There was a particular routine to my school attendance between February 1976 and July 1978, rise and shine as late as possible, get myself ready with no time for breakfast, try not to get too cold or completely soaking wet when walking or running the half-hour route to our ‘seat of learning’ and then, when Muhammad Ali was fighting, rushing into class – just in time – to seek out Tank Top Tommy – the dawn riser among us. Tank Top was a small and friendly northern lad with a snazzy bicycle who would get up very early for his paper round and, after returning home, would always listen to the early morning sports news while his devoted mother prepared him a hot cooked breakfast.
My reason for seeking out Tank Top was simple: play as much football as we did – break times, PE periods and ‘beat the goalie’ after school – there was, in fact, a genuine challenger to our single-minded devotion to, and interest in ‘the beautiful game’. And this gauntlet had been thrown down by one athlete and one athlete only who performed in a solitary and violent blood sport: The Greatest – Muhammad Ali. He was the man who had become a legend in his own lifetime – a global icon who, at that time in the mid-Seventies, the world seemed to view as being nothing short of ‘superhuman’. (Full story available for £1.50 using PayPal)