When Saints Met Ali

PERHAPS some Saints’ supporters may not realise that the 1966 squad met the Great Man as a result of both attending the Eamonn Andrews Show on Sunday May 22 1966, writes Alex Service.

Muhammad Ali had beaten Henry Cooper the previous night and went to visit his vanquished opponent before going on to the television studio. The Saints, of course, had an official dinner at their hotel to celebrate their Challenge Cup triumph, where they met up again with their wives. The team then went their separate ways for the evening. Some, including Peter Harvey, ordered a taxi and asked the driver to take them ‘to the poshest club in London’! When they got there they found that it was not to their taste – or pocket – and the lads finished up in the Golden Egg in Leicester Square, where they had egg and chips!

But what about Sunday? Peter Harvey explains: “The visit to the [Eamonn Andrews] show was, apparently, arranged by Stan McGowan, head of Gavin Murray’s travel. We were all there with our wives and girlfriends and had a prominent position at the front. We were honoured guests! The other guests on the show, apart from Ali, were Lucille Ball, a chain-smoking Noel Coward and Dudley Moore. The show itself was recorded and shown an hour later. The teachers in the squad then had to get the late train back from Euston, as we had to report back for work on Monday morning. We did get a mention as a successful rugby league squad.

“At one point, Ali said: ‘You look like some likely lads. How do you fancy doing some sparring with me’? Then, I think it was Cliff Watson, who shouted out: ‘You bring the ball out against us first and we’ll see how you go on’! “

There remains a tantalising glimpse of the Saints of 1966 and their wives as part of a Muhammad Ali tribute on YouTube [Muhammad Ali on the Eamonn Andrews Show]. You can see quite clearly the likes of Bob Dagnall, Tommy Bishop, Kel Coslett, Tom van Vollenhoven all savouring the occasion. It was when the British really began to take the great boxer to their hearts and yet another example of the multitude of memories from arguably the greatest year of sport.  

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