South Shields boxing trainer pays tribute to Muhammad Ali - and remembers day he came to town

South Shields boxing trainer Mal Gates has paid tribute to 'The Greatest', Muhammad Ali, following his death at the age of 74.

Mal Gates has paid tribute to Muhammad Ali.
Mal Gates has paid tribute to Muhammad Ali.

It was announced this morning that Ali had died at the age of 74, having been admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition earlier in the week.

The three-time world heavyweight champion transcended his sport, and had battled Parkinson's disease for 32 years.

Muhammad Ali's death was announced on Saturday morning.

In 1977, Ali visited South Shields, with crowds flocking to see a legend of the sport.

Gates, who coaches boxers including former Commonwealth champion Anthony Nelson at the Harton and Westoe Miners' Welfare Gym, in South Shields, was a youngster that day.

However, he remembers it clearly, and Ali made quite an impression on him.

He said: "I saw Ali when he came to South Shields. It's a day no one who was there will forget.

Muhammad Ali's death was announced on Saturday morning.

"I remember him coming down John Reid Road, and I followed him all the way to Gypsies Green, where he had a game of darts.

"You couldn't get near him, because the crowds were so unbelievable, which showed what everyone thought of him."

Tributes to Ali following his death have been widespread, with the former boxer having left a "massive legacy", according to Gates.

He added: "I was devastated when I got up on Saturday morning and heard the news.

"Ali was massive, not just in the boxing world.

"In the sporting world, he was a huge inspiration for not just what he did in boxing, but for everything he stood for. It wasn't just about the boxing.

"When he was involved, people who weren't usually interested in boxing became fans of the sport to follow him.

"He was an incredible fighter, and very entertaining at the same time.

"He was so charismatic, and leaves a massive legacy."

Ali's family’s spokesman Bob Gunnell confirmed the former boxer's death in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday evening local time.

The funeral will take place in Ali’s home town of Louisville, Kentucky.

A statement from the spokesman said the Ali family “would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and support” and asked for privacy.

Ali is survived by his fourth wife Lonnie - whom he married in 1986 - and multiple children, many of whom were reported to have flown to their father’s bedside on Thursday and Friday.