The weekend brought the sad news that Jimmy Hill had passed on… the following piece appeared in ‘Got, Not Got’…
Best remembered by the kids of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s for his 30-year run as the opinionated presenter of BBC’s Match of the Day, Jimmy Hill is just as often recalled with a shake of the head by older fans who think of him as the bolshie type / player of principle who stood up and demanded a minimum wage for himself and his mukkas around the dawn of the ‘60s. And yet in-between these times, as manager of Coventry City, Hill undertook an influential, self-proclaimed football revolution for which he’s rarely given credit.
Taking over late in 1961, the great moderniser began a PR onslaught, introducing Britain’s first continental-style one-colour kit, changing the club nickname from boring Bantams to mod-sounding Sky Blues, and leading the third division also-rans on a six-season romp up the leagues.
“Between us, we took excitement into the Third Division towns throughout England,” he wrote in his 1966 New Year programme notes. “We turned League matches into Cup ties, drab monotony into fervent patriotism. The strains of the Sky Blue song and the chants of Coventry City Cha-Cha-Cha often woke up local fans to reply just as noisily… “
Hill introduced Britain’s first electronic scoreboard and the Sky Blue Express supporters train. He rode a white horse around the Highfield Road pitch – mercifully his only Lady Godiva reference – personally overseeing the doling out free Bovril and tea at half-time from Sky Blue backpacks.
“We had started a revolution which was to reverberate around football. Some clubs wagged jealous tongues and ridiculed our so-called gimmicks; some journalists, too, who had willingly used our kinky stories in the headlines…”
He arranged ‘pop and crisp’ days for local kids to meet the stars, and took the lead in corporate entertainment, signing up ‘leading local business people’ as Vice President’s Club members. Before the match and at half-time, Sky Blue Radio rocked the tinny PA system: yet another famous first that was destined to catch on.
Job done, Hill quit for a career in TV two days before the Sky Blues’ debut in the top flight.