THE ENZO CALZAGHE STORY: The train to Cardiff that changed my life
3:23pm Thursday 18th October 2012 in News
ENZO Calzaghe is 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 today, and written with Argus sports writer Michael Pearlman, he lifts the lid on his amazing journey to becoming one of our sporting greats.
ENZO Calzaghe is the most successful boxing trainer of modern times – training three different world champions and winning the BBC Sports Personality Trainer of the Year award.
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 a flamboyant career and the making of a fight legend is revealed in his newautobiography.
It’s much more than a round-by-round tale of ropes and gloves, 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 hitch-hike and busk his way around Europe.
He charts his improbable rise from slaving as a waiter cum-cook in a seaside restaurant to becoming backing guitarist for chart stars such as Edwin Starr and Bucks Fizz.
And he reveals howa 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 howthe heart and determination of one self-made man serves as an example for anyone who craves success and is prepared to overcome near impossible odds to achieve it.
In yesterday’s Argus we detailed how Enzo spent much of the 1960s homeless and living rough across Europe. It was a bottle of whiskey that set him on the path to Wales and starting a family.
“I was planning to head home and within a few days had enough for a ferry boat to Italy. I hitched to Southampton and got on a boat to Le Havre. I met some people on the way and with what little money we had we pooled together to buy a bottle of Vat 69 whisky.
It was 40 per cent proof and it changed my life forever.
“When we arrived, the others looked for a hostel but I had no money and was out of my head and simply crashed out on the street. I was poked during the night and it turned out the person doing the poking was a policeman.
Once he found out I had just been in Britain and had time left on my visa, he decided maybe Her Majesty and the rest of the UK would like me back.
“He put me on the opposite side of the road while I was asleep. So when I woke I thumbed a lorry, fell asleep and duly woke up back in sodding Le Havre!
I was dejected and confused and, craving familiarity, headed back to Bournemouth.
“I decided to move again to see more of Britain before my visa ran out and a friend gave me a lift to Southampton train station. When we got there he noticed a train to Cardiff where he’d once lived and I just thought ‘why not’?”
Within a month of arriving in Cardiff Enzo had met and married Jackie Phillips, who for the past five decades has been Mrs Enzo Calzaghe.
However, the free-spirited Enzo didn’t take too well to fatherhood after his son Joe was born and in fact came close to losing him when he would return to Sardinia to show off his new family.
“All my relatives were desperate to see baby Joe. In my heart I felt my parents and family saw me as the black sheep and I felt like the failure of the family.
“But how could I be a failure when I produced this beautiful, happy, healthy son?
“He was my pride and joy and I wanted to show him off.
So we headed to Sardinia. “Weeks after Joe was born we went from Dover to Calais and then caught a train that would eventually stop in Genoa. We had an hour stop in Paris, got off the train to stretch our legs and then I had to go and get supplies for Jackie. I put them both back on the train and off I went to a little shop. When I came there was no sign of Jackie or little Joe in our seats.
“I was frantic, absolutely manic. I ran to the front and the train definitely said Genoa. I found the ticket conductor and I was screaming and shouting, fearing the worst had happened and someone had taken them. I began running up and down the platform like a mad man. I pegged it around the station here, there and everywhere, and still there was no sign of them. I ran to another platform, jumped on a train to Czechoslovakia that left about two minutes later and, to my utter amazement, sitting there as calm as day, were Jackie and Joe.
“Get off the train,” I screamed as it started chugging into life. Jackie scooped up Joe and I went mental.
“What are you doing? You scared me half to death. You were ninety seconds away from Czechoslovakia, Jackie,” I screamed at her feeling like my head was going to explode. “Enzo you put us on that train,” she replied, dead calm. And she was right. In my haste, I put them back on the wrong train. I dare not even think about what could have happened.”
After their spell in Sardinia, the Calzaghes lived in London when Joe was a baby. Only after another attempt at living in Sardinia did they then settle to life in South Wales. It was not a happy time for Enzo.
“We returned to Jackie’s mother’s house in Markham and I felt about as comfortable there as Jackie did in Sardinia. At least in Sardinia no-one called Jackie a ‘dirty Italian b******.’ The people in Markham hated my guts and I felt like a pathetic loser because I was living in my mother-in-law’s house. I felt emasculated, miserable and could only really enjoy myself when I was playing with the baby.
“I needed support and told my brother Uccio that Markham was great and the people really liked me!”
Uccio Calzaghe said: “People hated us from the minute I arrived in Markham.
They didn’t like us because we were Italian, hated us because we didn’t apologise for being Italian and were constantly suspicious of us. I think they thought we were going to steal their wives and girlfriends and in my case, they weren’t always wrong!”
Enzo’s lifestyle and unwillingness to give up his dream of being a professional musician took a heavy toll on his marriage. He recalls how close he was to turning his back on family life while recording in the band Foreign Legion, after they’d been discovered by the Barron Knights.
“Foreign Legion had signed a publishing deal so at least I was making a penny or two, but we still didn’t have a recording contract, even though there was more and more buzz about the band.
“I was trying to patch up my marriage but I couldn’t chase two dreams and we had a massive gig coming up, a showcase the Barron Knights had put on at the Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes and there were a lot of record label guys there. We looked the business, played a great set and afterwards Pete Langford (singer with the Barron Knights) came bounding up to us.
“They loved you,” he told us. Everyone thought you were great. EMI are interested and we’ve already had an offer for you guys to go to America and do a tour.”
America? This was really happening. I just didn’t know if I wanted it to. I went to tell my family what had happened and had what I can only describe as a panic attack.”
More revelations tomorrow
● Enzo reveals the agony of Joe missing out on the Olympics
● Enzo finds out he is sacked as Joe’s trainer
● How Enzo almost started a race riot before his fight with Roy Jones Jr
The book is available from gnbooks.co.uk and is being launched at Waterstones in Cardiff today