In 1977, Muhammad Ali was the world heavyweight champion and at the peak of his prime. Johnny Walker was a painter and decorator living in South Tyneside, a world far removed from the 'king of boxing'. However, Johnny possessed a long-held dream, which was labelled as impossible at the time. He wanted to convince the then highest paid and most famous sportsman of his time to come to Tyneside. Johnny had no major funds, only a dream; Ali had earned $6 million for his last paid forty-five minutes of work against Ken Norton. But Johnny hoped his purpose was enough to convince his hero to travel to somewhere he had never heard of before on the other side of the globe for no personal fee. So, one day in 1977, Johnny Walker put aside his daily working tools and travelled to America to see if he could track down the champion boxer and turn his dream into reality. He left the UK as a stranger, without invitation and armed only with a few American dollars and a dream. He returned with a legend.
Russell Routledge started his working life at Newcastle City Council, for whom he worked during Ali's visit to Tyneside in 1977. He was later lucky enough to spend time with the champion himself on several occasions, including on his seventieth birthday in 2012. He lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.