The president of the Docklands Victims Association (DVA) has revealed his personal connection with the late Muhammad Ali for the first time.
Former amateur boxer Jonathan Ganesh, who boxed for Broad Street ABC in Shadwell, was severely injured in the 1996 Docklands bomb, leaving his dreams of turning professional in tatters.
While he was recovering from the blast that saw his friends killed and several others disabled, his parents Tim and Patricia wrote a letter to Muhammad asking for an autograph in an effort to help their ailing son recover.
But Muhammad and his wife Lonnie went above and beyond, sending a pair of signed boxing gloves.
Jonathan said: “After the bomb I was very ill, injured and traumatised. And then one day somebody arrives at the door and drops a off a big box, and inside was a beautiful pair of boxing gloves.
“My mum also got a phone call from Lonnie Ali. They said they were very sad about my injuries and that they were praying for me.
“They didn’t want any publicity for the story. That’s why I’ve kept it a secret for the last 20 years.”
But the correspondence didn’t stop there, as Jonathan would write and receive responses from Lonnie and Muhammad every six months over the next 18 years, with the couple wishing to know about the Poplar man’s recovery and sending him gifts.
In 2002/03 Jon graduated from the Open University with a law qualification and was awarded the Shield of Merit.
To thank the Alis for their help over the years, Jonathan sent them the shield and one of the university’s teddy bears.
The award was later returned to Jon with Muhammad’s autograph on the back.
The accompanying letter explained that Muhammad wanted Jon to have it as a “symbol of his hard work and achievement” so he could one day share it with his children.
Jonathan was able to see his friend in the flesh on one occasion in Brixton during a visit in 1999 and had been invited to the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards in Louisville in September 2016.
Of his brief meeting he said: “It was just a 10 second meeting and I was with a group of people. I didn’t want to spoil it for them. But just to be there was enough for me.”
Like many people, Jonathan found out about Muhammad’s death on Friday, June 3, while watching the news.
“I was in tears,” he said. “I was devastated. I got on my knees at 5.30am and I said a prayer. I’m really going to miss him. I’m heartbroken.”
When asked why he was revealing the story now, Jonathan said that he wanted people to see the man behind the boxer.
He said: “I just really want Muhammad to be recognised for his kindness, his compassion and for people to realise that he always thought of the little people.
“He was undoubtedly one of the most sincere and one of the most genuine people. Kind and decent.
“Without his influence, I don’t think I would have gone on to do what I’ve done. The inspiration and kindness he gave me at the most terrible time of my life was amazing.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see someone like him again.”