It is the punch that Ali never threw…

I know next to nothing about Boxing – and everything I did learn I got from working for Bradford’s own John Celebanski – but I have heard it said that what made Muhammad Ali the best boxer to ever fight was not the punches he threw but one which he did not.

Ali – I am told – knocked down Sonny Liston but rather than finishing off the other fighter when he was on his knee rather than pounding him he stood over watching the other man fall.

It had a grace to it and a class. Ali’s statement is that not only could he beat Liston, he could beat him in a way which retained dignity for both and did not reply on the brutality of other heavyweights. That – I’m told – is why he is the greatest.

If I don’t know much about Ali I know even lass about what I am about to discuss but in a League One game three season ago – which might have been between Yeovil Town and Bristol Rovers although I could be wrong – in which it was decided that one of the goals scored was unfair to such an extent that Yeovil stood aside and allowed Bristol Rovers to run the ball into the empty goal.

The names of the teams could be wrong but the idea is clear. Players making amends themselves and the fact that is is hardly remembered suggests the ramifications for it hardly shook the World of Football.

Paolo Di Canio is no one’s idea of a great man, but the act of sportsmanship in catching a ball when the Everton keeper was down adds to the complexity of the former West Ham player.

The punch that Ali never threw. That is what made him great.

So watching Lionel Messi – who is suggested as the best footballer in the World – one hoped that the Argentine playmaker who has yet to score in the World Cup would take the ball following the off-side goal scored by Carlos Tevez in the 3-1 win over Mexico last night and walk it back to his own goal.

Messi, putting into his own goal, the honourable goal.

One can hardly imagine it but there was the punch that Ali never threw, there was a couple of League One teams arranging a goal, there is Di Canio passing up a goal. It could happen, but it did not.

Argentina may win the World Cup but as with Thierry Henry and his handball, with Roy Carroll scooping away Pedro Mendez’s shot at Old Trafford, with Manuel Neuer pulling the ball back from over the line and then saying “I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over.”

These people are denied the place in the highest hall of sport, indeed they should be excluded from all our good grace. They are the enemies of the game and will ruin it.

The one for the champions who wear their crown with grace and dignity. For all the tricks and football skills of a Lionel Messi and other players who slink back to the middle knowing they have benefited from mistakes and misfortune he will never be as much of a man as some guy who was maybe playing for Bristol Rovers or Yeovil or someone.

That man said that he wanted to win but cared about how that win came. They wanted that win to be earned.