Ron McKay’s Diary: I’m confident the day Muhammad Ali was serenaded by the Ladies’ Pipe Band of Coatbridge was a highlight of his life

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He would have been 79 today. Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Not just the greatest fighter bar none, but a ragingly bright political figure who, in giving and taking the punch and not just in the ring, did as much for his people as taking the knee. Perhaps more. He was the greatest person I nearly met.

I was a boy when, as an amateur and light-heavyweight, he won an Olympic gold medal in Rome in 1960. Allegedly he threw the medal into the Ohio river after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant in Louisville, although that may be apocryphal.

It is certainly one of the many racist events which shaped him.

Bookmakers in Britain were illegal then although they existed everywhere with the connivance of, and no doubt payment to, the police. I used to spend my school dinner money in one on the southside of Glasgow. Age was no issue, only the lack of cash.

One of my first legal bets was on Clay, as he then was, beating Henry Cooper although he suffered his first knockdown. Then I had him at 1/7 to beat the ogre Sonny Liston, but that was more from loyalty than hope. It turned out that the ogre had a marshmallow heart and Clay beat him twice, although in the second one Liston, with mob connections, may have taken a dive.

I bought Ring magazine then and had followed the boxer they dubbed the “Louisville Lip” although that was probably only white people, and not to his face.

I was also into ice hockey and skating and when, in August 1965, he was booked for an exhibition bout at Paisley ice rink, I was there.

Clay, soon to slough off the name, wasn’t taking the four rounds too seriously and some of the fans booed him.

Apparently he said “all booing must stop when the king’s in the ring” but I didn’t hear that.

He was on a world tour of exhibition bouts and he told reporters: “Coming here to fight is just a favour. Taxes are so high. I don’t make money out of this. Very few boxing fans can afford to come to America to see me fight so I have come to them.”

He had been met at the then Renfrew Airport by the Ladies’ Pipe Band of Coatbridge. There was also a hospital visit where he signed autographs for patients. He also visited Celtic Park.

His sparring partner in Paisley was his chum Jimmy Ellis, who succeeded him as world heavyweight champion when Ali was sentenced to five years in jail, banned from boxing throughout the US, and had his passport taken off him for refusing to fight in Vietnam.

Of his many quotes, what he said about his refusal to be inducted is the most stinging: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me n*****.”

The three-and-a-half years out of the ring, until he won his appeal, robbed Ali and us of the prime of his career although of course he was to come back, with the memorable fights against Joe Frazier – the Thrilla In Manila and the Rumble In The Jungle (not, of course, at the old Parkhead).

I never saw Ali fight live but I’ll always have Paisley. Someone has to.

Legal obligations

THE Glasgow Bar Association, representing lawyers in the west of Scotland, has written to Police Scotland heid yin Iain Livingstone over safety concerns that Covid measures are not being upheld. “Many rooms are too small to allow for attendance of two police officers, one accused and one solicitor and this is leaving aside the potential for further persons being present e.g. interpreters or appropriate adults,” they say.

Plus they cite anecdotal information “of interviews being accommodated in a police station reception area and a staff muster room within police stations and of one member contracting Covid-19 after attending a police station”.

It’s even worse in courts.

In at least one court they say that the interview rooms are not being used, probably to avoid cleaning them after each interview.

Apparently lawyers are having to talk to clients through the grille of the holding cell, inches rather than feet away.

Trouble in Paradise?

IF Celtic had gone to Saltcoats rather than Dubai would they have been hammered in the media as they have been? Honestly, the amount of sanctimonious hot air expended would raise a large cathedral. It was a politically inept and irresponsible decision to take and being pictured by the pool with pints of Mick Jagger was equally stupid.

Of course, professional athletes are allowed to have an off-duty drink, but being captured supping in a luxurious setting doesn’t exactly send back the message that this is a serious training camp. I’m sure it wasn’t a jolly as the team were still fighting to land 10 in a row but it sure betrays a yawning chasm of media savvy and a degree of ingenuousness when cameras are around.

And it also diverts from the fatal mess over Covid our governments are responsible for.

If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stops football she will cite Celtic as the reason. She’s been in lockstep with Prime Minister Boris Johnson throughout, at least until recently when she’s elbowed him aside to give the first airing of the same message, so she is as culpable. As would be Health Secretary Jeane Freeman if she only knew what was going on.

The dogs in the street, not yet affected, know there should have been a total lockdown at the start and international travel should have been stopped, with tanks or tractors on the landing strips if necessary. We still haven’t got round to doing it properly as the corpses multiply.

But there are several serious questions about Celtic’s voyage into the absurd which need answering.

They travelled seven hours out and seven hours back in a plane with the Covid sufferer yet only 13 players were forced to quarantine for the match against Hibs.

This obviously wasn’t the total number of players on the trip, so why weren’t the rest locked away when they had been breathing the same circulated air?

Why was the Hibs match put back two days to convenience Celtic and against the wishes of their opponents? Why was the quite reasonable request from Hibs for tests on the players that were to play against them refused? Where is the disciplinary investigation into this bourach by the SFA when both St Mirren and Kilmarnock had points docked, the latter when players sat too close to each other at lunch?

But the most serious one is this. Why should taxpayers bear the cost of Celtic furloughing their under-18s when the club spent upwards of quarter of a million seeking the sun?

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