Sunday 25 March 2018

Hill's legacy untarnished by game's greed

The late Jimmy Hill, who has died at the age of 87 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease
The late Jimmy Hill, who has died at the age of 87 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease

Jim White

When it came to energy, Jimmy Hill was born with a surfeit. Driven by an unfathomable reservoir of get-up-and-go, this was a man who accomplished more in a week than most of us do in a lifetime. There was not a moment when he was not innovating, trying to improve things, attempting to make his beloved football better.

With the passage of time, much of what he did may sound quaint now. Like the initiative he undertook when, as manager of Coventry City, he made the players babysit their children while he took their wives out for a shopping trip.

His intention was to thank them for their support, to make it clear that they were indispensable to the future well-being of the team. And it worked. The uplift in dressing-room spirit was palpable.

There is nothing he did, however - not the all-seater stadiums, not the three points for a win, not the singalong anthems - which has altered in perception over time quite as much as his successful struggle to remove the maximum wage.

As chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, he poured his reserves of vigour into the battle to remove the wage ceiling which ensured that players could be paid not much more than an office clerk: £20 a week.

These days, the last thing any of us would think of footballers is that they are institutionally underpaid.

If anything, we reckon our players have too much money, their returns routinely viewed as a symptom of a society which has lost connection with decency and sense.

As a result of all that cash, they have too much power, their salaries affording the modern footballer the kind of world view that renders them immune to old school management techniques.

Football has become a business which makes millionaires of the mediocre.

But Hill cannot be blamed for the law of unintended consequences.

When he threatened a strike if the maximum wage measure was not removed, it was necessary.

Because the maximum wage was a most pernicious bit of social engineering dressed up as protection of the integrity of competition. Kept in place by the self-interest of those who ran clubs, the policy of limiting rewards was maintained for decades under the guise of sound stewardship.

Players were paid under the counter to avoid scrutiny. Hill recognised that if his sport was to function properly, it had to be modernised, its best practitioners rewarded in the manner of their equivalents in movies or pop music.

What happened later - as post-Bosman all the power leached into the hands of the superstar player and his agent - was not the fault of Hill.

He may have released the genie from the bottle, but he cannot be held responsible for the subsequent failure to corral it.

The subsequent arms race in player salaries is rather the fault of those owners and administrators who have failed to exercise appropriate control. Just as it was when he was agitating against their parsimony.

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