1. ITV Report

40 years since boxing legend Muhammad Ali visited Tyneside

Forty years ago boxing legend and Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali, came to Tyneside.

He flew into Newcastle Airport and spent four days visiting the area to raise money for local boxing clubs.

Ali was accompanied by his wife Veronica Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ali and wife, Veronica, visited a Mosque in South Shields to have their marriage blessed.

Ali and Veronica had their marriage blessed in a South Shields mosque Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Ali came to the region on the invitation of ex South Shields Boxer, Johnny Walker. He had flown to America to ask Ali in person if he would come on the visit. Walker arrived unannounced in America and rang Muhammad Ali's ranch, after hearing how far he'd travelled, a limousine was sent to collect him and he was greeted at the ranch by Ali himself.

John explained the reason he'd gone over, to try and help the Boys' Clubs and Muhammad Ali said he'd never known anything like this. For someone to come all this way without an appointment it's unbelievable. Normally I wouldn't do what was suggested but because of what you've done and what you've explained, I'll come and that's what happened.

– Jack Taylor, relative of Johnny Walker
Crowds mobbed Ali everywhere his went Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
Ali's one year old daughter, Hana, was in his arms on much of the visit Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The main reason for Ali's visit was to help raise funds for Boys' Clubs in the area. Grainger Park Boxing Club was one of the places he visited, shaking hands and sparring with many of the young boxers.

Leslie Close spars with Ali Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

I introduced him to all the boxers and in particular my nephew Les Close he gave one of his funny looks and Les threw a shot at him. He was keep looking back at Les and I got all the lads in the ring sparring up. He was like, 'I want to box, I want to box, I want somebody with a bit of fire in his belly'. In this corner I had the World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali, the challenger, from Grainger Park, nine stone Les Close!

It was just magnificent, it was magnificent. I shook his hand, I know he was the greatest boxer but as a man just to have a conversation with him he was fantastic.

– Norman Close, Boxing Coach
Ali challenged young boxers to face him in the ring Credit: ITV Tyne Tees