Ali photos from E&S archive really are Greatest to behold

Posted Monday, December 14, 2015 by Chris Leggett under News

He is the greatest boxer of all time – and one Black Country family have fond memories of their time with Muhammad Ali. (This article was originally published in the Express & Star in 2015, before the boxing legend’s death in June 2016.)

Photos uncovered in the Express & Star archives and shared on our Facebook group of The Greatest on his visits to Birmingham and Wolverhampton in 1979 and 1983 prompted Pat Smith to share her tale of when she met Ali – and he even stopped by her house to bless the family cat.

Mrs Smith’s father Leslie was renowned in the city as Ali’s number one fan, and regularly appeared in the Express and Star after meeting him at training camps and after fights, often bagging himself memorabilia, including fight-worn gloves and boots.

But ironically, when The Greatest visited the West Midlands in 1983, Leslie was on the other side of the world.

Mrs Smith, aged 59, a business manager from Bradmore, remembered: “Dad went to visit my sister in Australia, it had been planned for a long time.

“And he said to me if Ali comes, you’ve got to go and meet him and show him a photo of the two of them together, otherwise he’d wonder where I am.

“He told me to take a photo of the two of them off the wall and that would get me past security. Anyway, dad was away and we heard Ali was coming to Birmingham. We were supposed to be going on a caravan holiday to Wales that weekend, but obviously we went straight to Birmingham.

“When we got to his hotel, we gave the security guard the picture and told him to show it to Ali and tell him I’m Leslie’s daughter and he’d know who we were.

“Ali came up to me and put his arms out and hugged me.

“He said: ‘Where’s my Leslie?’ So I had to tell him, he’s gone to Australia.

“He said to get him on the phone, so we called my sister’s house and he picked up.”

She ad

ded: “I said you’ll never guess who I’ve got on the phone for you and he just straight away said: ‘Ali.’

“Dad asked if he would go to our house and bless the house and our cat.

“Ali agreed so we made arrangements for the following day.”

They met him at The Sheraton in Raglan Street, Wolverhampton, where Ali gave a speech to fans who were packed in tightly.

She added: “He made this lovely speech to the crowd, where he told them he loves this city because it’s the home of his number one fan.”

After the event Ali took a tour in a golden Rolls Royce, seeing sights as the Unit Sales DIY store after lunch at the Royal Court Hotel.

She continued: “My dad saw him again lots of times before he died in 1993, aged 79, but it’s just ironic how he missed him when he was in his home town.”

Now Mrs Smith hopes that Express & Star photos like the ones of Ali’s visit can be archived digitally for future generations to enjoy.

She said: “I think it would be wonderful if they could do that, there are so many great memories people have to look back on over the years.”

Leave a Reply