Ignoring for a moment TV series and the generic use of the word to apply to servicemen, we all have our personal heroes, don’t we? People to be revered for qualities they possessed, or more particularly what they achieved. The wonderful thing is, while many might have been “great” for one reason or another, and possibly to have changed the world, as these people did, among many others (and clearly others may have less of an American outlook on that list) but just for their influence on you and how they made you the person you are today.
Starting when I was young, mine always seemed to be sporting heroes, but as I’ve grown older so the list has broadened. But can you reach advanced “middle age” and still have heroes? Why not! Try this list for size, culled from a lifetime…
1) George Best: my dad took me to see the great Manchester United team in the days when you could turn up at the gate and get in. And to see Best, Law and Charlton at their peak was truly a sight to behold. But the enigmatic George Best was – well – the best. He could spark emotion in hard men with a shimmy, a run, beating opponents and scoring goals nobody else would even dream of scoring. The one that really made me sit up and take notice was this famous lob against Spurs in 1971 – still tremble to this day when I see it!! Best taught me to use my flair and play to my strengths.
2) Peter Collins: PC burst on to the British speedway scene just before I started watching regularly, around 1972. In 71, he had graduated from a novice to ride on loan for Rochdale as a 17 year old prodigy. Having achieved a remarkable 9 point average, he came home to the Belle Vue Aces and set the world alight. It wasn’t so much how fast he hit the top so much as the way he did it. Collins was never a “gater” but boy did he disprove that first out of the traps always won. At his best, PC was poetry in motion – he made moves that other riders could only dream of look a cinch. He won the world title once but would have won several more but for injury and other misfortunes. PC was my teen hero and taught me the value of perseverance to the very last.
3) Chris Morton: Mort is 2 years younger than PC but very much in the same mould. Never a gater, he won his points the hard way, from the back. Not only that, but he formed a formidable double act with PC on the wide open spaces of the now defunct Hyde Road circuit at Belle Vue, a track wide enough to permit excellent team riding and passing on any side – like PC, he never knew he was beaten, and was also the final track record holder. Mort won everything the sport has to offer but the world championship, and was also the first English rider to be awarded the MBE for his services to sport. Mort taught me that loyalty pays.
4) Martin Luther King: While it turns out he had feet of clay, and being a clergyman would have disagreed with me about a number of topics, I was inspired by the story of MLK when first I heard it at school. The man had extraordinary qualities, in two respects: his courageous and charismatic leadership of the civil rights movement based on the principles of MK Gandhi: peaceful & non-violent civil disobedience. As he prophetically stated in the ‘Mountaintop‘ speech on the eve of his assassination, he would not get there to see it but he did indeed achieve the goal of equality and respect for black American citizens. More than that, he was an electrifying speaker. Can you listen to his I Have A Dream speech without the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end and tears forming in your eyes? I can’t! From King I learned to have the courage of my convictions and to move mountains to fight for what I believe in.
5) Allan Roy Millward: My dad had plenty of faults but was at heart my role model and good guy. He wasn’t a megastar but he did show me the value of being a good and modest family man and father. A day does not go by without my missing him.