Carl Frampton: 'I've always enjoyed the Twelfth, but burning effigies, photos and tricolours on bonfires doesn't do the Protestant community any good'
In a new behind-the-scenes documentary, Northern Ireland boxing hero Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton calls for a rethink on some Eleventh Night traditions, and why he is delighted to have fight fans from all sides of the community. Ivan Little reports
Boxing hero Carl Frampton has urged Protestant and Catholics to show more respect for one another's cultures and traditions and he's also called for an end to the burning of effigies and flags on bonfires.
The north Belfast star makes his appeals in a new TV documentary about his life and about the build-up to his last ground-breaking clash against Australian Luke Jackson at Windsor Park in August - "the biggest fight in the history of boxing in Ireland", he calls it.
During the hour-long programme Frampton, a world-beater in the ring, talks of how he's happy to be seen as a champion for a fresh, more united Northern Ireland society outside it.
The Protestant fighter from loyalist Tigers Bay, who married a Catholic girl from west Belfast, insists that he's nothing special.
"If people want to see me and Christine (his wife) as a new image of Northern Ireland, then I'm happy," says the former two-weight world champion, who has managed to unite his deeply divided city behind him, bringing Catholics and Protestants ringside to cheer on his every punch.
As he takes the makers of Frampton: Return Of The Jackal on a tour of the streets where he grew up, Carl points out the peace walls and fences between Protestant and Catholic homes.
He says: "Tigers Bay is a working class Protestant or unionist area and it's right on the interface with the New Lodge, which is a republican or nationalist housing estate."
Of the trouble that would regularly break out on the peace lines, he says: "They're the same houses, it's mad, isn't it?"
Frampton says his house was on Upper Canning Street which, as the first street on the Protestant side of the interface, used to see a lot of the trouble, adding: "It was like flipping Braveheart sometimes."
He recalls how both sides would invade the other's streets. "It wasn't scary, I don't think when you are a kid. But I wouldn't want my kids to have to see anything like that," he adds.
Carl says the sectarian rioting isn't as bad as it was in his youth. But turning to the loyalist tradition of Eleventh Night bonfires, he says: "I'm not saying there shouldn't be bonfires. But I think that it gets to a point where effigies are being burnt and pictures of people and tricolours and everything else, I think in this day and age they need to come away from that.
"That doesn't do the Protestant community any good. And I think it's something they all maybe need to look at."
Frampton says that both sides should do something to make their traditions more inclusive.
He adds: "It's going to be very difficult. But I think it's important for both sides of the community to respect the other side and their traditions and their beliefs and live together."
Carl says when he was a youngster he used to stand on the Twelfth of July in Royal Avenue in Belfast with his father and his uncles to watch the bands going past.
"It was good. I really enjoyed it when I was a kid. I always have," he adds.
At one point Frampton is seen with his wife and two children at the field after a Twelfth of July parade, and though he's happy to pose for pictures with his fans, he's clearly disgusted as he walks away after one man shouts "UFF".
The new programme, made by the award winning Ad Hoc company for BBC One Northern Ireland, is an intriguing and earthy insight into the days of the Jackal in the run-up to the Jackson fight, providing a rare glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes for Frampton the fighter and for Frampton the family man.
The cameras follow Carl for two months before his dream ticket - his first ever fight at Windsor Park in front of a passionate, sold-out crowd in defence of his interim world title against Jackson.
For Carl it was a return to a venue he knew well as a football supporter.
The Crusaders fan is still a fixture in the stands to watch his Northern Ireland international idols take on the best teams in the world… and often beat them.
The renovation of the tired old Windsor Park into a modern stadium fit for every occasion and the moves by Northern Ireland fans to shed their sectarian image at games made it possible for Frampton to target the new ground for a big fight.
Carl says Windsor Park was previously seen as a hostile place for nationalists thinking about going to Northern Ireland games.
"But it's different now. It's more inclusive now. There's no sectarian chanting on the terraces any more like there used to be," he says.
Also on the bill at Windsor Park was Paddy Barnes, who Carl says is one of his best friends, even though he's from a nationalist area of Belfast less than a half-mile from his own district.
"Without boxing I don't think I would ever have met Paddy," says Carl, who has "a seriously huge fan base in nationalist areas" according to Paddy, who adds: "Carl could walk anywhere in Belfast and he would be welcomed with open arms."
The cameras go with Frampton to Manchester, where he was training before the Jackson clash five days a week at Jamie Moore's gym in Salford.
They also capture a more domestic side of the boxer as he cleans the floor of the apartment he was sharing with two other Northern Irish boxers, Stevie Ward and Conrad Cummings, who says Carl is "the mother of the house".
Frampton says it's tough to be away from his family in Co Antrim before a fight.
"It's great to see them at weekends but it feels as if it is shortlived," he says.
"However, this is what I do. It's my job. And I know that it's beneficial for them because I am providing for them."
He admits that his wife Christine, who has a degree in criminology, is the "boss" in his household and he says that once he hangs up his gloves he would be happy for her to "do anything she wants".
"I could be a stay-at-home husband. Christine has put her own life on hold, almost, to allow me to try and fulfil my dream," he says. "It's an emotional strain on her being a housewife. She's a clever girl."
Christine says that she would like to work again, adding: "I do miss it. When you don't use your brain for a while it goes to marbles."
Looking to the future, Frampton says he's glad that his two children Carla and Rossa will have different, "more middle-class" upbringings compared to him and his wife.
But he says it's still important for him to bring them back to Tigers Bay as often as he can.
On a lighter note, Carl talks at his training camp about a meeting with Prince Charles, whom he described as "funny" and who had an embarrassing exchange with Christine over her joke that she was going to have a nose job like some of the royal's friends.
Back in Belfast, Carl's trainer Moore springs into action to replace a flat tyre in the boxer's car and to assure him that it's not a bad omen for the fight.
On the way to the weigh-in Carl is caught in a massive traffic jam and decides to jog the rest of the way to his date on the scales.
A large part of the documentary catches the electric atmosphere at Windsor Park as Frampton outclasses Jackson as the fans sing and dance in the grandstands while others on the pitch don ponchos to protect themselves from the incessant rain.
Frampton says: "I don't want to sound like I'm harping on about it, but I believe I have the best support and the best fan base in the world. They know a good fighter when they see one and they have really got behind me. It's a massive inspiration."
He says there are boxers in Belfast who are a lot more skilled than him, but he adds: "I just have that bit between my teeth that drives me on and wants me to succeed a little bit more than them. But if you have that in you I think you can go right to the top. I just want to be a world champion again.
"I'm not big-headed. I'm nothing special. I'm a boxer and that's it."
Frampton: Return Of The Jackal is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, 9pm