When We Were Kids

Muhammad Ali in Dublin 1972

June 4th

I haven’t looked at the news yet. I was thinking of M Ali. He was dying last night. Just noticed that this was how he signed his autograph, M.Ali. I’m reminded of some stories and I thought I’d write them now before checking the news. I mightn’t feel like it later, and they may get “affected”.

When he was fighting in Croke Park a group of us boys were planning a route to bunk in on the day that involved scaling a complex of walls, finally leading into Croke Park. The furthest we got was a very high wall running along by the old handball alley, which was the new handball alley then, where Ali had been sparring every day. By this stage we had seen Ali every day for a couple of weeks and we all had several genuine autograph, all since lost. He signed his autograph M. Ali. So there’s a line of us boys straddled along this high wall, inching along adjacent to the ball alley, dangerously exposed by the windows to the dressing rooms in the ball alley, only a few yards to our left. Then we noticed one of the windows was open. It was hot July day. And into the frame of the open window stepped a naked Muhammad Ali, his back to his. The window was long and narrow, framing his shoulders and from above his head down to his thighs. We all froze on the wall staring at Muhammad Ali’s naked arse. Years later I told this story to a group of older men on a building site. Looks were exchanged. They all wanted to know one thing and one thing only. They were disappointed to learn that Ali hadn’t provided a full frontal. Someone must’ve seen us, a hand reached around the frame and eased the window closed. Ali had to move aside. He glanced over his shoulder as he did so, and the window closed.

On the day of the fight bunking in was unnecessary. It turned into a freebie for all.

A few years ago David Frost went to the US to interview Ali. There was a real sick room feel about it all and Frost was sensitive in the extreme. At one point he was expounding at length about Ali’s legacy and Ali’s head drooped and he started softly snoring. Frost, realizing Ali had fallen asleep listening to him, was totally flustered and apologetic. Then he realised everyone was smiling. Ali opened one eye to look at him. “I’m teasing,” he said. Towards the end of the interview Frost asked him what he felt now about his achievements in the ring. Ali said that his last fight had been over thirty years ago. “But you’ve come here today, all the way from England to see me. I’m still hot.”

I just looked at the news. He died last night. RIP M. Ali.