten boxers on the planet – a World Champion with a record of 46 unbeaten fights.
His extraordinary behind-the-scenes story of his flamboyant career and the making of a fight legend is revealed in his book.
It’s much more than a round-by-round tale of ropes and gloves, and grit and glory.
For the first time Enzo opens the family album and discloses intimate details of his bruising upbringing in Sardinia, where the Mafia lurked on every corner and his father practised ‘tough love’.
He talks of fleeing Italy to hitchhike and busk his way around Europe.
He charts his improbable rise from slaving as a waiter cum-cook in a seaside restaurant to become backing guitarist for chart stars such as Edwin Starr and Bucks Fizz.
And he reveals how a single announcement on a bare railway station platform changed his life forever.
Not only does it provide a unique insight into the father and son relationship that conquered boxing, but also shows how the heart and determination of one selfmade man serves as an example for anyone who craves success and is prepared to overcome nearimpossible odds to achieve it.
His story starts in 1952 when he was still an infant and his family moved from Sardinia to Bedford in England.
Enzo’s father Guiseppe had fought against the Allies in the Second World War less than a decade before.
Enzo remembers: “It was bloody difficult being an Italian family in the UK in the 1950s because the war created raw feelings.
“Even though people liked my dad and respected him because he was such a tough worker, Italians weren’t really very popular and the local people reminded us of that every day.”
He says his family were on the wrong side in the Second World War but he completely understands why it happened, but says as a kid it was a lot to take.
“There can’t be many people who remember being called a “filthy Italian b****** or a “greasy w**” at five years old but I can.
“I am sure my brothers can too, because we kids were getting it daily. I was a tiny boy, about three foot and permanently wearing short trousers... I attracted attention.”
One upside of being a target was that he learned the laws of the jungle.
He says he felt confident and safe with all his brothers and cousins and started to get into a lot of trouble which he relished.
“It was exciting. Plenty of the strife I’ve been in during my life has been totally my fault but as kids we were often in fights or just beaten s***less because we were Italian.
“Nowadays that wouldn’t be ok...”
But back then the parents of the kids responsible often wouldn’t care too much that their sons were beating up the Italian boys.
In the 1960s the Calzaghe family had moved back to Sardinia.
After joining a band, teenage Enzo was already a working man and was, by his own admission, on a destructive path.
He gigged in the evening for not much money but in order to keep his dad off his back he needed to make some cash during the day and so began a career that would last a decade hustling on the busy markets in Sassari.
“I became friends with some gypsy boys and we would hang about on what the locals called Via Mala, ‘the bad road’ where people of ill-repute would hang about and there was plenty of action if you were prepared to leave your morals at the door.
“I loved it instantly. It was natural to me, haggling and bartering, trading this for that and hanging around with the big drinkers, the workers, Mafia-types and the druggies.
“The stench of marijuana was permanent and curiosity killed the cat eventually as I tried my first illegal substance.
“When I was 15 or so I had my first drag on a spliff.
He remembers the market scene being full of great characters and it was a life he was so comfortable with, selling anything he could.
“A lot of the stuff I presume was stolen and a lot of the boys I hung around with were drug dealing, but I never quite went that far.
“But while I wasn’t a drug dealer, it would be a lie if I said I didn’t sometimes acquire recreational drugs and move them on, though usually in bulk and normally for something I was more comfortable selling, like tobacco or moody watches. Maybe you’d be fair to say I was an occasional drug trader, a part-time musician and full-time hustler.”
After a mandatory period in the Italian Army Enzo slipped into old habits and eventually decided to leave Sassari and travel around Europe.
It was a journey that would ultimately lead him to his soul mate and wife of five decades, Jackie Phillips, now Calzaghe.
However, Enzo’s travels rarely seemed likely to be leading to such a joyous outcome.
He recalls waking up in a tunnel in Amsterdam.
“For many nights we slept in Dam Square which happened to have a large tunnel nearby. At night, I swear, it was insane with homeless people queuing up in a civilised manner to get in this tunnel and sleep rough, like you all had your own bed space lined up in rows.
“Some people would probably find that quite terrifying but for us it was just becoming normal.”
One particular morning, much like any other Enzo’s friend Constanzo woke in that tunnel, turned to him and said he was going to the shop which was ten minutes down the road.
Outside the shop was a cigarette machine they knew how to operate without paying.
“So off he went and an hour later he wasn’t back, same story two, three, four hours more while I was sleeping off a heavy night.
“I was already paranoid from the drugs I was taking, and when he hadn’t come back by lunchtime I feared the worst. Something had happened and I went looking for him in a bit of a panic.”
Constanzo and Enzo had been like brothers for probably six months or more and Enzo knew something had to have gone wrong because they were basically never apart.
“I headed to the red-light district and managed to find Erika, his (sort of) girlfriend. She hadn’t seen him.
“We spent the next couple of days looking for Constanzo before one of Erika’s friends said she had seen him leaving the city and that was when it hit me.
“He had done a bunk. I was absolutely devastated... If he had told me his intentions I might have gone with him and then I would never have met the love of my life.”
Enzo believes everything happens for a reason but right then he was penniless, homeless and totally alone in a foreign country and he felt like his best friend had betrayed him. And things only got worse in the next couple of weeks.
More revelations in tomorrow’s Argus ENZO reveals the amazing story of:
● How a bottle of whiskey led him to Wales
● How he almost lost his baby son Joe
● His initial “hate, hate” relationship with the Gwent locals
● His dream of becoming a professional musician almost coming true.
The book is a vailable from gnbooks.co.uk and will be launched at Waterstones in Cardiff tomorrow.