SIR Henry Cooper - or Our ‘Enery as he was affectionately known - seemed a lovely fella and was obviously well liked and loved considering the tone of the tributes that have followed his death this week.
I never met him but do have a Henry Cooper story. It involves a European Cup Final attended by Rotherham United fans who actually got to touch the famous giant trophy! Strange but true, as they say!
It all began with the BBC launching a competition to find which club’s Kop sang the best. They called it the Kop Choir competition.
They recorded at various grounds and, believe it or not, having recorded the fans on the old Tivoli End at Millmoor (at a game v Halifax) they decided those Millers fans sang the best of all (Liverpool’s Kop - the mightiest of all at that time - eat your heart out!).
The prize for those fans (about 20 were chosen) was a pretty fantastic one - an all-expenses paid trip to the European Cup Final in Rome.
I was a cub reporter at the time but my former paper decided to send me to cover the trip, an eye opener in many respects not least a first ever sight of the drinking habits of Celtic fans who were swigging from half-bottles of whisky like you’d glug water from a bottle if you were thirsty!
Anyway, on to Our ‘Enery. And it is something which has always stuck with me.
I was part of the official party which included top ranking officials from the multi-national company who were sponsoring the whole thing.
Of course, being very much the youngster, when it came to evening dinner I just sat and listened.
The talk got round to boxing and I vividly recall a statement delivered with the utmost confidence along with nudges and winks.
In effect, the young Joe Bugner would beat Henry Cooper when they met for Our ‘Enery’s British heavyweight title.
It seemed a preposterous idea at that time. But these men in grey suits were talking as if it WAS going to happen. They were so confident. So, get your money on it.
In no way is this intended to besmirch Our ‘Enery by implying he would be involved in anything dodgy. He wasn’t. But what stuck with me, rightly or wrongly, is that these blokes seemed to know something.
This was 1970. The following year, 1971, Cooper and Bugner met.
If you’re interested, I was in a car with a pal taking two girls home when the sports news came on the car radio. Bugner had beaten Cooper on points. And it was a controversial decision!
I read amongst the Cooper tributes this week that the margin was a quarter of a point whilst the phrase “controversial decision” appeared!
Henry Cooper retired after that fight. And I’ve always wondered, from that day to this day, if those big company executives really did know something!
Anyway, back to the European Cup. Our party flew back from Milan airport the morning after the game and the Millers supporters were amazed and delighted to discover that the winning Feyenoord team were in the airport at the same time and had the European Cup with them.
So, that’s how some Millers fans got to get their hands on the most famous club trophy in Europe. They won’t ever get a second chance!