It had been a long time coming but the news of Muhammad Ali’s passing will rock the world for a while. Like millions of others I shall spend this weekend listening to, reading and watching the tributes to his life and career in a state of numbed fascination and wonder. I shall feel entitled to do so – but no more than anyone else of my vintage, regardless of their race, background, creed or circumstances – because of the impact he had upon me personally.
You see, I was 12 years old, existing as a boarding prep school boy in Seaford on 25th February 1964, the night that he first won the World Heavyweight title in Miami on a technical knockout when Sonny Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.
From that moment until he was stripped of his title in 1967 aged 25, for refusing to be inducted into the US armed forces – and thereby lost three and a half years of his boxing prime – I can honestly say that he was the biggest influence upon my life bar none.
That kind of experience stays with you for life.