His profile, both physically and professionally, is legendary. Jimmy Hill certainly let us all know what he thought and the impact of his thoughts has certainly shaped many aspects of the modern game. For fans of a certain age, he will forever be associated with the game as he was on Match of the Day some 600 times. He seemed to revel in the controversies he created which he did for the love of the game. His legacy will certainly live on as many of his contributions shaped the face of the modern game.
As a player he was good. He played 297 games for Fulham and scored 52 goals, five of them coming at an away match to Doncaster Rovers-which is an equal club record. He was part of the team that was promoted to the first division in 1958 and it was somewhat of a glory era for Fulham. He was a hard worker and his style has been described as enabling of others which is why he could be a successful union leader. He became chairman of the Professional Player’s Association or PPA in 1957. An injury forced him to retire early as a player. He continued to be an influential force in the game though.
Jimmy Hill was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010 in the “Special Achievement” category. To say his achievements are special are an understatement. As I have previously written, he changed punditry forever when he assembled a team of passionate, opinionated motormouthed former players during the World Cup of 1970. This is something that we are all eternally grateful for but what he did as chairman of the PPA seemed to be the right thing to do. The consequences of removing the cap on players wages are being debated today.
Deal or No Deal
At £20 per week players, wages were modest and in 1961 Jimmy Hill’s campaign to abolish the maximum wage hit its peak. He felt he was doing this for the good of the game by improving players terms and conditions and in a post-war era it seemed like the right thing to do. Raising the wages of any paid employee reflects the value that society places on them. In doing so the value of players was inevitably going to rise. I don’t know if Jimmy could have predicted the long-term impact of this bold move. He was a player himself and was fighting for the rights of his fellow workers.
Players were willing to strike over this issue. Jimmy Hill said his players would “withdraw labour” if his members didn’t get paid for all the hard work that they put in. His argument was that many people were watching these chaps strut their stuff. The money was going to the club and not the very people who attracted these people to the grounds. When Jimmy Hill became chairman of the PPA in 1957, Harold MacMillan told us we “have never had it so good” as the industry was booming and people had money in their pockets to spend on. Ironically by 1961, he was calling for a wage freeze when players were given green light to earn their worth.
The first player to benefit from this was Hill’s teammate Johnny Haynes. He was promised that his wages would increase fivefold. So, the England captain was the first player to earn £100 per week. The interest in football has increased in line with wages. People like to blame clubs with wealthy owners but it is not as simple as that. All those of you with MBA’s will attest to that. Next time you hear blame being attributed to something simple like that remember the first step was empowering the players who deliver the goods.
Jimmy Hill had his playing career cut short due to injury. Like so many others he turned his hand to management as you don’t want to stop being involved in a game you love. As I have mentioned he was a truly passionate advocate of the game and did many things to enhance its status. In order to forge a new path, one must be single-minded and fearless especially when you challenge cartels and institutions like the FA. To be remembered fondly you need to show heart. Without fans, there is no one to encourage the eleven messiahs who chase a ball for unlimited cash every week.
The Sky Blue Revolution
With players able to earn salaries that were above the national average he knew that fans had to turn up. After fighting for players rights, he became manager of Coventry City shortly after his early retirement in 1961.
He was appointed shortly after they had been humiliated by non-league King’s Lyn in the FA Cup. He came with the idea that he was going to “make Coventry the highest paid Football League club in the country” he added, “but you must work for it.” In order to do this, there was a staff cull. Out with the old, in with the new and the colours were changed to Sky Blue.
There was a song penned and is still sung today with the lyrics: – “Let’s all sing together, Play up Sky Blues, While we sing together, We will never lose….” Stirring stuff! It is the song of marketing and branding. If a team is going to have an impact and a legacy it needs to stand alone and be instantly recognisable so it can be taken from local to global. That was clearly the vision. Now to get the Sky Blues from the third to the first division. You need fans to come to the ground so you the club has money. Hill wanted Highfield Road to be a match day experience for everyone. He pioneered match day hospitality to grow the corporate side of the club. I can hear you shouting “what about the fans?!”
He championed the fans. He wanted Coventry City Football Club to be at the heart of the community. Children were given fizzy drinks and other snacks and fans were regularly treated to entertainment. There was even a Sky Blue radio station. And the scores were emblazoned on the electronic scoreboard. All these innovations have been copied over the years as teams are branded and clubs all have images to promote. Can you imagine a match without a colourful programme? Well, Jimmy Hill thought it was a good idea, not only was a great money maker it brought the players closer to the fans.
If the fans were to get to know the players we should have a chance to hear them speak. He overturned the ban on the media and player were free to communicate with the press. In the 1960s this was revolutionary. I mean players may not have had anything interesting to say but they could be heard. This is important to the fans today.
Home and Away
Fans need to be looked after both home and away. The players need support on their travels so why not provide transport to these places. Good idea Jimmy-the Sky-Blue train service allowed the fans to cheer on the players all over the country. Coventry City was going places-including the first Division. Jimmy Hill swapped football management for football on the television for a long and lucrative career on the BBC.
His influence wasn’t diminishing. He loved attacking football and thought that if you earned three points for a win it would incentivise players to score more. Well, the English league adopted it in 1981 and it became universalised in 1994. All the number crunchers can work out what would have happened if we were still handing out two points for the victory. All I can say is I’m glad Blackburn won the league at the expense of Manchester United.
All Sit Down
His rationale had the game at the core. On his return to Coventry as Director, he thought that hooligans don’t sit down. With that idea, he turned Coventry’s Highfield Road into the first all-seater stadium. He did this some nine years before the Taylor report made it compulsory. It was a flawed logic but one that has influenced the way we enjoy the game today.
He was an innovator who was ahead of his time in many ways. There is always that moment when you realise that the times have overtaken you. He always said what he thought even if it was wrong or unpopular. He defended the racist language used by Ron Atkinson as “language of the football field”. He clearly was being left behind at this point in his career. He went on to compare the racist terms used to the banter he was subjected to because of his trademark protruding chin. I’m with the former director of “Kick It Out”-it’s mindboggling that anyone can say such a thing.
Big Mouth Strikes Again
It wasn’t his only blight. The most extreme was when he was Chairman of Coventry he delayed the start of the crucial relegation match against Bristol City at the end of the 1977 season. Many fans had failed to arrive as traffic was unusually bad. When it was announced that Sunderland had lost and were relegated both teams went to sleep. There wasn’t another moment of attacking play and the 2-2 scoreline meant both Coventry and Bristol stayed up-another goal would have saved Sunderland and relegated the loser of the match. The scoreline stood after the subsequent investigation. I am sure tempers flared on Wearside.
Like all leaders, innovators and reformers there will be moments we disagree with. Jimmy Hill will be remembered for the many great things he did. Football is created in his image. He certainly was prepared to do as well as to say. During Liverpool’s match at Highbury in 1972, he took over from injured linesman Dennis Drewitt. As someone qualified to do the job he could not allow the game to be abandoned as FA rules stated there had to be three match officials on the pitch at all times. He answered the call.
Football was his calling and he served it in so many capacities. The BBC described him as the architect of the modern game without him, we would be looking at a totally different ball game.