“EVEN heroes have heroes and Tommy’s favourite sportsman of all-time was Muhammad Ali, for many people, rightly proclaimed as ‘The Greatest’,” writer Alex Gordon revealed today in his tribute Tommy Gemmell at the Lisbon Lion’s funeral. And the former Sports Editor at the Sunday Mail, a friend of Tommy Gemmell’s for almost a half century told a great story that captures the nicer side of the great footballing rivalry in Glasgow.
“Muhammad Ali was the world heavyweight boxing champion by the time he visited Scotland in August 1965.
“It was arranged for Ali to visit Celtic Park and then Ibrox and, of course, the press was out in force. Ali posed for all sorts of pictures, even hammed it up in a kilt and Tommy was like a kid when I talked to him years later about his meeting with his hero.
“Tommy told me: “He was an awesome presence. You saw him on the telly, but you never really appreciated the size of the guy or his fabulous physique. The dimensions of his hands were like sides of ham. And, of course, he was such an immaculately-honed sportsman with incredible good looks.
“”Apart from that, he was just an ordinary fella.”
“As Ali prepared to leave Celtic Park to go and meet the Rangers players, Tommy told him to look out for Willie Henderson, the club’s fabulous wee outside-right who also became a lifelong friend of Tommy.
“Willie Henderson is a boxing aficionado. Tommy, in fact, made the point Willie actually looked like a boxer on account of his squashed nose.
“Anyway, Muhammad Ali and his entourage arrived in Govan and went through the same routines with the Rangers players, posing for photographs and so on.
“Willie, as expected, took the opportunity to introduce himself to the world’s greatest-ever fighter. They shook hands and Ali looked at Willie’s nose.
“”You a footballer?” he asked.
“”Aye,” answered Willie.
“Ali took another glance at the Rangers player’s flattened hooter.
“”Man, I’m sure glad I’m a boxer,” he said.
“Of course, Muhammad Ali passed away in June last year at the age of 74, a year older than Tommy. Can you imagine the chat these two guys could be having today as they discuss their sporting achievements?
Gordon, in his eulogy went on to explain how the Rangers star Henderson and the Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell were always the best of pals.
“The affection in which Tommy Gemmell held Willie Henderson is obvious today. Willie, who doesn’t drive, made frequent visits to his big pal in Dunblane and, latterly, Glasgow,” Gordon explained.
“I love the story Tommy told me about Willie turning on a Rangers team-mate when they were at a footballing function.
“He was chatting to Tommy when an Ibrox colleague said: “What are you talking to him for? He does nothing but kick you when you’re out on the football park.”
“Willie bristled. “He’s never kicked me in his life. Tripped me up, tugged my jersey and pulled me down.
“”But he’s never kicked me!””
Tommy was too nice for that, although he did once kick a West German…
Rest in Peace Tommy.