JIMMY Hill’s punditry may have enraged the Tartan Army but yesterday Scottish football supporters led the tributes to a “legendary” figure in the English game after he died aged 87.
Hill’s passing after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease saw the burying of hatchets north of the Border as Scots acknowledged his immense contribution to the game as a player, manager, union official and TV analyst. After years of “we hate Jimmy Hill” being belted out by Scottish fans at Hampden and Wembley, there was an outpouring of affection.
Irritation at his perceived bias towards England was almost forgotten, as Tartan Army representatives said they would pay their respects to Hill when Scotland meet England at Wembley next year.
And there was even the mildest of suggestions that fans were prepared to forgive him for describing Dave Narey’s wonder strike against Brazil in 1982 as a “toe poke”.
Speaking on Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball programme, Stuart Cosgrove said Hill was seen as a “strange character” in Scotland but described him as a “legendary” individual.
Cosgrove’s colleague, Tam Cowan, remembered the “immense pleasure” it gave him to host Hill on his Offside football show a few years ago.
“He was absolutely brilliant. He said that he loved coming to Scotland. He loved the Scottish fitba fans – that whole love/hate relationship. He totally played up to it,” said Cowan.
“He will always be synonymous with describing Dave Narey’s goal as a ‘toe poke’. But I think that when folk thought back on that – and I’m not just saying that now with the sad news that he has passed away – I think folk always remembered that with a smile on their face. Rather than wanting to throttle him.”
Cosgrove said he would always remember Hill wearing a bow tie with St George’s crosses on it when he appeared on television.
“It was clearly designed to wind up Scottish viewers,” Cosgrove said. “He was just a larger than life personality. The one thing that he did that will stay forever in history was that he broke the rule on how much footballers could be paid.”
Cosgrove was referring to the key role Hill played as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association when he successfully argued for the abolition of the £20 per week maximum wage.
The breakthrough in 1961 was to change the game forever. The ending of the wage restrictions came just a bit too late for Hill, who had a successful career on the pitch, turning out 276 times for Fulham as an aggressive and quick inside forward. He retired from the game in 1963 to become manager of Third Division Coventry City.
Hill’s impact there was enormous. He changed the club’s kit to sky blue, set in motion a huge stadium reconstruction programme, and led Coventry to the top division before resigning to begin his television career with London Weekend Television. Although there was always more to Hill that his TV work – in 1972, for example, he answered an emergency call for a replacement linesman during Arsenal’s match with Liverpool – he became a presenter of Match Of The Day in 1973, an association that lasted 25 years.
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.
He was later chairman of Charlton and Fulham, spearheading a public outcry when the club’s owners proposed a merger with Queen’s Park Rangers in 1987.
His contribution to the game was recognised by Hamish Husband, the West of Scotland Tartan Army spokesman. He said: “There were a lot of ‘we hate Jimmy Hill flags’, but it was always in jest.
“He was an important figure who will be sadly missed and we would like to pay our respects at the game next year.”
Hill is survived by his third wife, Bryony, whom he married in 1991, and by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage and by a son and a daughter of the second.