Thursday, 31 December 2015

What is Going on Out There?

This season has been different right from kick-off.  Up to the halfway point there is no runaway leader and the previous big four are now spread throughout the table.  Chelsea’s awful season has opened up opportunities for other clubs, but also Leicester City’s emergence has thrown the form book out the window.  Right from the early part of the season Crystal Palace and West Ham have occupied top seven places, and Watford’s recent run has seen them move into that once longed for esteemed group.

The big clubs have struggled to put consistent runs together as what was thought just a strange start to a season has become a constant source of frustration for those who believed they knew the script.  For some this is a welcome alternative to believing you could predict the top four or top six before a ball has been kicked.  For others, the trend of each team beating each other has created the sense that despite losing a few matches, a club can still climb several places with a few wins.  My own club, Liverpool are a case in point.  Despite taking just one point from games against Newcastle, West Brom and Watford, we are only five points off a top four place.

So what is it about this season that has made it so close?

I believe there are several important factors which have all contributed.  During this article I will make reference to ‘bigger’ and ‘lesser’ clubs.  This is not to denigrate or disrespect any club, it is merely to demonstrate how some clubs are perceived to be perennial achievers or strugglers and how some clubs performances this season has been very different to how they were expected to perform.

Fancy Dans

First of all the Premier League is a poorer place as far as world class players are concerned.  When you look back a number of stars of the world game have left these shores over the past five years or so.  Players such as Suarez, Modric, Bale, Mascherano, Tevez, van Persie, Drogba, Gerrard and Lampard have all vacated the league and it is poorer for it.  The likes of Aguero, Toure, Hazard, Ozil, Sanchez, Di Maria, Falcao have come in with varying degrees of success but it is difficult to say who is the best player in the league right now.  Hazard was fantastic last season and a deserved player of the year but this season has been a shadow of his former self.  Aguero can’t seem to string more than a couple of games together, Di Maria came in and was a complete failure and Falcao looks as if he’d be better off in another country.  Ozil is beginning to show his class and Sanchez has been excellent since his arrival at Arsenal, but he’s suffering an injury at the moment.

My point is there are some decent players, some very good ones but world class?  Not sure.  But what does seem to have happened is we have gone back to the type of player from abroad who is given the label “he’s good but can he do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke?”

When the Premier League began to plunder foreign leagues for new talent this was a common problem.  Often it would take foreign players a season or so to adjust to the pace and physicality of the league.  Which is what made Fernando Torres debut season for Liverpool all the more stunning.  Of course there have been a whole host of players who have come in and hit the ground running, but for those who possess ‘potential’ or maybe just average ability then they can take a while to settle in.  Some of the ‘bigger’ clubs have gone for this type of player, a fancy dan rather than a grafter. 

TV Deal

The new TV deal, a reported £5.14bn, has given many clubs the ability to buy players who once may have been out of reach.  The equality with which the Premier League dishes out the prize money from TV has contributed to many lesser clubs being able to sign players who may only have previously come over here for the bigger clubs.  Yohan Cabaye at Crystal Palace is an example.  He was at Paris St. Germain and with Champions League football almost guaranteed every year, but he chose to return to England to play under Alan Pardew who’d been his boss at Newcastle. 

Stoke City is another example where they have been able to sign the likes of Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri.  Bojan was signed from Barcelona, having spent time at Roma, Milan and Ajax, yet he chose Stoke City for his chance to play in the Premier League.  This in no way is to suggest there is anything wrong with Stoke but Bojan is not the type of player they have attracted in the past.  Shaqiri, a Swiss international, was at Basle when there was intense speculation over his next move.  He was reportedly a target for Liverpool but when Bayern Munich came calling he found it too tempting to turn down.  He then moved onto Inter yet Stoke managed to lure him from Serie A. 

The new riches enjoyed by more clubs within the Premier League has enabled players like Cabaye, Bojan and Shaqiri to go to clubs not really considered ‘big’.  The FFP rules have also had an effect on stopping the bigger clubs from just hoovering up all the best talent, and so this talent can now be spread more evenly within the league.

