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Hugh McIlvanney dubbed 'one of the true greats of sports writing' after death aged 84

Tributes have been paid to the late sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney, who has died at the age of 84.

Over a 60-year career, he witnessed many iconic sporting events, including the 1966 World Cup final and the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.

McIlvanney worked for titles including his local paper: the Kilmarnock Standard, as well as The Scotsman, The Daily Express, The Observer and The Sunday Times.

He was particularly well known for his football and boxing coverage.

His nephew, crime writer Liam McIlvanney, wrote on Twitter: “Very sad to hear this news. A great man, a great writer. Thoughts with Caroline, Liz and Conn. Rest In Peace, Uncle Hughie.”

Figures from the world of football and entertainment also paid tribute.

Brian McClair recalled a time when he entered the Manchester United coach’s room and had everyone “roaring with laughter”, while Gary Lineker said “his gravelly Scottish voice will be missed as much as his wonderful copy”.

Fellow Scot and impressionist Rory Bremner paid tribute to a man who was “a wonderful writer and great company”.

McIlvanney was close with some of the most well-known figures in the game, such as former Manchester United managers Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankly who managed Liverpool, and Jock Stein, the former Celtic and Scotland manager.

He wrote about the event when Stein died shortly after a World Cup qualifying game in Cardiff.

The brother of the late crime novelist William McIlvanney, he also wrote a number of books on football, boxing and horse racing and was consulted on Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, Managing My Life.

The Football Writers’ Association, of which McIlvanney was a life member, called him “one of the true greats of sports writing”.

When McIlvanney retired in 2016 after a career spent predominantly with the Observer and the Sunday Times, Muhammad Ali was one of the first to pay tribute.

Ali had said: “His words were a window to the lives, the courage, the struggles and the triumphs of the great champions of his time.

“He has contributed richly to the fabric of our sport.”

McIlvanney’s friend and former colleague Pat Collins wrote on the FWA’s website: “His influence on British sports writing is profound, and he has long since secured his place alongside Ian Wooldridge and Frank Keating in the trinity of our greatest sports writers.”

His friend, the broadcaster Danny Kelly, wrote on Twitter: “When you were having a proper barney with Hugh, his use of language… made you secretly glad you were fighting. #genius.”

Picture: Francesco Guidicini/Sunday Times/PA Wire

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1 thought on “Hugh McIlvanney dubbed 'one of the true greats of sports writing' after death aged 84”

  1. Stop the presses, muffle the typewriters, hide the scotch, spike all copy, weep into your sports pages, kick the cat … The King is dead. RIP Hugh McIlvanney, who died the day before ‘Burns Night’ and was every bit as poetic as the Scottish bard. Those of us who have scribbled in his shadow for the last 50+ years bow the knee to The Master. He could even make profanity seem like poetry, and matched Billy Connolly for humour delivered in the exclusively Scottish Chic Murray deadpan style of counter punching. Few of the eulogies I have read mention the two years he spent on Sports Illustrated in the USA when he was often a raging bull with his behaviour and Hemingway-class with his observations. Rest easy, old pal.

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