Yesterday I was privileged to attend the memorial service of Jimmy Hill at Coventry Cathedral. It’s often said that you invariably find out something about a person you never knew at such an event and this was no exception. Surprisingly so as his achievements and legacies are so well documented: notably abolition of the maximum wage, three points for a win. As the events was so Coventry-centric it was only right and proper that his time at Coventry (1961- 67) should be at the forefront of the tributes. He achieved 2 consecutive promotions and though he had moved to head up sport at London Weekend by the time Coventry reached the top flight his stewardship formed the foundation of a 34 year stay there. As manager of Coventry he made innovations that are standard today: the away train; the club song, he wrote the words to the tune of the Eton Boating song and for good measure those of the Arsenal double team of 1971 (Good Old Arsenal); a Vice Presidents’ Club; a club shop in the City; the coloured programme; the first electronic scoreboard; the first sponsored shirt; the first replayed match to 4 screens at Highfield Road; the first supporters information service.
As Gordon Taylor said
” No other manager has ever given a club a new identity.”
Tributes were paid by Gordon Taylor, Bobby Gould, his son Jamie, Greg Dyke, John Motson, present Vice Chairman Chris Anderson and previous chairman Joe Elliott. A video of his life narrated by Eddy Butler (very good but you might have thought they could have founds football man to do this) was shown. The band of Jaguar works played some of his favourite music, he was an able cornet player whilst Dave Willetts, whom I had seen the first Les Miserables, led us in many renditions of the Sky Blue Song. The great and the good of the football world were present – Roy Hodgson and Richard Scudamore and other dignitaries like Freddy Windsor whose mother the Duchess Of Kent had worked with Jimmy on the charity he founded Sparks. He deserved a knighthood for his charitable work alone.
I must also mention how well the Dean John Witcombe conducted the service. Except for one minute of reflection when he led us in prayer the service was secular and he seemed comfortable with that. I’m no religious man but this seemed a fine example of respect for other and indeed non-faiths. Praise too to the City of Coventry. There were other candidates – the BBC and Fulham to name but two – to make such an event but they actually did so and did so brilliantly. It was the type of inspired nettle-grasping that distinguished Jimmy’s career, as in the time when there was no linesman at an Arsenal v Liverpool match in September 1972 after an injury to the linesman so he ran the line, much to the consternation of the Highbury crowd and above all commentator Brian Moore.
Fulham, for whom he played nearly 300 times and scored 52 goals including 5 in one match at Doncaster and chaired for 10 years, might have had a bigger presence. The old Enclosure was where the Fulham wags gathered, one of whom made this memorable witticism:
” Cohen, when the Rabbi asks for the ball for God’s sake pass it to him.”
On the train up, I met club Chief Executive Alistair Mackintosh but the club were only given two tickets. . I wore my Fulham tie with pride and out of the winnings on the Brighton 3-0 score treated myself to a pair of Fulham sterling silver cuff links with a diamond inset. One of these is now lying on the rail track around East Croydon as going to the loo , I was horrified that after I heard the ping on metal on ceramic that one cuff link had detached itself from my Sky blue coloured shirt and made its way literally down the pan.
Jimmy Hill would have enjoyed that one. Contrary to his reputation he did not take himself seriously. He based his long pundit career upon being intelligent enough to identify and promote a contrary view. There are far too many appeasers nowadays but football has always attracted impressionable people.
I would like to conclude with my own personal vignette. I worked as a volunteer for the Fulham programme. We were always invited for a drink something which I doubt now happens. The editor mentioned he was looking for new ideas, a commodity of which Jimmy was never short. Straightaway Jimmy said “Run a competition to report a match, you will have a feature and who knows maybe a new contributor.” The winner Mark Maunders 25 years later still works for Fulham in player-support helping overseas signings to settle.
No one will ever make the contribution to football that Jimmy Hill did and this was rightly and appropriately acknowledged yesterday in Coventry Catherdral. The one person who really would have enjoyed it could not be present but then again he was.