Counter Attack

Many of the lesser clubs no longer just turn up at Old Trafford, Anfield or The Emirates believing they should just lay down and hand over the three points.  They believe if they have a go they might be able to get something from the game.  The other major contributory factor with this is the adoption of the counter attack as a tactic.  Teams are happy to sit back and soak up the pressure and then hit their opponents on the break, at pace.  Leicester City is a prime example of that.  This has been particularly effective in enticing the bigger clubs to keep the ball, knock it around and generally show off but then when they lose it, they’re hit on the break and found to have not left anyone manning the fort at the back.

If you put these two factors together you have a toxic mix, as far as the bigger clubs are concerned, where many league games can be like cup ties with a baying crowd urging their team on as they smell the blood of big names who have spent the past ten to fifteen years lauding it as if it’s some sort of birth right.

It makes for an exciting season and with points seemingly more generously spread throughout the table then few can be sure of where they will finish until we move towards March and April.

Is this a trend or a freak? 

Going back to the point about the type of foreign player who has been recruited by Premier League clubs, many of them are young and come under the ‘potential’ category.  Within a few seasons many of these players should start to realise this potential and become stars.  We may well find those clubs who have recruited more wisely will begin to pull away from the others again, but until this happens we can enjoy a much more equitable competition than we have had to endure for the past five years or so.

Monday, 28 December 2015

History of European Championships

Regarded as the international tournament, second only to the World Cup.  In Brazil and Argentina, they refer to it as ‘the World Cup without us’.

The idea for this type of competition was originally proposed back in 1927 by Henri Delaunay.  Delaunay was secretary-general of the French Football Federation, and was involved with Jules Rimet, in developing the idea for the World Cup.  Delaunay went on to become General Secretary of UEFA until his death in 1954.  Ironically, his dream of a European tournament didn’t become reality until 1958.  Just as the original World Cup trophy was named after Rimet, the trophy for the European Championships was named after Delaunay.

The first competition was called the European Nations Cup.  Only 17 nations entered, with countries such as West Germany, Italy and England declining to take part.  The format was simply a knock-out over 2 legs until the Semi-Finals.  When the final four teams were known, one of them was selected as a host and then Semi-Finals and Final matches were played over 5 days in July 1960.

The competition continued in this format right up to 1976.  From 1980, UEFA started to expand the tournament to include more teams for the finals.

Republic of Ireland were involved in a Preliminary Round where they lost 2-4 to Czechoslovakia, after winning the 1st leg, 2-0.  In the First Round, France, who had finished third in the World Cup in 1958, thumped Greece, 7-1, with Juste Fontaine (top scorer in Sweden in ’58) and Raymond Kopa amongst the goals.  Spain beat Poland, 7-2 on aggregate with Di Stefano scoring 3.

After France had beaten Greece, 8-2, they then saw off Austria, 9-4 in the Quarter-Finals.  Fontaine grabbed a hat-trick in the 1st leg.  Yugoslavia overturned a 1-2 deficit to beat Portugal, 5-1.  Czechoslovakia were barely in trouble against Romania, as they won 5-0 over 2 legs.  There were only 3 ties in the Quarter-Finals as Spain refused to travel to Soviet Union and so withdrew from the tournament.

The four nations to compete the final stages of the tournament were USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and France.  France was selected as hosts.

6th July 1960 in Parc des Princes, Paris saw the first Semi-Final between France and Yugoslavia.  The two had met in the Group stages in Sweden ’58, with Yugoslavia winning 3-2.  The Yugoslavs took the lead in the 11th minute, but the French hit back a minute later.  France lead, 2-1 at the break and within 10 minutes of the re-start, they were 3-1 up.  Zanetic then got a goal back, before Heutte scored his 2nd of the game and France lead 4-2.  Into the last 15 minutes and the Yugoslavs remarkably hit back with 3 goals in 4 minutes, to progress to the final.  Two of the goals were scored by Drazan Jerkovic, who would go on to share the Golden Boot in the World Cup in 1962.

All of a sudden, the hosts were out and fears for the future of this type of tournament seemed valid.  USSR easily beat Czechoslovakia, 3-0 in the other Semi, in Marseille.  The Czechs won the Third Place Play-off, beating France, 2-0, a day before the first ever European Championship Final.

