John’s pride at the day he met ring legend Ali

John Bentham from St Annes chats to Muhammed Ali in Cannes
John Bentham from St Annes chats to Muhammed Ali in Cannes
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The death of Muhammad Ali prompted memories for a Fylde man of a meeting with the sports star which left a lasting impression.

John Bentham of Rowsley Road, St Annes was proud to have had this picture taken in a hotel room in Cannes in 1991, as he chatted to Ali – and the meeting concluded with the boxer signing a poster for John’s late father, which has been framed and hangs on John’s office wall.

John Bentham of St Annes with a poster signed for his father by Muhammad Ali

John Bentham of St Annes with a poster signed for his father by Muhammad Ali

“It was a meeting which will live in my memory forever and I was so sad to hear about Ali’s death but, oh boy, he made 
me laugh when breakfast TV was taken over by tributes to him,” said John.

“You only have to look over some highlights from his life to realise what a man he was, what a sportsman, what a man of principle, what a man indeed.”

John, a filmmaker and music promoter, got the chance to meet Ali while attending a TV festival with friends Ian Gilchrist and Jim Greenhough, both based in London.

“Ian was working on a video biography of Ali and we attended a long meeting with him,” recalled John.

“Ali was staying on the top floor of a hotel overlooking the shoreline and besides a chat, he did a number of things for us.

“In particular the box to his left was full of magic tricks, and very good at it he was. He showed us tricks for about half an hour.

“Then talked with me for a while, about boxing, his life, and he asked if there was anything I wanted.

“I said my dad Billy was a big fan of his and Ali pulled out a poster of himself, drew on it a boxing ring and two fighters and said ‘tell your dad that’s Sonny Liston getting hit’.

“My dad loved it. He died a few years later and the poster stands opposite me in the office to this day.

“The reaction to Ali’s death hasn’t surprised me at all. There can be few people who can inspire you like Muhammad Ali did.”

A huge procession and funeral will be held for Ali, who was 74, in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky on Friday ‘to allow anyone that is there from the world to say goodbye’, his family says. A private family service takes place today.