Inside Lines: Westminster Cathedral a fitting finale for Sir Henry's last round
Sunday 08 May 2011
The bell tolled a count of 10 in memory of Sir Henry Cooper before the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley world-title fight in Las Vegas in the early hours of today.
It was a rare tribute in a land where they have never had much respect for our heavyweights – but the man who bled for Britain was an exception.
It has not been a good year for sporting legends. Nat Lofthouse, Trevor Bailey, Fred Titmus, Sir Henry Cooper – and yesterday Seve Ballesteros. All represented a different age, when sportsmanship meant more than gamesmanship and ambition outweighed avarice.
I feel a sense of personal loss about Our 'Enry because it was on his breed, and in his era, that I was weaned on journalism. My memories, of course, are of his humility and dignity as well as the 'ammer which felled Muhammad Ali – then Cassius Clay – and but for the bell, and Angelo Dundee's cunning cornerwork, might have changed the course of sporting history.
But the most poignant recollection of all remains the last time I interviewed him for this newspaper, shortly before his 75th birthday exactly two years ago. For the first time in 48 years it was one he was to be celebrating without his beloved Albina, his delightful Italian-born wife who had similarly died of a heart attack at their home in Kent just under a year before.
Henry admitted: "I soldier on but it's left a big void in my life. I'll never get over it. I've shed tears every day since. I just can't help myself. I think about her all the time. She was my rock, my inspiration. I suppose I'm coping OK, but you never do really, do you?"
When he died suddenly, just as he was about to start a meal at his son's home in Surrey last Sunday, I have no doubt his pacemaker-supported heart was already broken by the loss of Albina and subsequently his twin brother, George, who fought as Jim.
His family have properly decided that his funeral on 18 May will be a private affair because the venue could not cope with the multitude who have clamoured to attend. But there will be a memorial service within a few weeks and there are suggestions that it should be at Westminster Cathedral (Henry became a Catholic when he married Albina). It would be a full house, with not a dry eye in it.
Judo's Elvis loses battle
Sir Henry was not the only British heavyweight giant to pass away last week.
Judo's Elvis Gordon, the charismatic former European and British champion and world silver medallist from Wolverhampton, has lost his battle with cancer. He was 51.
Genial Gordon was one of the sport's most popular figures. The British Judo Association had raised £10,000 for a testimonial fund which enabled him to return to his native Jamaica before he died on Friday.
Living for kicks
Early days yet, but surely Sarah Stevenson has to be in pole position to be Britain's sportswoman of the year.
To venture into taekwondo's Korean backyard and win a world title is some achievement – more so when competing for the first time this year after looking after her mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her father, who has a brain tumour.
"Hopefully I've given them something to be proud of," says the 28-year-old Olympic silver medallist. With silver for Jade Jones – recently featured in our Going for Gold series – and bronzes for Martin Stamper and Michael Harvey, taekwondo – one of our most underrated sports – looks set to give Britain a kick-start to 2012.
Becks awaits the call
Apparently the Olympic sport which so far is attracting least interest in the current ticket sales is football.
Hardly surprising, as no one knows what sort of team GB (or just England) will field, so you can bet that the Games organisers, never ones to miss a trick, will be gently nudging the FA towards an early announcement that David Beckham will either coach or captain the side, something Becks himself is rather keen to do. Not to mention his new sponsors, Samsung, who happen to be one of 2012's main financial backers and who have appointed him their "global brand ambassador".
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