10th July 1960 was the date for the inaugural European Championship Final.  A disappointing crowd of just 17,966 at the Parc des Princes, witnessed a match decided after extra time.  Galic had given Yugoslavia the lead 2 minutes before half-time, which was then equalised by Metreveli, 4 minutes into the second period.  With 7 minutes of extra time remaining, Viktor Ponedelnik headed the winner for the USSR and they won 2-1.  It still remains the only major international championship won by either USSR or Russia.

Trivia fans might be interested to know the referee for the first final was one Arthur Ellis, who would later attract fame as referee on ‘It’s-a-Knockout’.

10th July 1960, Parc des Princes, Paris, 17,966
USSR   (0)   2   (Metreveli 49, Ponedelnik 113)
YUGOSLAVIA   (1)   1   (Galic 43)

USSR: Yashin; Chokheli, Maslenkin, Krutikov; Voinov, Netto; Metreveli, Ivanov, Ponedelnik, Bubukin, Meskhi
YUGOSLAVIA: Vidinic; Durkovic, Mladinovic, Jusufi; Zanetic, Perusic; Matus, Sekularac, Galic, Kostic; Jerkovic

The second tournament saw an increase in the countries competing as 29 nations took part.  Austria, Luxembourg and USSR received a bye to the first round and Greece withdrew after they were drawn against Albania.

West Germany was still missing, but Italy and England decided to enter this time round.  England were up against France.  A 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, then saw England being given an exhibition in Paris when France romped home, 5-2.  An England team which included Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton had been dumped out at the first hurdle.  Italy didn’t have any trouble with Turkey.  4 goals from Alberto Orlando helped them win 6-0 in the 1st leg, then a solitary goal was enough in the 2nd leg.

Northern Ireland beat Poland, 2-0 in both legs, but Wales lost, 2-4 to Hungary.  There was drama between Bulgaria and Portugal.  Portugal lost the 1st leg, 1-3, but were 3-0 up in the return with 6 minutes to go before Iliev grabbed a late goal for Bulgaria and the tie was levelled.  The replay was held in Rome, in front or barely 2,000 spectators, with Georgi Asparuhov scoring the only goal of the game to give Bulgaria the win with just 4 minutes to go.

The First Round saw Northern Ireland pull off a great result by holding Spain to a 1-1 draw in Bilbao.  Unfortunately, Gento grabbed the only goal of the game at Windsor Park and the Irish were out.  The shock of the round was when Luxembourg went to Rotterdam and beat the Dutch, 2-1.  This was enough to see them progress with, probably, the best result of their history.  Italy were then knocked out by the defending champions, USSR.

In the Quarter-Finals, Spain beat Republic of Ireland, 7-1 on aggregate, and USSR saw off Sweden, 4-2.  France were beaten at home by Hungary, 1-3 and then in front of over 70,000 spectators, the Hungarians finished the job off with a 2-1 win.  Luxembourg continued their excellent form with a 3-3 draw against Denmark.  Ole Madsen scored a hat-trick for the Danes and then grabbed another double in the 2nd leg, but a late goal from Schmit saw Luxembourg force a replay.  Madsen then scored again in the replay, which Denmark won 1-0.

The final tournament was held in Spain in June 1964.  In Madrid, Spain were taken to extra time by Hungary, before Armancio won it for the hosts.  In Barcelona, USSR won through to their 2nd successive final as they beat Denmark, 3-0. 

Ironically, the final would be between Spain and USSR.  The irony was that four years earlier the Spanish refused to play their opponents on political grounds, but presumably because the final was held in their country, they ignored this minor detail.  Until their win in 2008, this remained Spain’s only major tournament success.

The Final was held in Madrid on 21st June 1964, in front of over 79,000 supporters.  The USSR contained just two survivors from their 1960 triumph.  Both teams scored in the opening 10 minutes, but the game seemed to heading for extra time before Spain won with a late goal from Marcelino Martinez in the last 6 minutes. 

