Scotland

The day Muhammad Ali fought in Paisley - and was booed

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Muhammad Ali and Tommy Gilmour in 1965 Image copyright Tommy Gilmour
Image caption Tommy Gilmour met Muhammad Ali in Paisley when he was 13
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Few people remember the day world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali fought in Paisley but Tommy Gilmour says it was one of the "great moments" in his life.

Tommy was 13 when he met the boxer who was widely known as The Greatest.

Ali, who was just 23, had caused a major upset 18 months earlier when he beat Sonny Liston to become world champion.

Image copyright PAisley Daily Express
Image caption Muhammad Ali was met by a ladies pipe band when he arrived at the airport in Renfrew

He beat Liston again in May 1965 and then embarked on a gruelling world tour, fighting exhibition matches with his sparring partner, in order to boost his international profile.

An exhausted Ali pitched up at Paisley Ice Rink on 20 August and was booed by fans who did not think he was giving it his best shot.

Tommy's father, also called Tommy, was Ali's agent for the exhibition bout and the teenager got access to the dressing room ahead of the fight.

Image caption Tommy Gilmour went on to become a top boxing promoter and manager

Tommy told BBC Scotland's Timeline programme: "I think the thing I remember most about him is that he didn't say much. I would say he was quite withdrawn."

Tommy says the man who was known as the Louisville Lip because of his outspoken comments was sitting alone and did not want his picture taken.

"I can still remember the dressing room," Tommy says.

"Everyone was over there but he sat in a wee corner."

Image caption Ali was tired after exhibition bouts around the world

Tommy says Ali was deep in preparation.

"He made his reputation with being lippy," Tommy says.

"He was always calling everybody out so it was a shock that here's this guy and he was quiet."

It was Chris Dundee, the brother of Ali's manager Angelo, who said the boxer should pose with the young Tommy.

Tommy, who went on to become one of Scotland's most successful boxing promoters and managers, says Ali was serious about preparing for the fight and was at the peak of fitness.

He says: "I was 13 years of age and I was about half the size that he was.

"He was a man mountain. He was a huge guy and he was in prime condition."

As well as posing for the photograph, Ali gave Tommy a signed picture.

Image caption Tommy got a signed photo of Ali

He says the picture had the name Cassius Clay printed at the bottom but he signed it Muhammad Ali, the name he had chosen after converting to Islam soon after the first Liston fight.

"I think he must have been a Scotsman because he was still using old pictures," Tommy says.

As well as meeting Ali before the fight, Tommy can also say he was in the ring with the world champion.

It was young Tommy who held up the number at the start of each round.

Image copyright PAisley Daily Express
Image caption Ali was booed during the exhibition bout in Paisley

The man Ali fought in Paisley that night was Jimmy Ellis, his main sparring partner, who would become world champion in 1968 after Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War.

Despite the pedigree of the two boxers and the seriousness of Ali's preparation, the fight was a disappointment for the fans who went along.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ali (left) sparring with Jimmy Ellis in London in 1966, before a fight with Henry Cooper

The next day, the Paisley Daily Express reported that "a few unappreciative boxing fans booed world champion Muhammad Ali as he gave a four-round exhibition fight".

The local newspaper wrote that Ali turned to the crowd and said: "All booing must stop when the king's in the ring."

Alan Muir, who wrote a play about Ali's visit called The Greatest, told BBC Scotland: "For whatever, reason Muhammad Ali wasn't that great.

"He was dancing around his sparring partner but neither of them were throwing many punches and folk just got fed up."

Image copyright Central Press
Image caption Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, fought Henry Cooper at Wembley in 1963

The newspaper at the time reported that Ali said he was "pretty tired" after the exertions of his world tour.

The boxer 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 said he thought he would give them a nice show for a few dollars but instead he was booed.

Image copyright Agence France Presse
Image caption Ali knocked Sonny Liston out in their second fight, a few months before the Paisley fight

Before the bout, Ali had arrived at Renfrew Airport and was met by the Ladies Pipe Band of Coatbridge.

During his stay, the champ visited Glasgow's Oakbank Hospital and signed autographs for patients.

He also called in to Celtic Park before returning to his hotel in Giffnock.

However, after the bout Ali is said to have gone straight to the airport and taken the first flight out of Scotland.

It was almost 30 years before Ali, who died two years ago, returned to Glasgow as part of a book tour in 1993.

Tommy Gilmour says that because of his father's work he met lots of champions when he was a young child.

"It's only when you start to get older that you start to realise 'I was in the presence of somebody who was great and is still memorable'," he says.

"I think he touched everybody. He was a special man."

Timeline is on BBC Two Scotland at 19:30 on Thursday 22 March and afterwards on the iplayer.

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