Muhammad Ali funeral: North East fans fly to Louisville to pay their respects to 'the greatest'

Muhammad Ali Credit: Jeff Joffe/Ipol/Zuma Press/PA Images

More than 18,000 fans are gathering for the funeral of Muhammad Ali and among them are dedicated fans from the North East.

Ali died last Friday and tens of thousands of people are set to say a final farewell to the former heavyweight champion in his home city of Louisville in Kentucky.

Leon Kirkup, 38, from Durham, is sleeping rough for two days to be there, after paying $1000 - around £690 - for his flight.He said: "He's the King of the World. There will never be another Muhammad Ali. I'm just coming to show my respects, it was important for me to be here."

Riaz Hameed from Middlesbrough travelled to Louisville with his brother without tickets for either service, but thanks to the generosity of locals is now attending both. He said: "As a child you grow up and you have heroes in your life and in my case it was my dad and Muhammad Ali and it's fitting we come to pay respects to one of the greatest men to walk the face of the planet."

Riaz's brother Ramad, also from Middlesbrough, added: "You didn't need to meet him to understand what he stood up for in hard times and to comprehend how gracious he was to those who didn't have the fortune and good skills he had."

Muhammad Ali is fondly remembered in the North East and thousands turned out when he made an unlikely visit to Tyneside in 1977.

He visited Newcastle’s Pendower Hall Special School and Grainger Park Boys Club.