Hill, James William Thomas (Jimmy)
- Richard Haynes
Hill, James William Thomas (Jimmy) (1928–2015), professional footballer, football manager, and sports broadcaster, was born on 22 July 1928 at 57 Pentney Road, Balham, south London, the son of William Thomas Hill (b. 1894), a Royal Marine and milkman, and his wife, Alice Beatrice, formerly Panton, née Wyatt (b. 1894). He had an elder brother and sister, Wally and Rene, from his mother’s first marriage, to Reginald Walter Panton, a lance corporal in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment who had been killed in action in 1916. Graham Hill attended Cavendish Road Primary School in Balham from 1933 to 1939. He was due to start his secondary school education at Henry Thornton Grammar School, Clapham, on 3 September 1939, but instead, with the outbreak of the Second World War, was evacuated for six months to Pagham and then Chichester. He played football for the Henry Thornton School as well as the 88th London Company of the Boys’ Brigade.
Hill left school in 1945 with designs on a career in journalism, but instead took his first job with the London and Lancashire Insurance Company, in Chancery Lane, London. He then worked for a London firm of stockbrokers, H. J. Garrett and Co, but in 1946 left to do his national service in the Suffolk Regiment, based in Bury St Edmunds. He was transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps in Cirencester, attaining the rank of corporal, before finally being billeted to Blackdown Garrison in Farnborough, where he played in various sports teams including football. He also guested for Folkestone Football Club.
Hill’s development as a teenage player blossomed among a team of professionals, and on leaving the army in 1949 he had amateur trials for Reading, then in the Third Division South. Rejected by Reading’s manager, Ted Drake, he was scouted by the Second Division side Brentford, signing for the club in 1949. He made his first team debut against Leicester City on 3 September 1949. A month later, on 1 October 1949, he married Gloria Mary Flude (b. 1929), schoolteacher and daughter of Frederick Hastings Flude, a journalist with the London Gazette. They had three children, Duncan (b. 1952), Alison (b. 1957) and Graham (b. 1959). The couple divorced in 1961.
Initially starting as a centre-forward, Hill moved to wing-half, playing in a half-back line that included Tony Harper and Ron Greenwood, the future England manager. He made eighty-seven appearances for Brentford, scoring ten goals. Following a chance meeting at a local golf club he set up a chimney-sweeping business with Ossie Noble to supplement his income as a professional footballer. It was an early signal of his enterprising character.
Hill was transferred to Fulham in exchange for Jimmy Bowie and £5000 in March 1952 following a dispute with the Brentford manager Jack Gibbons. He scored on his Fulham debut away to Blackpool but the season ended poorly as the club was relegated to Division Two. At Fulham, Hill played at inside-right, and his hard-working style enabled skilful players such as Johnny Haynes the opportunity to shine. He played 276 league matches and scored forty-one goals for Fulham between 1953 and 1961, helping them to the FA Cup semi-final in 1958–9 by scoring in every round, and playing in the side that gained promotion to the First Division in 1959–60. In 1958 he set a Football League record by scoring five goals in an away fixture against Doncaster Rovers. He retired from playing football in 1961 following a serious knee injury.
The Professional Footballers’ Association
In 1955 Hill had become Fulham’s delegate to the Association of Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union, then commonly referred to as the ‘Players’ Union’. He soon became a member of the management committee, and in 1956 was elected chairman, replacing Jimmy Guthrie of Portsmouth. ‘I can safely say’, he later recalled, ‘those extraordinary four years, 1957 to 1961, irrevocably changed my life. Suddenly I was having to argue my case in different parliaments, deal with the media as well as my fellow men in the most delicate matters. A university degree in politics and philosophy couldn't have been more rewarding; the PFA simply gave me a crash course in life and maturity’ (Guardian, 15 Jan 2001).
