Action Replay: Jimmy Hill – A Man for all Seasons

Jimmy Hill, who died in December at the age of 87, grew up in South London and played football for Fulham FC, a first division (as the top league was then called) side. A busy inside forward, his beard and ski-slope chin made him look like a buccaneer. Fans called him a rabbi and other names but always in banter. He became a folk hero at Craven Cottage.

A knee injury forced him to retire in 1961. Staying in the game he transformed lowly Coventry City from third division underachievers, into a progressive and family friendly football club. He changed Coventry’s kit into sky blue and started up Sky Blue train specials to away games and Sky Blue children’s parties. He understood and developed inclusiveness at Coventry City FC, before the word became part of every politician’s lexicon.

However, it was his leadership of the Professional Footballers Association from 1955-61 which dramatically affected the game. In successfully opposing the maximum wage of £20, the foundations of the modern game were laid.

How things have changed. Wayne Rooney reputedly earns 300k per week for plying his trade. No longer is football a working man’s game.

Hill was a gifted speaker – persuasive, eloquent and logical. He understood the grievances of his fellow professionals and his irrefutable arguments often convinced the authorities of the necessity for change.

In 1967 he became Head of Sport with London Weekend Television and reinvented football on TV by introducing the role of the pundit. In 1973 he switched to BBC becoming the front man on Match of the Day remaining a forthright commentator

Hill’s final contribution was to his beloved Fulham. In 1987 he spent ten turbulent years as Chairman. Plans were mooted to merge with Queen’s Park Rangers and sell Craven Cottage for housing. Adroitly utilising public outrage he steered the club through this passage and other crises.

Many eulogies have stemmed from ex-professionals regarding Jimmy Hill’s contribution to football. Peter Schmeichel, a former Manchester United player is the most fitting. He describes Jimmy Hill as one of ‘the most important people in football history’, adding ‘on so many levels we owe you.’


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