Floating like a butterfly: 
the day sporting legend Ali stopped by for Fine Fare...

Muhammad Ali in his prime
Muhammad Ali in his prime
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It is not every day that the most famous sporting superstar on the planet walks 
into your local supermarket.

But in October 1971 that is exactly what happened near Fareham.

The greatest sportsman who ever lived, Muhammad Ali, died earlier this month.

I had an e-mail from reader Dave Quinton who told me he was sure The Greatest, as he liked to be known, had visited Portsmouth some years ago.

This, of course, started me on a trail.

Local boxing historian Andrew Fairley told me
it was in 1971 and Ali visited, of all places, Hedge End.

On October 15, 1971, Ali arrived by train at Southampton station and was driven in a motorcade to Hedge End to visit a branch of the supermarket Fine Fare.

He was there on a promotional visit for the bedtime drink Ovaltine.

Astonished shoppers looked on in amazement as the former world heavyweight boxing champion, as he was at that time, created a ‘rumble’ in the aisles as he made his appearance.

It is pretty safe to say that since that day no one with a bigger name or personality than Muhammad Ali has been spotted in Hampshire let alone in a supermarket.

Ali was laid to rest in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky.

There was nobody else like the man who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr in Louisville on January 17, 1942.

Back in the 1960s the nation would regularly get up in the middle of the night to listen to broadcasts of his fights. Then one day there he was, standing around chatting to people in a Hedge End supermarket.

Even I can remember listening to the Clay v Liston fight on February 25, 1964.

The bout was stopped at the end of the sixth with Clay, as he was then known, the winner.

At Hedge End, with his trademark, quickfire tongue-in-cheek insults, Ali asked one young lad why he was so pretty when his dad was so ugly. No-one took offence – or even dared to!

Ali was in the store for 30 minutes signing tins of Ovaltine and then made his way to the now-demolished Polygon Hotel in Southampton where he was met by scores of journalists and television cameras.

He told them that it was the first thing he had ever promoted. He would not promote cigarettes or alcohol, nor did he make movies.

‘I have turned down offers of 10 million dollars to advertise things I do not believe in,’ he said.

A month after the visit, Ali was to meet Joe Frazier.

‘I’m going to whup him like I did the first time. It was the judge who gave him the fight.

‘Then I am going to retire.’

As it was, ’The Fight of the Century’ as it became known, was Ali’s downfall.

It went its full 15 rounds with Frazier being declared the winner.

It was Ali’s first professional defeat.

Apart from Britain’s Henry Cooper, who came close to beating Ali, I know of no other boxer with as much charisma or pulling power as Mohammad Ali.

No-one seems to have had a bad word for him.

Now then. Have you by any chance still got a signed tin of Ovaltine lurking at the back of your larder? I’d like to see it.