The two sides of Tyson Fury: He shops at the local Spar and wants to buy houses for Morecambe’s homeless… but his dad made him leave school at 11, he served a drugs ban and he has abhorrent views on homosexuality
- Tyson Fury is one of the most divisive personalities in modern British sport
- His feats inside the ring are commendable and he’s rightly lauded for them
- Also, he has offered to buy housing in Morecambe to help the homeless
- However, his rise to stardom has not come without its many controversies
- Among them are his views on homosexuality and serving a drugs ban
He has all the trappings of fame now: the mansion in Marbella, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and executive seats at Manchester United whenever the mood takes him.
Yet Tyson Fury is complicated and the story of how he disappeared from the education system provides a clue as to why.
He was 11 years old, progressing steadily through the idyllic village school at Styal, on a National Trust estate in Cheshire, when he became absent for long periods, later vanishing entirely from the place and out of the lives of the friends he had formed there.
Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury is one of the most divisive figures in British sport
Last week, Fury fought Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles for the WBC heavyweight championship
Everyone knew he came from a traveler family and the assumption was that the Furys had returned to their nomadic life on the road.
They had not. His father, John, had decided in the early 1980s that he would give up life on the road, with all the slog, as he puts it, of ‘going back to a cold caravan after a day’s work and having to light a coal fire.’
He was building his own house on land at Styal and his view, embedded in the Gypsy culture, was that when a boy is able to play a part in the work of the family, then he will.
‘I wanted the kids living my way, the Gypsy way,’ says Fury Snr. ‘They learn different things when they are not at school. They’re more streetwise. They’re welded to you. He helped me build the house.’
The ties Fury had formed in the outside world were suddenly cut. ‘We stopped seeing him and never did again,’ says one contemporary from those days.
The 30-year-old hails from humble beginnings and comes from a travellers’ background
Travelling in style: Fury’s gone from a caravan to a Rolls-Royce thanks to his exploits in the ring
He can now enjoy executive seats at Manchester United whenever the mood takes him
There was no formal education beyond the age of 11 for a boy who, by then, had already become the most intelligent in the house, good at arithmetic and English, according to his father.
‘My reading wasn’t so good,’ says Fury Snr, who worked on the roads. ‘I’d get letters and ask him, “What does that mean?” He’d tell me. He added up the money.’
A narrow, phenomenally successful, life in boxing began, with Fury accompanying his father – whose boxing success as ‘Gypsy John Fury’ belonged to a traveller history of boxing and bare-knuckle fighting going back generations – to the trainer Francis Hand’s Oak Street gym in Liverpool.
He had always felt his eldest son was cut out to box. He named him Tyson for a reason. He says there was evidence of the boy’s intelligence in the stories he would write out, featuring himself as world champion.
The boy began spending time in Morecambe, on Lancashire’s coast, with his father’s brother, Hughie, who trained him.
His father John (R) always wanted his children, including Tyson, to live the ‘Gypsy way’
He slept in a caravan at the back of Hughie’s home and trained in an old ring that Fury Snr fetched from his native Ireland. ‘It was in a shed in Dundalk,’ Fury Snr says.
‘We drove get it in our long wheel base van, caught the ferry from Heysham to Belfast and drove to the border. We found some rusty weights in the same shed and brought them back too.’
The ring was positioned in the middle of a corrugated iron shed. Fury was training in it when he won the EU Junior Championship representing England.
There were jolts. His father was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for gouging another a man’s eye out in a fight at a car auction – a measure of their deeply uncompromising world.
‘In the Gypsy man culture you defend yourself,’ Fury Snr says of his crime. He says his son was devastated, had tired of Hughie’s uncompromising ways and considered leaving boxing before Fury Snr convened a meeting at the Buckley Hall prison, Lancashire, in which another of his brothers, Peter, was entrusted with training Tyson.
Fury, pictured with his wife Paris, does the school run and shops in the local Spar
Fury moved from trainer to trainer, gym to gym, in England and Ireland, which is unusual in boxing, says the former boxer Ricky Hatton, who also worked with him. ‘It’s the traveller way I think,’ says Hatton. ‘Always moving on.’
Andy Lee, the former WBO middleweight champion who also emerged from the traveller world and is Fury’s cousin, says the rootless, itinerant life has never left either of them.
‘When you stop living in a caravan, you don’t stop being a traveller,’ Lee reflects. ‘The culture remains, especially for first generation travellers. You stick to your own. You are labelled from a young age. Secondary school was a prison for me. I left it at 13.’
