...and into extra time Profile: Jimmy Hill

His brand of football punditry may have looked outdated during the World Cup. But at 70, he's been given a new lease of life by Sky TV.

Share
Related Topics
THERE is a moment in every footballer's career when he reaches his sell-by date and, like a week-old pint of milk, starts to go off. Younger players outdo him for pace, he misses open goals, the morning after a match he aches so much that he can't get out of bed. If there is a comparable moment in Jimmy Hill's career in football punditry, it may have come during the European Championships two years ago. The England team were performing above themselves and, in trying to put his finger on the mood of national fervour, Hill remarked that even the ladies were watching, including his wife.

When broadcasters disappear over the hill, they go to work for Sky television, whose primary role is to flog subscriptions to film and sport. Earlier in the year it signed Barry Norman from the BBC to be the Methuselah of its movie coverage. Last week, it followed suit in the sports department and invited a septuagenarian football pundit to host a talk show on Sky Sports News.

Jimmy Hill was in France this summer for his ninth World Cup. Although there was no official farewell - none of the valedictory palaver that attended the retirement of the commentator Brian Moore over on ITV - it was widely assumed to be his last studio engagement before he retreated to the home he shares with his third wife, Bryony, near Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, to play golf, do the odd charity engagement and shout at the television set like the rest of us.

The BBC made no noises about renewing his contract. Indeed, when the tournament was already in its stride, he was still grumbling about the corporation's silence to a national newspaper. He said then, and he said again last week with more than a hint of sour grapes, that the BBC had nothing for him to do anyway. It is shedding the rights to cover football the way Manchester City sheds managers.

If the BBC had really wanted to keep Hill, it would have done so. It may be hard for an old man to accept, as hard at 35 on the pitch as at twice that age on a panel, but it has been clear for a while that Hill's number was up. During the World Cup he looked as off the pace as the Gallic wallflower David Ginola. In the same way that they ignored Ginola because his English wasn't up to the job, the younger, racier pundits, armed with blunt Scottish wit and sinuous Irish articulacy, simply ganged up on Hill with his antediluvian bugbears and his Cross of St George bow tie (which he had to get permission to wear).

They may have been talking about football, but they were actually indulging in bloodsport. It made for jolly good viewing: Alan Hansen as Punch; Hill, for all the jutting promontory of his chin, as Judy. Off-screen, Hill may well be on cordial terms with his assailants, but it cannot have been much fun for him. Throughout the tournament there was a look of baffled hurt on his face. Nice bloke and everything, but indisputably a dinosaur.

In many other sports, age would not wither his effectiveness as a pundit: in cricket, golf, athletics, tennis and even rugby, the BBC has its long- serving repositories of gentlemanly good sense, and everyone loves them. But football has undergone a revolution largely bankrolled by the funds injected into the sport by Hill's new employers, and Hill can be seen as a victim of it.

As the old man struggled this summer to run with a much younger pack, it was easy to forget that Jimmy Hill was once the embodiment of modernity in English football. When he was a competent player with Fulham in the 1950s, even the best footballers were paid just pounds 20 a week. Now the better ones take home a thousand times that. And the seeds of the gargantuan hike were sown in 1961 when Hill, as the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, negotiated the removal of the pounds 20 maximum wage.

When he retired from playing, in the same year, and moved into management, in five years he took Coventry City from the old Third Division to the First Division (now Premiership) - where they remain to this day - before becoming a director and then chairman. It is his belief that no other former player has made a comparable tour through the various echelons of a club. He is also a qualified referee, and once, in a match between Arsenal and Liverpool in 1972, he vacated the commentary box to run the line when a linesman was injured.

In 1968 Hill was made Head of Sport at LWT, where he pioneered the concept of a panel of experts. It was introduced for ITV's coverage of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and for the first and only time ITV earned superior viewings figures to the BBC's, which subsequent poachings have been unable to repeat. Hill himself was poached three years later, when he moved to the BBC to anchor Match of the Day, and his insightful presentation helped to make it the Saturday-night institution it has become.

But ITV bought sole rights to league football in 1989, and when the BBC got them back in 1991 they entrusted the stewardship of Hill's old programme to the more emollient, viewer-friendly Des Lynam. Hill assumed the status of senior citizen in the BBC's football coverage, to be rolled out in his bathchair for internationals and cup finals. It was around this point that Hill mutated into a kind of national hate figure - especially in Scotland: he has sometimes taken a dim view of Scotland's international team, and Scottish fans take a dim view back. One tartan banner in France this summer read: "We Hate Jimmy Hill."

The first person to be paid to disagree vehemently with Hill - rather than do it for nothing from the privacy of his (or her) own sofa - was the matey, spivvy Terry Venables. BBC Sport discovered that the two men yoked together on one panel set off a volatile chemical reaction, and even after Venables left to manage England the BBC continued to play Hill in this role. Then his contract expired.

Hill has suffered far greater loss than the termination of his relationship with the BBC. The son of a milkman/baker's boy, he was born in 1928 and brought up in south London, the youngest of three children. His half-sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1935, and his brother died, also in an accident, while serving with the Royal Engineers in Iraq during the war. He got a scholarship to the local grammar school, where peer pressure knocked the aspiring footballer out of him, and started playing again only when, during his National Service, he was put in a unit swarming with professional players. He joined Brentford in 1949, Fulham four years later, and stayed there for eight years. In the Eighties he successfully led a consortium to rescue the club from liquidation, and was for a while chairman. It is now protected from insolvency by his successor, Mohammed al-Fayed.

The timing of Hill's move to Sky is worthy of note. For several years Bryony, who acts as his secretary (and has good relations with her two predecessors and five stepchildren), has politely batted back requests for interviews with steely resolve. Her husband has been keeping his powder dry for his autobiography, which he wrote without a ghostwriter. It will be published shortly, and the publicity will do its cause no harm at all.

There is another study in the can, a film about the life in football of its senior pundit which the BBC made as a kind of leaving present. It was wrongly reported last week that the BBC, since Hill signed for the opposition, is pondering the wisdom of showing it. In fact it will go out later in the autumn under the title, Are You Watching Jimmy Hill? The reality is that not many of us will be from now on. To most viewers he is a minority attraction these days, and the logical place for him is a minority channel.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker