Friday 9 December 2016

Jimmy Hill, face of Match of the Day for many years, passes away

A player, an agitator, and most notably a football presenter, the late Jimmy Hill was Mr Football, writes Jack Hardy

Jack Hardy

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

The late Jimmy Hill. Photo: AP
The late Jimmy Hill. Photo: AP

To millions of football fans in the 1980s and 1990s, Jimmy Hill was an outspoken television presenter, but history will show him as a pioneering figure who helped shape the game into what it is today.

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Hill was no stranger to controversy, describing David Narey's goal from the edge of the box against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup as a "toe-poke", and blaming a ballgirl for facilitating Liverpool's late equaliser in an FA Cup match at Blackburn in 1991.

But Hill's long and - despite sporadic gaffes - largely distinguished broadcasting career paled when put aside his earlier achievements, both on the pitch and as a visionary and revolutionary figure off it.

Hill was born in Balham, south London, in 1928.

Having been briefly a chimney sweep as a teenager and also completing his National Service, Hill started his playing career with Brentford, for whom he made 87 appearances before moving across London to Fulham in 1952.

Hill made 276 appearances as a striker for the Cottagers but earned greater recognition in his role as chairman of the PFA, with whom he successfully argued for the abolition of the £20-per-week maximum wage in 1961.

His success would change football as everyone knew it, but it made no financial difference to Hill, who retired the following summer at the age of 33, and became manager of Third Division strugglers Coventry City.

Hill's impact at Highfield Road was enormous. He changed the club's kit to sky blue, set in motion a huge stadium reconstruction programme, and laid on trains to carry the club's fans to away games.

Within six years, Hill had led the club all the way to the top flight but, after clinching the Second Division title in 1967 following a 25-match unbeaten run, Hill abruptly resigned in order to pursue a career in television.

Beginning as Head of Sport at London Weekend Television in 1967, Hill would go on to become presenter of Match of the Day in 1973. He would make 600 appearances during his 25-year association with the programme.

In the meantime, Hill underlined his remarkable adaptability within the game when he answered an emergency call for a replacement linesman during Arsenal's match with Liverpool in 1972.

Hill returned to Coventry in 1975, first as the club's managing director, then chairman. He successfully lobbied for the introduction of the three-points-for-a-win system in 1981, and also fought for the right for clubs to wear sponsors' logos on their shirts.

Always striving to take the game forward, Hill made Highfield Road the first English ground to become all-seater in 1981, displaying foresight which would ultimately endure despite an initial unfavourable reaction.

Hill went on to become chairman of Charlton and later Fulham, spearheading a public outcry when the club's owners proposed a merger with QPR in 1987.

While his views may have divided opinion, Hill's thoughts on the game remained valued.

Nestled in a collection of mementoes from her husband's time in football, My Gentleman Jim: A Love Story, Bryony Hill revealed none other than Sir Alex Ferguson had taken the time to pen a letter of apology for calling the BBC football pundit a "prat" on camera following a game against Norwich in 1994.

The former Man Utd manager wrote: "There is nothing wrong with losing one's temper so long as it is for the right reasons, but on this occasion there was no valid reason."

Hill also remained a source of great support for aspiring football presenters, such as Jim Rosenthal and Richard Keys. "He would take time to guide people if they wanted it," his wife recalled.

"Young students doing papers on football hooliganism or something would be invited here, or he would talk to them on the phone for hours. He just wanted to help people who were interested in football.

"Football was his life. He could just see his way through things. He was the same as a coach. He had a way of communicating with people. That was one of his great skills."

Hill also had a social impact away from the sport, helping to form the Stable Lads' Association as well as children's charity Sparks.

After leaving Match of the Day, Hill moved to Sky Television where he co-presented the media panel show Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2008 and, after being cared for at a nursing home since 2012, Hill died yesterday, aged 87.

Sunday Independent

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