When it comes to voting for the greatest this or that, Joe Public tends to exhibit the memory span of an unusually forgetful goldfish. A few years ago, in a poll to celebrate BBC TV's 60th birthday, voters overlooked Hancock, Steptoe, Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army, Porridge and suchlike, and chose Men Behaving Badly as their favourite all-time sitcom. As good as Men Behaving Badly was, it surely didn't deserve the ultimate accolade. Even Simon Nye was indignant, and he wrote it. But Ali is bound to transcend that depressing trend. Not even a forgetful Joe Public would make Stephen Hendry or Frankie Dettori the Sports Personality of the Century. Surely.
A few weeks ago in this space I ventured my own list of the century's top sporting achievers. It included the oarsman and four-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave, repeatedly overlooked in the voting for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. For Frank Bruno, say, to beat Redgrave, was a triumph of hype over substance. Bruno was not so much a big personality as a buffoon - it was like the Monster Raving Loony Party romping home in a general election. To make up for this injustice, I hereby place Redgrave at the top of my list of the three most unsung - or should that be the three least sung? - heroes of Britain's sporting century.
Consider too the Guyana-born boxer Dennis Andries, who won the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight championship for Britain not once, not twice, but three times. Yet who among us can remember details of his exploits? In early 1989, around the time that Bruno was received at Heathrow like a conquering hero - despite having been battered half to death by Mike Tyson at the Las Vegas Hilton - Andries arrived home from Texas all but unnoticed. He had regained his world title. Bruno had scarcely made it to round five.
So with Redgrave first and Andries second, who should be our third unsung hero? There is no shortage of candidates. Steve Bruce captained Manchester United to an exhilarating double in a team stuffed with internationals, yet was never capped for England. Ray Wilson, a stalwart of England's 1966 World Cup-winning team, never received the recognition he deserved and, indeed, was so resolutely unglamorous that he went on to become a funeral director. Alfred Percy "Tich" Freeman, a wonderful leg-spinner for whom Duncan Fletcher would give Phil Tufnell's right arm, took 3,776 wickets for Kent between 1914 and 1936. He also took all 10 wickets in an innings three times - a feat unrivalled in first-class cricket - yet his name and achievements live on only in Wisden. And the considerable cricketing talents of Angus Fraser have too often been overlooked, or at any rate underestimated.
But what is the point of having a column if you can't infuse it with favouritism? Which brings me to Everton FC. Playing alongside Alan Ball and Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey was the most unsung of Everton's fabled midfield trio of the late 1960s, worked tirelessly in the shadow of the charismatic Kendall in the glory days of the mid-1980s, was ignominiously sacked as manager, a job he didn't really want in the first place, and is now back coaching the youth team, quietly bringing on sparkling prospects such as Francis Jeffers. I don't expect everyone to agree, but for me, Harvey is one of the great unsung heroes.
And so to oversung heroes, starting, predictably, with Frank Bruno. He outpointed a lacklustre Oliver McCall to win the WBC heavyweight title, but his reign was short-lived and his achievements outrageously over-hyped. A former England football manager confided in me recently his belief that Steve McManaman's reputation (and Real Madrid pay packet) way exceed his abilities - and I'm inclined to agree. Two Scots, Peter Marinello and Charlie Nicholas, were given messianic welcomes at Highbury, yet failed to pick up the goods from the sorting office, let alone deliver them. And two Africans, Zola Budd and Graeme Hick, did not single-handedly rescue British athletics and English cricket, as we were led to believe they would. Unsung - Redgrave, Andries, Harvey. Oversung - Bruno, Nicholas, Budd. Those are my lists. And yours?Reuse content