21st June 1964, Bernabeu, Madrid, 79,115
SPAIN   (1)   2   (Pereda 6, Marcelino 84)
USSR   (1)   1   (Khusainov 8)

Spain: Iribar; Rivilla, Oliveila, Calleja; Zoco, Fuste; Amancio, Pereda, Marcelino, Luis Suarez, Lapetra
USSR: Yashin; Anichkin, Shustikov, Shesternyov, Mudrik; Voronin, Koreneyev; Chislenko, Ivanov, Pondelnik, Khusainov

This was when the competition had a makeover.  Renamed the European Championships, it now consisted of a qualifying competition with 31 teams divided into 8 groups.  Each group winner then went into a knock-out stage.  Holders Spain, won their group, as did Bulgaria, USSR, Hungary and France.  Italy won a goal-laden group.  Italy, Romania and Switzerland all scored 53 goals between them.  Group 4 contained just 3 teams, West Germany, Yugoslavia and Albania.  Yugoslavia pulled off the first surprise by beating West Germany, 1-0 in Belgrade twelve months after the Germans were losing finalists in the ’66 World Cup.  West Germany then won the return, 3-1, and then travelled to Tirana in December 1967, needing a 1-0 win to progress.  They couldn’t do it, and remarkably Albania held their illustrious opponents to a 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia going through.  To date, Germany/West Germany has then qualified for the finals of every major tournament since.

Group 8 contained the home nations and the results were taken from the British Home International Championships of 1967 and 1968.  15th April 1967 is a date many Scottish fans remember as Scotland became the first side to beat the World Champions, England.  Dennis Law gave the Scots a first-half lead at Wembley.  Bobby Lennox then doubled it with 12 minutes to go, before Jackie Charlton got a goal back 6 minutes from time.  Jim McCalliog then scored Scotland’s 3rd and Geoff Hurst’s goal 2 minutes from the end was merely a consolation.  Scotland had been held in Cardiff and then lost 0-1 in Belfast, which ultimately cost them as England twice beat Wales and Northern Ireland.  This set things up for the big game at Hampden in February 1968.  Martin Peters 20 minute goal was then cancelled out by John Hughes (his only ever international goal) and the game ended 1-1 and England were through.

The Quarter-Finals were held around April and May and played over 2 legs.  Italy overturned a 2-3 deficit to beat Bulgaria, 4-3 on aggregate, and USSR came from 0-2 down in 1st leg to win 3-0 in return against Hungary.  France were held at home 1-1 by Yugoslavia, but then in Belgrade they were stuffed, 1-5.  England were up against Spain and a Bobby Charlton goal 6 minutes from time won the 1st leg at Wembley.  A month later in Madrid, Spain took the lead but then Martin Peters and Norman Hunter won it for England.

The finals were held in Italy and contained two nations (Italy and England) who weren’t interested in the competition when it first started in 1960.  The first Semi-Final in Naples was a 0-0 draw between Italy and USSR.  Neither side could be separated after 120 minutes of football and so the bright idea UEFA had to settle it all was, the toss a coin!  The Soviet captain called incorrectly and Italy were through to the final.  In Florence, the game between Yugoslavia and England looked to be heading for extra time before Dragan Dzajic scored a late winner and the World Champions were out.

Goals from Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst gave England a 2-0 win over USSR to claim third place.  The Final was played in front of 85,000 in Rome and Dzajic was on the scoresheet again giving Yugoslavia a first half lead.  Angelo Domenghini levelled things with just 10 minutes remaining.  The game ended 1-1 after extra time, and this time a replay was necessary.  Only 55,000 turned up two days later to see Italy carry off the trophy with a 2-0 win.

8th June 1968, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 68,817
ITALY   (0)   1   (Domenghini 80)
YUGOSLAVIA   (1)   1   (Dzajic 32)

Italy: Zoff; Burgnich, Guarneri, Castano, Facchetti; Lodetti, Ferrini, Juliano; Domenghini, Anastasi, Prati
Yugoslavia: Pantelic; Fazlagic, Paunovic, Holcer, Damjanovic; Trivic, Pavlovic, Acimovic; Petkovic, Musemic, Dzajic

10th June 1968, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 32,866
ITALY   (2)   2   (Riva 12, Anastasi 31)
YUGOSLAVIA   (0)   0

