Hugh McIlvanney, who has died at the age of 84, spent six decades crafting definitive accounts of some of the greatest sporting events across the globe.
Tributes have been paid to the sports writer, who rose from humble beginnings on the Kilmarnock Standard to become a widely-acknowledged master of his profession.
From the 1966 World Cup final to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the enduring effect of McIlvanney’s prose is evident in the range of responses to the news of his passing on Thursday night.
McIlvanney’s friend and colleague, the former Mail on Sunday chief sports writer Pat Collins, told Press Association Sport: “Hugh’s words will continue to be read down the years to come.
“His is a very sad loss, and I am not surprised by the tributes that have been paid to him today. Along with Ian Wooldridge and Frank Keating, Hugh was one of the greatest sports writers.”
McIlvanney’s journey to Fleet Street and beyond began at his home-town newspaper, for whom he was initially employed as a junior reporter shortly after leaving school.
Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke said on Thursday: “Many, many years ago I did an interview with Hugh. He was a good man, an old-fashioned journalist with a fantastic voice.”
McIlvanney would move on to work for the Scotsman, the Express, the Observer and the Sunday Times, before announcing his retirement from the industry in 2016.
He focused predominantly on boxing, writing a series of memorable pieces surrounding the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974, after which he became friends with Muhammad Ali.
Upon hearing news of McIlvanney’s retirement, Ali said: “His words were a window to the lives, the courage, the struggles and the triumphs of the great champions of his time.”
In addition, McIlvanney struck up enduring relationships with football managers including Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, co-writing the latter’s autobiography, ‘Managing My Life’, in 1999.
McIlvanney, whose death was also widely reported in the United States, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2011, and was awarded an OBE in 1996.
In later years he became renowned for a series of collections of his work, in particular ‘McIlvanney on Boxing’, which spanned three decades of his ringside reports.
In one of his most memorable, McIlvanney wrestled with the legitimacy of the sport in the wake of the tragic death of the Welsh boxer Johnny Owen after a fight against Lupe Pintor in Los Angeles in 1980.
McIlvanney wrote: “Our reactions are bound to be complicated by the knowledge that it was boxing that gave Johnny Owen his one positive means of self-expression.
“It is his tragedy that he found himself articulate in such a dangerous language.”