Hill’s greatest challenge and triumph came during his second two-year term as chairman of what he had renamed the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). The crux of the debate between the players, the Football League, and the clubs was premised on two key principles: the freedom of players to negotiate their salaries, and the freedom to leave a club once a player’s contract had expired. Hill worked on various fronts to consolidate the strength of the PFA’s members and foster public support for the players’ campaign to end the maximum wage and the ‘retain and transfer’ systems. Canvassing players in London, Manchester, and Birmingham in November and December 1960, Hill persuaded PFA members to vote overwhelmingly for strike action by 694 to 18, giving the Football League one month’s notice of the proposed action. Following a meeting on 18 January 1961 a seven-point plan for changes to players’ contracts was agreed, removing the maximum wage and paving the way for Haynes to be the UK’s first £100-a-week player. Hill later remarked, ‘If MaryTudor had Calais written on her heart, that date’s written on mine!’ (The Jimmy Hill Story, 74). Hill’s challenge to the governing powers of football earned him the epitaph ‘the bearded beatnik’ by fellow professionals, and he recounted the details of his role at the PFA in his first book, Striking For Soccer, published in 1963.
In November 1961 Hill became manager of Third Division Coventry City following an introduction from the cricketer Jim Laker to the club’s chairman, Derrick Robbins. With the backing of his chairman, Hill introduced a number of innovations and changes to the club which have since been referred to as the ‘Sky-Blue Revolution’. In what were viewed as radical moves at the time, he brought in a charter train for fans to travel to away matches; pre-match and half-time entertainment on the pitch; a ‘Sky-Blue’ radio station and glossy match-day programme; the first electronic scoreboard in a football stadium; closed-circuit-television coverage of a match to fans in the stadium; and ‘pop and crisps’ nights when players handed out free snacks to young fans and signed autographs. The innovations were all part of the family-centred experience Hill wanted to create at football, and his espousal of all-seater stadiums pre-dated the modernization of many British stadiums which followed Sir Peter Taylor’s report in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
On 18 January 1962 Hill married his second wife, Heather Christine Flora Harding (b. 1936), schoolteacher, and daughter of Walter Harding, a stock checker for a furniture retailer. They had two children, Joanna (b. 1963) and Jamie (b. 1967). The couple divorced in 1982.
By the end of Hill’s first season in charge, Coventry City won promotion to the Second Division, and in his final year as manager, in 1966–7, the club won the Second Division title and were promoted to the First Division. His scientific approach to coaching was published in his second book, Improve Your Soccer (1966). After negotiations to extend his contract failed, Hill left the club as manager, promising to the Coventry fans that he would never manage another club, which was a promise he kept. That summer he also separated from his second wife, Heather, and moved in with a new partner, Veronica Hopcraft, whom he had met during a football tour of the Caribbean.
Broadcaster and club chairman
In August 1967 Hill’s agent, Bagenal Harvey, arranged a meeting with the managing director of the commercial television franchise London Weekend Television (LWT), Michael Peacock. Hill became the first head of sport for the channel, which launched in Greater London and the home counties in August 1968. Hill’s previous role as a television pundit for the BBC during its 1966 World Cup coverage had given him an insight into the production of sports television, and in a coup for ITV he persuaded the BBC radio commentator Brian Moore to sign for LWT to front a new highlights programme, The Big Match. Working alongside his executive producer, John Bromley, Hill relaunched LWT’s Saturday afternoon sports programme, World of Sport, anchored by another new face, Dickie Davies. For the first time, ITV had two landmark sports programmes to rival the BBC’s Match of the Day and Grandstand. Hill and Bromley also introduced new innovations in football analysis, with an array of former players and managers recruited for ITV’s coverage of the 1970 World Cup. In 1972, while attending an Arsenal v Liverpool match for ITV at Highbury, Hill, a qualified referee, stepped in to cover for an injured linesman, receiving bountiful boos from the 47,000 spectators. For a brief period in 1973 he was deputy controller of programmes at LWT.
In September 1973 Hill switched broadcasters and signed a contract with the BBC to front its Saturday evening highlights programme, Match of the Day. Doubling his salary, he became the first professional player to present and provide match analysis on televised football. Between 1973 and 1989, when he was succeeded by Des Lynam, he anchored more than 600 programmes, becoming a household name and nationally recognized for his trademark trimmed beard.
In 1975 Hill returned to Coventry City as managing director of the club, and then chairman from 1976, a role he kept until 1983. His desire to maintain Coventry’s First Division status met controversy at the end of the 1976–7 season when the club faced relegation on their final day fixture against Bristol City. Hill delayed the kick-off by fifteen minutes, ostensibly owing to fan congestion, which meant the defeat of relegation rivals Sunderland could be announced over the tannoy prior to the end of the game. What ensued were fifteen minutes of farcical football as Coventry and Bristol City played out a two–two draw, ensuring that both clubs staved off relegation. Hill was reprimanded by the Football Association and forever pilloried by Sunderland supporters.