Italy: Zoff; Burgnich, Guarneri, Salvadore, Rosato, Facchetti; Mazzola, De Sisti; Domenghini, Anastasi, Riva
Yugoslavia: Pantelic; Fazlagic, Paunovic, Holcer, Damjanovic; Trivic, Pavlovic, Acimovic; Hosic, Musemic, Dzajic

The Qualifying round had settled into the standard group phase, with 8 groups of 4.  As in previous qualifying phases, Eastern European teams came to the fore.  Hungary won their group containing France, and USSR won theirs containing Spain.  Yugoslavia beat Netherlands to Group 7, and holders Italy were unbeaten in theirs.  Belgium won Group 5, beating Scotland in the process, and Romania won Group 1, which contained Wales.  West Germany won Group 8 with Gerd Muller scoring 6 of their 10 goals.

England were in Group 3 with Switzerland, Greece and Malta.  They won the group, unbeaten, conceding just 3 goals.  England were quite a changed team from the one which reached the Quarter-Finals in the World Cup in Mexico 1970, illustrated by just 5 of their 15 goals being scored by players who were in the World Cup squad that year.

During the Quarter-Finals, Belgium pulled off a shock when they knocked-out the holders, Italy.  A 0-0 draw in Milan saw Belgium win 2-1 in Brussels.  USSR continued their tradition of good performances in this competition by beating Yugoslavia, 3-0 over 2 legs.  Hungary needed a replay to get past Romania.  1-1 in Budapest and then 2-2 in Bucharest, as the away goals rule didn’t apply.  Hungary won the replay, 2-1 in Belgrade.  The 4th tie was a repeat of the 1966 World Cup Final as England took on West Germany.  The Germans, still buoyant from having put out England in Mexico, scored first at Wembley through Uli Hoeness.  Into the final 15 minutes and Francis Lee equalised.  Then with 5 minutes left, Gunter Netzer converted a penalty and Gerd Muller finished things off and England had been beaten 1-3 at home.  Two weeks later in Berlin the game ended 0-0 and England were out.

From the four qualifiers, Belgium was announced as hosts.  The final competition was held between 14th June-18th June 1972.  The hosts, Belgium were up first against West Germany and Gerd Muller, in Antwerp.  ‘Der Bomber’ scored another 2 goals and the Germans prevailed 2-1.

The other Semi-Final, in Brussels saw Anatoli Konkov score the only goal of the game to see USSR beat Hungary, 1-0, and reach their 3rd final in the last 4 tournaments.  Belgium won the Third Place play-off, and then came the main event between West Germany and USSR.

The Germans were in a transition period, but were putting together a squad of players who would dominate European football for much of the decade.  9 of the players were drawn from just 2 clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach.  Gerd Muller scored 2 more goals to take his tally to 11 for the competition, and West Germany won comfortably, 3-0.

18th June 1972, Heysel, Brussels, 43,437
WEST GERMANY   (1)   3   (Muller 27, 58, Wimmer 52)
USSR   (0)   0

West Germany: Maier; Hottges, Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Breitner; Hoeness, Wimmer, Netzer; Heynckes, Muller, Kremers
USSR: Rudakov; Dzodzuashvili, Khurtsilava, Kaplychnyi, Istomin; Troshkin, Kolotov, Konkov (Dolmatov); Baidachny, Banishevski (Kozynkevych), Onischenko

This would be the last tournament with just 4 teams in the final stages.  During the qualifying round, Yugoslavia beat Northern Ireland to win Group 3.  Spain beat Scotland to win Group 4, and USSR beat Republic of Ireland to win Group 6.  Belgium reached the Quarter-Finals again, by beating France to win Group 7.  Netherlands, runners-up in the 1974 World Cup, won their group beating Italy in the process.  World Champions, West Germany won Group 8 despite only winning 3 of their 6 matches.  In Group 2, Wales were drawn with Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg.  They lost their opening match, 1-2 in Vienna and then won the rest of them, conceding just a further 2 goals, and stormed to become group winners.  There were plenty of goals in this group, and all against Luxembourg, who conceded 28 goals in their 6 matches.  Tibor Nyilasi scored 5 when Hungary beat them 8-1.  Wales beat them 5-0 and Austria won 6-2.

