Sportsman turned ‘spy’: Why Sean Connery chose James Bond over Manchester United

SCMP Sport

Posted at Nov 01 2020 02:04 PM

Sportsman turned ‘spy’: Why Sean Connery chose James Bond over Manchester United 1
Actor Sean Connery (left) stands with Brazilian player Ronaldinho after making a ceremonial kick off during Match for Peace event at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona in November 2005. Cesar Rangel, AFP/file

The sporting world joined Hollywood and fans from all walks of life in paying tribute to Sean Connery, the original James Bond who died aged 90 on Friday.

The Oscar-winning Scottish actor, a former body builder who once turned down Matt Busby’s offer to play for Manchester United, died in his sleep in Bahamas, reports said. Apart from seven outings as the dapper British spy 007, Connery also starred in a number of hit movies, including The Hunt for Red October, Highlander, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Rock and 1988’s The Untouchables, for which he won an Academy Award as best supporting actor.

He was close to choosing a life as a footballer in the early 50s with offers from United and Scottish side East Fife. World governing body Fifa was quick to pay tribute to Connery with a short tweet on how Busby offered him £25 a week to join United.

The tweet included Connery’s famous quote: “I really wanted to accept because I loved football. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”

The Scottish Junior Football Association says in its archives that the future star of Dr No and Goldfinger played junior football for Midlothian team Bonnyrigg Rose. Citing a local newspaper report, Connery scored with a 30-yard shot in a 3-1 loss to Broxburn Athletic.

Connery, who reportedly did the unthinkable and switched fan allegiance from Celtic to bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers, denied reports that he was ever approached by the Hoops. On his offer from Busby, he said: “I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23.”

Also paying tribute to the legendary actor was Spanish giants Barcelona, who welcomed Connery as a guest to their Camp Nou stadium in 2005.

“Our deepest condolences on the passing of Sean Connery, who visited us at Camp Nou in 2005. Rest in peace,” the club said on its Twitter feed with a picture of Connery with former star player Ronaldinho.

He once visited Rangers’ home stadium Ibrox where he had a conversation with former England, Newcastle, Spurs and Rangers star Paul Gascoigne, with Gazza later boasting how “I shook his hands”.

Apart from football, Connery was also a body builder as a youngster. The “Terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former Mr Universe and one of the most famous body builders of all time, described Connery as a “icon” and an “inspiration”.

The former governor of California tweeted: “Sean Connery was a legend, one of the greatest actors of all time. He provided endless entertainment for all of us & inspiration for me. I’m not just saying that because he was a body builder who placed in the Mr Universe contest! He was an icon. My thoughts are with his family.”

Connery was also a big tennis fan, especially of his fellow Scot Andy Murray – a three-time grand slam winner.

After reaching the final of the 2012 US Open in New York, Murray’s press conference was famously interrupted by Connery, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Murray’s mother Judy.

It has since been reported that the trio indulged in plenty of red wine before they plucked up the courage to barge in as Murray was talking to the media.

Not all tributes have been kind to Connery, though. Some Celtic fans are still bitter that he seemingly stopped supporting the green side of Glasgow because he was once denied tickets to the VIP boxes.

Rangers fans were nicer in their comments, with one writing: “Sad to see the death of Sean Connery, the best Bond and coolest Rangers supporter.”

One female Celtic supporter wrote: “My favourite Bond. I always forgave him his support for Rangers based on the fact he was so bloody handsome. Rest in Peace Sir Sean.”