While chairman of Coventry City, Hill proposed and persuasively argued for the Football League to introduce three points for a win in order to promote attacking football. His idea was adopted by the FA in 1981 and subsequently by FIFA in 1994. Hill also had spells as a director of Charlton Athletic (1984–5), where he oversaw the controversial ground sharing of Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace, and as chairman of Fulham (1987–97), where he helped form a consortium to save the club financially and prevent a merger with rivals Queens Park Rangers.
Hill continued working for the BBC on television and radio into the 1990s as a football analyst, gaining a reputation for his forthright views on players, managers, referees, and the governance of the sport. His opinions on the game divided fellow pundits and viewers alike. Often derided in Scotland for his English bias, with the Tartan Army chant of ‘We hate Jimmy Hill’, he nevertheless played along with such criticism in good humour. He provided television analysis of nine World Cups until he was dropped by the BBC in 1998.
In September 1998 Hill was signed by Sky Sports News to present a new programme, The Last Word, in which he interviewed former players, managers, and other celebrities about the game. This was followed in 2003 by Jimmy Hill’s Sunday Supplement, in which sports journalists discussed the weekend’s football. In May 2004 he courted controversy after appearing to defend the former manager and commentator Ron Atkinson following a racist outburst by the latter. Many called for Hill’s resignation, but he continued to work for Sky until July 2007. Later that year he was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other interests, and final years
Away from broadcasting and football, Hill was a passionate horse-rider, attending many foxhunts, and on one occasion jumping a couple of fences of the Grand National course at Aintree. He also played golf, appearing in pro–celebrity competitions and the BBC 2 programme Pro-Celebrity Golf on numerous occasions in the 1980s. He was heavily involved in charities, helping to establish Sport Aiding Research into Crippling Diseases for Kids (SPARKS) in 1960. He also did much work for the football charity Goaldiggers, the Lords Taverners, and the National Advertisers’ Benevolent Fund. In 1976 he began an affair with his secretary, Bryony Ruth Jarvis (b. 1951), daughter of Trevor Jarvis, estate agent; she became his third wife when they married on 9 January 1991.
Hill was made an OBE for services to football in 1985. He was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2010, and presented with the League Managers’ Association’s ‘service to football’ award in 2011. He unveiled a statue of himself outside Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena in recognition of his achievements at the club in 2011. Having lived latterly in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, he died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on 19 December 2015, and was survived by his wife Bryony and his five children. He was buried in Sussex following a private funeral service on new year’s eve 2015; a memorial service was held at Coventry Cathedral on 12 February 2016.
- J. Hill, Striking For soccer (1963)
- J. Hill, The Jimmy Hill story (1998)
- Daily Telegraph (10 March 2007)
- The Guardian (15 Jan 2001)
- J. Brown, The sky blue revolution: Jimmy Hill at Coventry City, 1961-1967 (2011)
- B. Hill, My gentleman Jim (2015)
- The Observer (20 Dec 2015)
- Sunday Times (20 Dec 2015)
- The Times (21 Dec 2015); (22 Dec 2015); (26 Dec 2015); (29 Dec 2015)
- Daily Telegraph (21 Dec 2015)
- The Guardian (21 Dec 2015)
- The Independent (21 Dec 2015)
- WW (2015)
- G. Argent, bromide print, 1970, NPG
- N. Dimbleby, bronze statue, 2011, Ricoh Arena, Coventry
- photograph, 1998, Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy [see illus.]
- photograph, repro. in B. Hill, My gentleman Jim (2015)
- photographs, repro. in J. Hill, Striking For soccer (1963)
- photographs, repro. in J. Hill, The Jimmy Hill story (1998)
- photographs, repro. in Coventry Telegraph (19 Dec 2017)
- photograph, Coventry City Football Club, www.ccfc.co.uk/club/club-history/, accessed 31 August 2018
- photograph, 1972, Arsenal Football Club, 1 June 2017, www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/tv-pundit-jimmy-hill-runs-the-line, accessed 31 August 2018
- photographs, Mirrorpix
- photographs, Alamy
- photographs, Getty Images
- photographs, Rex Features
- photographs, BBC
- obituary photographs