The Jimmy Hill revival starts here!
Forget the chin, the goatee, the off-the-mark comments. Get the real Jimmy Hill deal - the player, PFA chairman, manager, TV bigwig, linesman, managing director, and TV presenter.
The train to Reading, to train.
Jimmy Hill's footballing career began at Elm Park, Reading. While in the army, Hill had been noticed by the Reading
Ted Drake, who suggested he would be welcomed if he popped down to Reading sometime. After Hill left the army, and packed
struggling Stock Exchange, he took the train to Reading, thinking he might improve his fitness with a week's training
Six months later, having played mainly for the club's third eleven, and occasionally for the combination side (reserves), he
was told, much to his
surprise, that Reading didn't want to sign him as a professional. Surprise not because he thought he'd done well, but
because at the time he wasn't planning to turn professional, preferring to keep amateur status, and earn his keep outside the
Drake's rejection, however, rekindled Hill's ambition to become a professional. The Reading boss told him a London club
in having a look, so off Hill went to Brentford, where he met Jack Gibbons, Brentford's manager, and was promptly
contract, for a princely £7 a week during the season, and £5 a week during the summer. Hill signed, and started the new
season as a second division striker.
In 1952, Hill signed for Fulham, where he made just under 300 appearances before retiring, in 1961, at the age of 33.
versatile midfielder, Hill made his name on the field as a hard working rather than spectacular player. Nonetheless, he
scored a club record 5 goals in one away game. During his time at the club, he played alongside some great names in English
football: Bobby Robson, Johnny Haynes, and George Cohen all played for Fulham during Hill's stint at Craven Cottage.
But it was
off the field that Hill began to make his mark, and changed the face of the English game.
Sunderland Scandal Shocker!
From 1957 until 1961, Hill was Chairman of the Professional Footballer's Association (PFA), a role he carried off with
relish, being variously described as 'the bold buccaneer', and 'the beatnik with the ball'. Shortly after Hill took on the
he was confronted with the issue of Sunderland players who had allegedly been receiving dodgy payments in addition to their
capped salary. The Football Association (FA)
issued a life ban for the players after they refused to answer questions on the subject, but the PFA, and Hill, defended the
players. Taking a gamble on there being many other players in a similar position, the PFA petitioned its members to come
forward if they too had received illegal payments, in the hope that many would own up, and that the FA could be made to back
down. The PFA won, and the players were reinstated with a suspension and a fine. This, too, was later revoked.
In the days before footballers were overpaid
At this time, professional players were under the yoke of a maximum wage, and restrictions on bonuses and benefits in
Also, under the Retain and Transfer system operated by clubs, the clubs had all the contractual bargaining power, the players
Hill and his PFA panel changed all this.
In 1960, the PFA challenged the Retain and Transfer system, opting to take legal action when George Eastham was refused
transfer by his club, Newcastle United, and the FA had failed to help the player. Eastham was successful, and he was able
to move to Arsenal.
The following year, a strike ballot was called, against the maximum wage. Unanimously, the players voted in favour of
striking. At the time, the maximum wage was £20 a week, up from £15 in the mid 1950s, and associated benefits were paltry -
the maximum win bonus was a stunning £2, and had been for 16 years, while 5 years service would net a player £750. In 1939
the figure had been £650, only £100 less. The FA caved, and the maximum wage was abolished. Johnny Haynes, Hill's former
Fulham colleague, and now England captain, was among the first to benefit, becoming the first footballer to earn £100 a week.
Thanks to Jimmy Hill, the footballer's lot had improved substantially.
In 1961, after Tottenham Hotspur had become the first club since Aston Villa in 1897 to win the double (League champions
F.A.Cup winners in the same season), their manager Bill Nicholson was unable to pay them bonuses for this remarkable
achievement, and even
had to get the FA's express permission to give each player a watch as a bonus payment. Now, however, the big clubs could
retain their star players, and attract new talent, by fattening their pay packets. And they could afford to. As Hill
"What we fought for then was the right of a player to be paid in proportion to what he earned for his club and I
still stick to that."¹
Sending Jimmy Hill to Coventry (1961-1967)
Having secured a better life for the players, Hill promptly retired and took the post of manager at the then lowly
City. In six years at Highfield Road, Hill took the club from the wrong end of the third division, through the second
division, and into the top flight.
As if all that promotion wasn't enough, Hill also changed the club's home strip to sky blue (surely a popular choice, as
clubs nickname is now "The Sky Blues"), and provided pre-match entertainment for the fans, and crisps and soft drinks for
children. For away games, Hill introduced special trains to take away fans to matches. Hill the lyricist also made his mark
on the Sky Blues, penning the words to the Sky Blues Song:
"Let's all sing together,
Play up Sky Blues,
While we sing together,
We will never lose.
Tottenham or Chelsea,
United or anyone,
They shan't defeat us,
We'll fight till the game is won."
On the Box
Like so few before him, but so many since, Hill saw the lure of television, and left Coventry immediately having taken
to the first division, to take up the post of Head of Sport at London Weekend Television (LWT). In 1972, he became Deputy
Controller of Programmes. Also in 1972, Hill added another string to his footballing bow when he stepped in as a replacement
linesmanfor a match he was providing television coverage for at Highbury. In 1963, the BBC poached him to present their
flagship football programme, Match Of The Day. Hill appeared on the programme more than 600 times. He has also worked on
the Sports Personality of The Year awards, and has worked as a presenter or analyst on every world cup since 1966, and on
every European Championship from 1968 to 1996.
Hill has been presenting football programmes for Sky since the start of the 1998-99 season. Initially, he fronted "The
Last Word", and now heads up "Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement".
Hill has also been known to make the occasional TV commercial, appearing in adverts for Sunday People (1998), McDonalds
(2000) - Hill the old man decked out in full kit turns out to have lost some of his physical ability, with the tagline "If
only all comebacks were as good as this", to advertise the return of the McRib - and Heineken (2001), and providing a
voice over in an advert for McVitie's Jaffa Cakes (1998).
Coventry, again. Fulham, again.
Hill's return to Coventry City as managing director in 1974 was less successful, An attempt to turn Highfield Road into
an all-seater stadium in 1981 backfired as attendances dropped dramatically. When visiting Millwall fans ripped out
most of the seating, the club decided to go back to the terraces. Hill also returned to Fulham, as Chairman, helping (or
perhaps observing) the team through some pretty rough times in the early 1990s, when the club had dropped to one place off
the bottom of the league.
Chin! Chin! mate.
Never one to shy from an opinion - and I'm sure even Jimmy would admit that he's not always right, and I remember one
particularly ill-advised comment about "African defenders" being hopeless - his impact on the sport is sadly often
This was certainly true when I was at school. Rather than discussing the pros and cons of the maximum wage structure and
restrictions on benefits in kind for professional footballers in the 1950s, we would stroke our chins in homage to the great
man whenever anyone said anything patently untrue.
1. Quote taken from http://www.adhoc.co.uk/cambridge/healthfitness/?article=891
Channel 4 showed a documentary on Jimmy's career on Tuesday 3 September 2002 (two days ago at the time of posting). I
missed it because... I was noding Jimmy at the time. Now, if that isn't irony...