Hugh McIlvanney, arguably not just Britain's greatest ever sports writer, but one of its greatest ever journalists full stop, has died at the age of 84. In a career lasting nearly 60 years, highlights included an interview with Muhammad Ali immediately after the "Rumble in the Jungle", and compiling the definitive account of Ally Macleod's disastrous World Cup campaign in 1978.

Awards included being named British sports writer of the year 7 times, being awarded an OBE in 1996, being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009, and being the only sports writer ever to be voted Journalist of the Year.

 

Hugely respected by his peers, he once stepped in to break up a fight between two colleagues, only to later remark that if he'd known at the time that they were arguing over pay, he'd have left them to get on with it.

It's virtually impossible to do justice to his writing style without transcribing whole articles: the way he constructed his prose was once likened, in terms of both precision and speed, to a Renaissance sculptor carving marble. However here are a few gems:

 

On Joe Bugner: "...the physique of a Greek statue but fewer moves."

 

On Bobby Moore: "He could play tag with a fox and never get caught."

 

On Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle": "We should have known that Muhammad Ali would not settle for any ordinary resurrection. His had to have an additional flourish. So, having rolled away the rock, he hit George Foreman on the head with it."

 

On Ally MacLeod: "If, as every Englishman suspects, the Scots ingest a weakness for hyperbole with their mother's milk, Ally MacLeod would seem to have been breast-fed until he was 15."

 

On Frank Bruno fighting Mike Tyson: "Bruno was no more competitive than a sheep in an abattoir."

 

On Diego Maradona: "If there is an effective way of killing off the threat of Diego Maradona by marking him, it probably involves putting a white cross over his heart and tethering him to a stake in front of a firing squad."

 

On Carlos Tevez: "Whatever It cost Manchester City to get rid of him is a tolerable disinfectant."

 

On George Best: "...feet as sensitive as a pick-pocket's hands."

 

And finally - Muhammad Ali on Hugh McIlvanney's retirement: "His words were a window to the lives, the courage, the struggles and the triumphs of the great champions of his time."

 

Hugh McIlvanney: A tribute to 'greatest sportswriter of the English language'

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