For many the sixties was the time in which it all hung out. The fact was that the sixties began the revolution but the decade after ripped it open. We found a new significance in ourselves and indulged it to the max.
For a kid, like me, growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere we had little by way of excitement other than what we saw going on in a world that seemed so very far away from us. Even the world of soccer, that was our bread and butter for kicks, seemed a world away as we went in thousands to stand and watch our heroes every second week at home grounds groaning with the weight of expectation and hope.
My first soccer game was in 1973 and I saw the legendary Alex Ferguson don the shirt of my home town club and from then on, I was a fan. Little did we realise that this was a legend in the making who was running around our local park before our eyes but within the next 5 or 6 years he began an apprenticeship that by the 80’s was to build into being the most successful Scottish manager ever.
Having been to see my first live sporting event I became a bit of a nut. This was now the most exciting time for me and when I saw the World Cup in 1974 with the beauty of the Dutch who fell short against the ruthlessness of the West Germans in the final I was heart-broken in a way that only converts could be.
But for those of us who did not hold one sport true above all others there was redemption on the 30th October 1974.
By the point that the World Cup had come, gone and become a bitter memory we looked away from Europe to Kinshasa. If the names of the Dutch and German superstars were names with which we conjured and struggled to pronounce we now had Zaire. We were in Zaire, in spirt and with hopeful heart.
The already, legendary fighter, Muhammad Ali was going to go to the Jungle, beat George Foreman and win the world heavyweight title for a second time. In the 1970’s the idea of sporting psychology and tactics was unknown to us followers. We did not believe that there was anything cerebral about any sport where physical presence and attributes were king.
We spent the time looking at our heroes and marvelled at how athletic they were and how they won by braun over brains. This was two years after an Olympics where Mark Spitz had won 7 Gold Medals, where 12 Israeli athletes had been murdered in a decade far more dangerous than any before or since and when Olga Korbut balanced the hopes of a nation and the wishes of the Communist system on her shoulders.
But for brutality and for sheer spectacle they were to be eclipsed by two big guys going hammer and tongs in unbelievable heat in an atmosphere of extremities, the likes of which can only be imagined.
Now I cannot retell the story of rope a dope better than any commentators of the time nor since. I can only tell you what it meant to those of us who followed the sport through radio and TV pictures. We were guided by the observers who were fortunate to be present and their views as much as the pictures and the stories told in tones of reverence before and after.
Ali was a hero before and became a legend thereafter. He was the epitome of style and brashness, managing to walk a fine line between scandal and celebrity. The fight was fought at a ridiculous time and it made it impossible for those of us at the age of 9 to follow it but we went to bed excited and woke up to a story that has grown over the years but will never eclipse the feeling that morning of joy.
We had seen the British Olympic Team fail to do well at the Olympics in 1972, the Scottish soccer team had come back unbeaten from the World Cup in 1974 but without much by way of excitement in the tournament and it was a year in which industrial unrest was gripping the nation. We had seen 3 day weeks and power cuts but Ali brought and shone light where there was little in those dark days.
It did not begin my love affair with the sport but the world began to understand what psychology and ring generalship meant. The world saw how someone could actually out smart another in the ring when those in boxing had known it for years. We saw something special before our eyes.
It was a global superstar that talked and then, forget walking the walk, they ran it. We wanted to keep up with him now because that 8th round knockout told the world to sit up; we were already paying attention. The Rumble happened in the Jungle, the earthquake kept going for years and decades to come around the world.