IT was the end of one of ‘The Greatest’ few days in the borough’s history.
Not only had Her Majesty The Queen paid a visit as part of her silver Jubilee celebrations, but, more sensationally, the ‘Louisville Lip’ – Muhammad Ali – had bestowed his presence upon us.
In July 1977, Ali was still heavyweight champion of the world and just about at the top of his game.
Read more: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dies aged 74
He had agreed to a four-day visit to Tyneside to raise funds for boys’ clubs on the suggestion of ex-South Shields boxer Johnny walker. But the trip didn’t start that well when he and his entourage missed their flight from Heathrow to Newcastle.
That led to chaotic scenes at Newcastle airport, where thousands had gathered to catch a glimpse of the champion.
Thankfully, it was all smiles a couple of days later when yet more thousands packed the streets of Jarrow and South Shields to see Ali pass by in an open-topped bus on his way to have his marriage blessed in the town’s mosque.
By the time he got to Stanhope Road, South Shields, the pavements were lined with thousands of fans. Chichester was jammed, and at Laygate, the “centre of the Arab community” at the time, he was treated like a Prodigal son.
Nora smith, who had travelled from her home in Tynemouth, thought his visit was more significant than that of The Queen. “after all,” she said: “The Queen is visiting the whole country, but Ali chose to go out of his way to visit South Shields.
"I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.”
Equally excited was 69-year-old William George, of South Frederick street, South Shields, who said: “I’m sure that, as young as they are, the children realise what a great man they’ve seen today.” Ali continued to charm the Geordies throughout his four-day visit.
He told an audience at a huge banquet in Newcastle’s Mayfair Ballroom how the trip’s organising committee had sent him 14 return air tickets.
He said: “When I’m in a big fight, I accept air tickets and accommodation because the promoters are making a lot of money, but this is for charity so I can’t accept all this.
"I am giving back the money for the tickets and that is around £7,000. I just want to do all I can for your youngsters.”
Ali, the true people's champ.