The exclusion has had profound psychological consequences. The suicide rate in the traveller community is six times higher than in the general population and seven times higher among young traveller men.
Former world champion Ricky Hatton (R) works with Fury and helped in the lead-up to Wilder
Fury’s father, a huge influence, has mythologised the sense of difference with some pronouncements so extraordinary that they seem part of a confected effort to dramatise Fury.
He described him last year as ‘a Gypsy man, a travelling man, a cross-bred mongrel race of a man that’s bred to fight.’
It was a miracle that Fury escaped this world to make a living from boxing at all. It is the Gypsy way to marry young and have many children from young.
‘Boxing earns you so little until you break through,’ says Lee. ‘You can’t support a family through it.’
Fury met the woman who would become his wife, Paris Mulroy, at the age of 15 at a mutual friend’s wedding, and in some ways he has crossed over into something resembling a conventional way of life.
It will be to his upmarket family home on Marine Drive, a stretch of coastal road that runs through the upmarket village of Hest Bank overlooking Morecambe Bay, that the Fury clan will descend this Christmas. ‘They don’t want to be in our poky place when they have a proper place like that,’ says his father.
Fury’s father described his son last year as ‘a cross-bred mongrel that’s bred to fight’
The couple have four children – Valencia Amber, Prince John James, Venezuela and Prince Tyson Fury II, with another on the way.
He does the school run. They shop at the local Spar. He’s declared he wants to tackle the town’s social iniquities, stating that if the local Lancaster City Council will give him the land, he will pay out to build homes for the homeless in Morecambe. Locals have joined him in his runs on the shore.
However he is as much a product of his background as anyone. There was an incident at the local VVV Health Club a few years ago when he turned up to meet the mayor, having declared in the local Morecambe Visitor that he would like to be the town’s MP.
The mayor didn’t show and, according to one local, ‘Tyson got a bit upset. He knocked some things over in a temper.’ No-one was sure if this was genuine or for show. He baulked at the club’s £80-a-month fee and walked out.
Fury’s announcement on Instagram that he had purchased his Marbella mansion did not look convincing, either. It’s hard to avoid the sense that it is in Styal, where he sought sanctuary after the flight back from the Deontay Wilder fight this week, is where he feels most secure.
The Christian faith he speaks much of – and feeds some deeply reactionary views – is embedded in his upbringing, too.
Fury’s half-brother Tommy Fury, a light heavyweight who will make his professional debut at the Manchester Arena later this month, says Tyson is passionate about classic cars – just like their father – and enjoys watching westerns.
Fury caused outrage for comments he made in an interview with Sportsmail’s Oliver Holt (left)
The interview with the Mail on Sunday that sparked outrage weeks before the fight in Germany
Fury reached the top of the mountain when he dethroned Wladimir Klitschko back in 2015
Fury issues the same lines as his father. ‘We are a different race of people. The only homage we pay is to God almighty,’ is a favourite. This is what has made him at times a deeply objectionable individual – likening homosexuality to paedophilia before his 2015 fight with Wladimir Klitschko.
‘We’ve got our own beliefs,’ says the fighter who has on his record a two-year ban from his sport after testing positive for a banned steroid.
It was after the Klitschko fight that he ballooned to 28 stone and, he says, contemplated suicide because, with nothing else to aim for in the sport, there was a monumental hole in a life in which he had known nothing but boxing. Hatton was instrumental in helping him get back. ‘I really thought he was too far gone,’ says the former welterweight world champion.
Fury’s recovery from that low to what we saw last weekend – a bloodied Gypsy boxer twice clambering up from the canvas to go 12 rounds, then staring into the camera to tell those who had also suffered mental health problems that there was hope – looked like an act of redemption.
‘People relate to him in a way that very few can with Anthony Joshua,’ says Tommy Fury. He will say what’s on his mind. Joshua comes across as someone playing the game; the poster boy.’
It was after the Klitschko fight he ballooned to 28 stone and, he says, contemplated suicide
To go from that to the performance last weekend looked like an act of redemption from Fury
Lee says that only the traveler community can fully appreciate what it has taken for someone like Fury to discuss mental health.
‘Our Gypsy world is a repressive world,’ he says. ‘For a big, successful Gypsy man like him to say what he has said will have such an impact.’
No-one knows what will happen next for an individual who is in many ways caught between two worlds, though Hatton, who struggled with desperate mental health problems after retiring, does not think it will be easy.
‘What worries me is when he packs in boxing what’s he going to use to keep himself going?’ he says. ‘It’s all he’s known. He’s nothing else. I’ll do anything I can to help him. He’s got my number.’
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