England were drawn in Group 1 along with Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus.  Having failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Don Revie had replaced Alf Ramsey.  England began well beating the Czechs, 3-0 at Wembley, but were then held at home to a 0-0 draw by Portugal.  In April 1975 they beat Cyprus, 5-0 when Newcastle United’s Malcolm MacDonald scored all 5.  Kevin Keegan scored the only goal of the game to win in Cyprus but then just when they were leading in Bratislava to a Mick Channon goal, the Czechs then hit back and won 2-1.  England couldn’t win in Lisbon either and they finished 2nd in the group to Czechoslovakia.

The Quarter-Final stage saw Czechoslovakia beat USSR, 4-2 on aggregate.  West Germany beat Spain, 3-1, and Wales were beaten by the same score by Yugoslavia.  Netherlands were up against neighbours, Belgium.  Rob Rensenbrink scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win for the Dutch in Rotterdam.  Johnny Rep and Johann Cruyff then scored in Brussels and Netherlands progressed 7-1.

From the four nations who qualified, Yugoslavia was named as hosts.  Czechoslovakia were up against Netherlands, including most of the side who were runners-up in the recent World Cup.  19 minutes in and Czech captain, Anton Ondrus opened the scoring.  This remained the only goal of the game until Ondrus scored again with 17 minutes to go.  Unfortunately for the Czechs, it was at the wrong end and the game went into extra time.  In the second period of extra time, Nehoda and Vesely completed a surprise 3-1 win for Czechoslovakia.

The next day, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia were 2-0 up inside the opening half-hour with goals from Popivoda and Dzajic.  Heinz Flohe then got a goal back midway through the 2nd half, before Dieter Muller (no relation to Gerd) forced extra time.  Muller then scored twice in extra time to complete his hat-trick and West Germany were through to their 3rd successive major Final.

Netherlands then won the Third Place Play-off, which again went to extra time.  The Final looked set for another major trophy for West Germany.  Jan Svehlik put the Czechs in front in the opening 10 minutes.  Karol Dobias then doubled the lead, before Dieter Muller got a goal back.  With a minute to go, Bernd Holzenbein grabbed a dramatic late equaliser for West Germany, to take the game into extra time.  The two sides couldn’t be separated and so, for the first time in international football, a major Final went to penalties. 

The Czechs lead 4-3 as each kicker had been successful, before Uli Hoeness skied his kick over the bar.  Up stepped Antonin Panenka.  Score and his nation were European Champions, miss and the Germans were still in the game.  Panenka, who played his football for Bohemians Prague, calmly stepped up to the ball and as Sepp Maier dived to his left, he coolly chipped the ball into the middle of the goal.

This was the first time the watching football world had seen this type of penalty and it went down in history, mainly down to, not just the cheek of it, but the fact that Panenka, hitherto unknown, could commit such an act under such pressure.

Czechoslovakia were European Champions.  This was the last tournament under this 4-nation final stage, as the tournament was expanded to 8 countries for the next competition.

20th June 1976, Belgrade, 30,790
CZECHOSLOVAKIA   (2)   2   (Svehlik 8, Dobias 25)
WEST GERMANY   (1)   2   (Muller 29, Holzenbein 90)

Czechoslovakia: Viktor; Pivarnik, Ondrus, Gogh, Capkovic; Dobias (Vesely), Panenka, Moder; Masny, Svehlik (Jurkemik), Nehoda
West Germany: Maier; Vogts, Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Dietz; Bonhof (Bongartz), Beer, Wimmer (Flohe); Hoeness, Muller, Holzenbein

Czechoslovakia won 5-3 on penalties.

For the rest of this series we will concentrate on each tournament.  Next up is the 1980 Championships in Italy.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Taking it on the Chin

If you want to know the effect Jimmy Hill had on English football, try writing its history over the past fifty years and leave him out.

Much of what we now call ‘the product’ of football can be traced back to him.  You could argue he has had more of an effect, made more changes and enhancements than any other individual in world football.

With football being awash with money these days I am often critical of players who move straight into the media after they finish playing rather than putting something back into the game by moving into coaching or management.  Well Jimmy did both.  In every sense of the word he was a pioneer.

