Sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney dies, aged 84

Hugh McIvanney

Hugh McIlvanney, widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest sports journalists, has died at the age of 84.

Mr McIlvanney, who was born in Kilmarnock, worked for the Observer and then the Sunday Times, covering some of the most significant sporting events of his age.

These included the fight in 1974 between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman known as the Rumble in the Jungle.

He retired in 2016 after 60 years as a journalist.

Mr McIlvanney was inducted into both the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2009) and the Scottish Football Hall of Fame (2011).

His career began on his local newspaper before spells on The Scotsman and The Daily Express led to him working at The Observer and eventually The Sunday Times.

He went on to forge close working and personal relationships with, perhaps, the four finest football managers to emerge from Scotland – Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Image caption Hugh McIlvanney reported on the likes of Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly during his 60-year career

When Sir Alex was writing his autobiography, Managing My Life, he turned to Mr McIlvanney for help.

The journalist said his greatest scoop was finding himself being invited into Muhammad Ali’s villa just hours after he had had regained the world heavyweight title from George Foreman in the epic Rumble in the Jungle showdown in Zaire in 1974.

But he also had to write about tragic events, including the death of his friend Stein, after the World Cup qualifying game in Cardiff.

He was also in Munich in 1972 to report on the Olympic Games when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by a terror group and reported on the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

His nephew, crime writer Liam McIlvanney, tweeted about his death, calling him “a great man, a great writer”.

Hugh McIlvanney’s brother was crime novelist William McIlvanney who died in 2015 at the age of 79.

Former footballer, and current BBC Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker described Mr McIlvanney as “truly one of the greatest sports writers of all time”.

He tweeted: “His gravelly Scottish voice will be missed almost as much as his wonderful copy.”

‘Shakespeare of sports writers’

Graham Spiers, a sports writer for The Times, hailed Mr McIlvanney as “a genius”.

He told BBC radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I know the word is used quite glibly, describing a person as great and a genius, but these terms apply to McIlvanney. He was probably without peer in my trade.

“He was once called the greatest sports writer in the English-speaking world.

“And anyone who had McIlvanney on Boxing, or McIlvanney on Football, or McIlvanney on Racing (the compilations of his sports writing over 40 years) will know he was kind of the Shakespeare of sports writers.

“He was a legend.”

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