A close shave with Earnie

Running into Earnie Shavers on the Wirral is like finding Bob Latchford living in Buffalo Crotch

REMEMBER Earnie Shavers? He was a formidable heavyweight boxer who deserves to be remembered for more than not being able to spell Ernie. He was one of the most ferocious punchers of the 1970s, and there is a nice story about him fighting another decent heavyweight, Tiger Williams, in Las Vegas in 1976. Shavers hit Williams with a sledgehammer right, then turned and strolled back to his corner. His trainer went bonkers. "Earnie, what the hell ya doin'? Williams hasn't fallen." "He will," grunted Earnie. And he did.

Shavers had two cracks at the world title, against Muhammed Ali and Larry Holmes. Ali defeated him on points, at Madison Square Garden in September 1977. Holmes stopped him in the 11th round, at Caesar's Palace two years later. Shavers retired, for the umpteenth and final time, in 1995.

He was born in Alabama, raised in Ohio, one of 10 children from a desperately poor family. But he punched his way out of poverty, collecting a then- handsome $325,000 purse for fighting Larry Holmes, and wisely invested his earnings - or, in his case, ernings. He is now a wealthy man and, with delicious improbability, lives with his English girlfriend just outside Wallasey, on the Wirral. Isn't that great? The Wirral is where former Liverpool and Everton players run mock Tudor pubs. Running into Earnie Shavers there is like finding Ian Callaghan or Bob Latchford living in Buffalo Crotch, Arkansas.

Last Thursday, at the Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards at The Dorchester Hotel, London, Shavers accepted a lifetime achievement gong on behalf of his old adversary, Ali. I asked him what he remembered of the fight. "I had him hurt, I just know I had him hurt," said Shavers. "But Ali was so cunning. He always faked like he was hurt, so you were never really sure. Larry Holmes, who I fought twice, had the best jab ever. But Ali was the greatest there's ever been. And a nice man, too. We're still friends, and even though his speech is slurred, his mind is real sharp. I run into him about four times a year." Not while browsing around Birkenhead market, surely? "No, in the States."

I ran into Ali myself last week, or at any rate a wonderful image of him, at the opening of a small but perfectly formed exhibition of sports photography at the Collyer-Bristow Gallery in central London (viewing by appointment, 0171-242 7363). The photograph was taken in 1975, as a rather out-of-shape Ali prepared for a charity fight - an oxymoron, some would say - in Detroit, Michigan. Anyway, the photographer was a chap called James Fox, now editor-in-chief of the famous Magnum agency. He has been photographing boxers and fight spectators for nearly 30 years. "I consider it," he told me, "the perfect microcosm of society. You have violence, profit and entertainment, side by side."

Fox spent a lot of time with Ali and his entourage, which included Don King in his marginally better hair days. "I always felt slightly uncomfortable, as if I took one wrong step I would end up at the bottom of an elevator shaft. But it was an incredible experience."

He remembers being just about the only white person present in Detroit that night. The black anthem was played before the fight, which was staged to raise money for a black university. Most of the punters were wearing pink or yellow tuxedos. "There was," added Fox, "a religious cult around Ali. Pure and simple. People presented babies to him, pregnant women asked him to touch their bellies. I was with him in New York, and he would literally hold court in his hotel suite. He would sit there, and give audiences to people who wanted his help to open a new hospital wing, or because they had invented a new shampoo."

This notion of the sporting hero as a latter-day messiah is underlined by another of the images at the exhibition, a 1971 photograph by Steve Hale (above), in which Bill Shankly stands with his arms outstretched - his suit, as always, half a size too small - basking unsmilingly in the adulation of thousands of Liverpool fans. Shankly's po-faced expression adds to his messianic stature, as if there were nothing unusual for an ex-miner from Ayrshire to be worshipped by a vast crowd of Scousers.

Shankly, however, had his own hero, and coincidentally it was another Scottish ex-miner, whose historic achievements as a football manager have been respectfully remembered over the past week or so - Matt Busby. Ray Wood, the Manchester United goalkeeper injured in the Munich air crash, was later transferred to Shankly's Huddersfield Town, and one day walked into the home dressing-room to find Shankly gazing into a mirror as he tried on a trilby, tilting it this way and that. "Come here, son," growled Shankly. "Do you think I look like Matt?"

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Chelsea are interested in loaning out Romelu Lukaku to Everton again next season
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series