Working hard in boxing gyms from the age of eight, always on top of his game, Joey “The Jab” Singleton was a winner in the ring. Ultimately denied a shot at the world title, he managed pubs and a security business before concentrating on training the Crewe boxers of the future…
“There wasn’t much equipment when I started out. I joined my brothers, Tommy and Billy, who were at a school gym in Norris Green, Liverpool. When that place closed down, we went over to Fazakerley, near Kirby. It was an old RAF camp, rock bottom basic, and we had to pump up the oil lamps and light fires to keep warm while we trained in the winter. There were some good people, though, and they taught me some valuable lessons. That gym turned out some great fighters, like John Conteh, Azumah Nelson, Shea Neary and Paul Hodkinson. I started sparring with a guy called John Lloyd. He was bigger and older than me, so I had to work hard. That made me determined, and it made me the fighter I became. I won the schoolboy championships from eleven years of age, and then became junior champion at fifteen. Turning pro was never daunting, because I had great confidence in my ability. There were forty professional fights across my career before I retired at 32 years of age. I’d been in the ring for 24 years, so the body was getting tired. I had some great wins and won the British Welterweight title faster than anyone else. After eleven fights I held the Lonsdale Belt. So I achieved a lot but saw myself as a failure because I didn’t fight for the World Title.”
While training still dominated his life, Joey also took a pub, The Red Cow, in Peckham High Street, in south London. That gave him a taste for business life after boxing, and the licensed trade would ultimately pay the bills.
“The London pub was hectic and I ran that with a business partner. We eventually came back to Merseyside and did well, but we wanted something a little bigger. That’s what brought me to Crewe, and we settled on the Bear’s Paw in Warmingham. We bought that for £250,000 in 1987 and had some great times, offering good food and entertainment. That lasted six years but we realised that it wouldn’t make our fortune. It was too far out of town, and on foggy, winter nights we’d close the place because the bar was empty. I needed a pub with regular trade, part of a busy scene and with proper drinkers. That’s what I knew best. So we sold up.”
The Brunswick on Nantwich Road would eventually provide the bustling pub environment Joey craved, but another business opportunity arose that would establish him as one of the best-known faces in town.
“I started doing the pub doors in Sandbach, but I realised that there was a need for a proper firm in Crewe. If the police, drinkers and other pubs are confident about the door staff, then you can have a well-run operation. So I formed Lonsdale Security in 1994 and it grew quickly, with nearly 100 staff working the pub doors one Christmas! I’d run the door at Clancy’s for a while, and I was told that Nantwich Road felt safe, and that people trusted my team. At one time that stretch was like Blackpool’s Golden Mile, busy pubs everywhere and people having a good time.”
“There were a few rogues, but you can handle them in Crewe. I’ve lived in Liverpool and London and some of the locals here wouldn’t stand a chance in the big cities. On football days we had a few handy lads down from the big city clubs. That happened in The Royal Hotel one night when Manchester United visited. Glasses were smashed and one of the fruit machines was emptied. I knew one of their fans, a Crewe lad, and I told him that I wanted all fifty of them out. The bar didn’t want their money. He said it might kick off, but because he trusted me and respected that I was head doorman, he got them to leave – no fuss. I even told the police to keep an eye on them as they went to other pubs along the street, but they came to say goodbye and shake my hand after the match. It’s a rough game and you have plenty of problems, but I was well respected. You have to deal with certain people when trouble starts, and no matter what you say they’ll have a grudge against you. So over the years I had fifteen death threats. I can live with that, but it’s not acceptable when people start intimidating people who are close to you. My partner has been put through too much, so when a couple of national firms started putting door teams in the area I knew that was a good time to call it a day.”
In the background, Joey’s passion for boxing continued when he established the Crewe ABC, giving youngsters somewhere to train and learn the ropes. “The first gym was set up at the Greystone Park youth club, and we got by with some basic bits of equipment. For a while I doubled-up with a lad who taught kickboxing, but I wanted more control and to offer the best training to the kids. So we went solo and started to build something special. We spent a few years at the Macon House complex, by The Lollipop Club, but that wasn’t big enough as we started to expand. So we settled at the old Camm Street gym, and they gave us a massive space that was perfect. There are forty to fifty fighters there some nights, and the council have been really supportive helping us get grants for extra training gear. We took the best of the fighters all over the area competing against other clubs and I was amazed how quickly some of the kids progressed. It’s all about listening to your coach, because if you carry on thinking that you know it all you’ll end up on your back. I’ve got some great lads at the gym and they want to learn. I’ve watched them improve and it’s been great passing on my experience.”
Finally, in early 2008, amateur boxing was brought back to Crewe. “I felt so proud that I could stage bouts in the town. It meant a lot to our fighters, not having to travel all the time. They stand up and fight in front of a home crowd and it makes all the difference. You see them walking tall, looking like they have gained an inch and a few years of experience. So whether we break even or make a few quid for the club, it’s worth performing in front of their friends and family. It helps their development. The main function room at Crewe Alexandra’s ground is a fantastic venue, plenty of seating, a big bar and they let us use the club’s changing rooms. It’s got a huge car park and it’s close to the train station as well. So we’ve built up a good relationship with the football club and I’m hoping we can carry on holding events there in the future. Fighters like Alfie Sackey (pictured above, right) have a real chance, and he is always learning. He’s been fighting for the England team and, because he listens to me, I think he’s got a great chance in the heavyweight division. He’ll need a lucky break or two, maybe something that I didn’t get, but he’ll succeed if he keeps training hard. I’ve always felt that I should have been given a crack at the world title, so now my ambition is to train one of my own kids. It will happen one day...”
Joey’s story appeared in “Crewe And Its People” that was published back in 2009; all forty stories will be posted here between February and June as a permanent series of social history documents for Cheshire. A second volume of fascinating Crewe life stories will be available to buy from September 2016.
Main image of Joey Singleton in the ring by Simon J. Newbury. All other images by Jules Hornbrook.