BY MARTIN CLOAKE
When my generation became aware of Jimmy Hill he was already part of the establishment. He presented Match of the Day, he wore a shirt and tie, he was serious and authoritative and slightly out of touch with the times in which teenaged football fans were flicking wedges and listening to The Buzzcocks. For many of us, “Jimmy Hill” were the words you said while rubbing your chin with your thumb and forefinger when you wanted to suggest that something a mate had said wasn’t true. And as the fanzine generation solidified its challenge to what we saw as tired, complacent and shallow mainstream media coverage of the game we loved, it was easy to lump Jimmy Hill in with everything we were challenging.
But Jimmy Hill had more in common with many of us than we thought.
When it was announced that Hill had died last week, it was gratifying to see such widespread recognition of his achievements. The best summation of the great man’s influence on the game came from Jim White, who observed wisely that although “football has long since lost the connection between merit and return… Hill cannot be blamed for the law of unintended consequences.”
White was referring to the fact that it was Hill who led the PFA in its struggle to overturn football’s pernicious and dishonest maximum wage and the fact that has led to today’s megabucks salaries. It was one of many changes Hill worked for, challenging establishment thinking every step of the way and always putting a love for the game and the people who played and watched it at the heart of what he did.
It may seem odd to posit Hill as a radical, especially to my generation. He often irritated us with what seemed to be pedantry, with a rather clipped old-school style and a tendency, we thought, to class too many of us as hooligans. Hill was a man of his time, and so his attitude to changing terrace culture was rooted in how his own experience and values had shaped him. But step back and consider what he achieved and there is much to admire, and much to draw encouragement from.
The fact that we saw Hill initially as part of the establishment shows that change can happen. Many of his ideas, and particularly his opposition to the maximum wage, were dismissed as too radical, too ambitious, too much. And yet so many of those ideas became mainstream.
Hill improved things for players, and he improved the way football was covered in the media. Those have been the great changes of the last 50 years. Now, arguably, the next great change that needs to happen in the game is that fans are more involved, and treated better. Putting forward ideas about lower ticket prices and about writing fan representation at club board level into statute invite the very rebuttals Hill came up against – too radical, too ambitious, too much.
But Jimmy Hill showed that change is possible.
MARTIN CLOAKE – @MartinCloake