The fight to make it right

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SPENDING an hour with Bradley Welsh is exhausting. And that's without pulling on gloves and stepping in the ring for a sparring session with the former pro-boxer.

He seems to find it almost impossible to sit still, dashing from punch bags to speed balls, kicking up medicine balls into the air, pouncing on an old-fashioned strong man machine and with one punch setting off the lights and buzzers off in a cacophony of sound. And all the while he's talking, his conversation coming as fast and hard as his jabs and uppercuts.

"It's for kids, for self-esteem. And for women, and self-defence. I hate professional boxing. It's barbaric. The amateur game is much safer. I've got big plans."

Perhaps he suffers from some kind of hyperactivity disorder, but energy seems to pour off him, like sweat after a three-minute round. At the moment, the 34-year-old is directing it into his latest project, the Holyrood Gymnasium, which will be opened by boxing legend Ken Buchanan tomorrow, but it has led him down some less salubrious paths before now.

While there are many in Edinburgh's boxing fraternity who will be able to tell you all about Welsh's impressive record as an amateur (in 1993 he won the British ABA lightweight title) and his brief foray into the professional world, there will be others for whom his name rings other bells.

For while he boxed at lightweight as a teenager, in his other life he was definitely in a heavier division. Welsh used to be one of Edinburgh's football casuals. The former St Thomas of Aquins pupil ran alongside the notorious Capital City Service (CCS) before turning to more lucrative thuggery.

"It was a different time," he says, a distinct steeliness suddenly appearing behind his brown eyes. "I'm not proud of what I did then in regards to violence, but it was what I did, and now it's in the past. I came from a broken home, my education was poor and following Hibs was all I was interested in. The fighting came through.

"I was a product of the political climate of the time, and I was led down that path. It all sounds cliched now but it's true. It was a self-esteem thing. I was only a teenager. In fact, I stopped going to football when I was 17."

By that time, though, Bradley Welsh was a name which was feared in certain circles. Which meant when he established Westland Security with his friend, the late Chris Sneddon, many firms were falling over themselves to be "protected" by his firm. "We really didn't have to do much at all," he says. "People thought we could control the troublemakers. It ended up we didn't have to do anything much, if people knew we were security for a place, they left it well alone.

"But I was also into clubs then. The rave scene had started and we were running the Venue. I ended up having a showdown with Craig Douglas who owned Calton Studios along the road. I did have a gun, but I never used it."

Unfortunately for him, though, that threat was enough to come back to haunt him as a charge when he was also arrested for carrying out a terror campaign against an Edinburgh estate agency firm. According to the court reports, Welsh had tried to menace the directors of Gerlings Stewart Property Ltd to abandon a civil action to reclaim 300 from the director of another company.

He still alleges that isn't the true story, that the estate agents were "two normal guys who touched the criminal world and it enveloped them". And he claims he was "fitted up" by police on a charge of possessing ammunition. "They planted ammunition which I never had," he claims. "To be honest, though, I am glad they did. I think if someone did to me what I was doing then, I would want the police to do whatever they could to get them locked up."

That charge, along with that of menacing Douglas and demanding 5000 at gunpoint, ended up not proven. Menacing the estate agents, though, stuck and he was sentenced to four years in Penninghame Open Prison. He was only 20.

"It was the worst time of my life," he admits. "To be away from my family, my mum, my brother and two nephews . . . I couldn't take it. It really made me start to think about whether it was all worth it - the money I had made couldn't match what I was missing while I was inside."

Not that he learned his lesson too quickly. He claims he arranged for an inmate in another prison "to be slashed" because he had attacked his mum Patricia, who lives in Dewar Place. And then he ended up in solitary confinement for staging a hunger strike.

It was during this time that his life did begin to change. Welsh had taken up boxing when he was just seven. He proved talented, making a Scottish select team when he was 13 on a trip to Ireland. Even when his life took a more criminal route he kept it up, becoming Scottish amateur champion.

So when prison officer and former amateur boxer Ian Duff discovered him shadow-boxing in his cell, his path seemed clear.

"It's strange, I have never really been into boxing," he says. "I was just good at it so people told me to keep at it. Then when I met Ian, I realised it was something that could help me. I put all my energies and efforts into it. So I got to train at a boxing club outside prison and won the Western District light-welterweight championship as well as getting a Scotland call-up in a match against Italy. So when I got out I just focused on boxing. It was my salvation."

The year he got out he won the ABA title, and was given the chance to represent Scotland in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada. "I made a mistake then," he says. "I should have gone, but instead I turned pro. I found myself surrounded by the types of people I knew before I went to jail. I didn't want anything to do with that any more, so after about four fights I quit."

He kept boxing, though. His financial nous for sponsorship meant he had some money in his pocket so he headed for the States to train in the gyms which turned out the likes of Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard. Then his mother fell ill, and for the past seven years he has been her carer as she suffers from ankylosing spondylitis.

"I've been thinking of how I could help kids who are like me when I was their age, and how I can try and make sure they don't go down the same road I did.

"That's why I've set up the gym. I've borrowed and begged to get the equipment, but already kids are coming to me wanting to learn how to fight. I tell them it's not about that, that I want to teach them self-control and to raise their self-esteem. Boxing is the original keep-fit workout so I'm getting lots of men and women who want to get back to basics and get fit without having to pay hundreds of pounds to sit in a sauna."

Certainly there are no showers at the Holyrood Gymnasium. And no heating thanks to the concrete walls - although after working circuits to the three-minute buzzer you should be warm enough.

• The Holyrood Boxing Gymnasium and Amateur Boxing Club will be officially opened at Holyrood Business Park, Duddingston Road West, tomorrow at 7.30pm by Ken Buchanan followed by a boxing exhibition at 7.45pm.