Here’s just a list of some of his achievements

  • ·         Negotiated abolition of the maximum wage, leading to footballers being paid what   they’re worth.
  • ·         Changed Coventry City’s colours to create the brand, Sky Blues.
  • ·         Introduced first all-seater stadium at Coventry’s Highfield Road.
  • ·         Pressed The FA to increase the prize for a win from two points to three.  An initiative then adopted throughout the world.
  • ·         Campaigned for the abolition of the back pass.
  • ·         Introduced the concept of a panel of pundits for TV World Cup coverage.
  • ·         Was driving force behind Match of the Day, turning it into an institution.

Born in Balham, South London on 22nd July 1928, his football career began at Brentford where he played under future England manager, Ron Greenwood, before moving to Fulham in 1952.  He played an influential part in the club’s journey to the FA Cup Semi-Final in 1958 when he scored in every round.  He once scored five goals in a game at Doncaster, in 1958. 

In 1957 he became chairman of the PFA and led a campaign to force clubs to abolish the maximum weekly wage

Maximum Wage

Ever since the turn of the twentieth century the Football League set a maximum amount by which players could be paid.  This contributed in clubs being able to treat players exactly as they wanted.  They could determine exactly how much they wanted to pay them and were also in complete control over whether the player stayed at the club or not.  In short, players were treated in a way synonymous with slavery.  Jimmy Hill believed this was wrong, but the clubs were so powerful they didn’t take him seriously to begin with.  Not until he threatened a strike.  This was unheard of in football.

There were those who believed it would be the end of footballers in touch with the public.  It divided the nation.  But Jimmy was adamant players deserved to be paid their worth and some players were making the clubs a lot of money and should be appropriately rewarded.  He also believed they should be free to negotiate their own contracts, much like other professions.

The clubs, and some of the managers, were against the idea but gradually the players voted for industrial action and eventually they got their way.  Many pointed to Jimmy’s influence and determination in being a key factor.  The much predicted wage spiral didn’t happen immediately, although Fulham’s Chairman, Tommy Trinder, hit upon the publicity value in handing his star player, Johnny Haynes a £100-per-week contract.  But it wasn’t until players such as Jimmy Greaves and Dennis Law moved abroad that clubs realised they’d have to concede to pressure and increase the amount they were paying players.

By the end of the 1960’s George Best was earning £1,000-per-week at Manchester United.  When the Premier League was launched the highest paid player was John Barnes who was paid £100,000-per-week, but since then wages have exploded beyond all proportion.

In the week Jimmy died there is something remarkably ironic in players of a club seeming to refuse to play for a manager so the club has little choice to sack him and find a replacement.

In later years Jimmy felt the growth in players’ wages had gone too far.  But then that’s a matter for clubs today rather than something he needed to worry about at the time.  What is plainly obvious is clubs were pocketing all the gate receipts for themselves without rewarding the players for attracting huge crowds.  The players were paid £20-per-week when the average wage in the country was £18-per-week.  You can hardly blame the players for believing the clubs considered them nothing more than bit parts in the performance in the same way they did the audience.  The fans weren’t flocking to football grounds for the buildings themselves, they were there to witness the performance of the players and the clubs needed to understand that.

Back on the pitch he became an instrumental part of the Fulham side which won promotion back to the First Division in 1959 after an absence of seven years.  Unfortunately, he was only able to enjoy another couple of seasons as a player and at the age of 32 he had to retire due to a long-term knee injury.  He’d played 276 games in nine seasons at Craven Cottage.

He published his first book called “Striking for Soccer” and in it he revealed many suggestions he had for revolutionising the game, which today have become and part and part of football, but back then were seen as something from another planet.

He advocated the introduction of a super league, a winter break and regular midweek evening games played under floodlights.  He also saw television playing more of a role in broadening the popularity of the game.  He argued one game each weekend should be played live in front of cameras, perhaps on a Friday night.

Coventry City

In 1961 he took up the manager’s job at Coventry City, who were languishing in Division Three (League One, today).  They had spent time in Division Two either side of the war but then they fell back and even spent a season in Division Four in 1958.

Backed by his chairman, Derrick Robbins, he set about implementing many of his other ideas such as providing better facilities and more entertainment for supporters.  He was the first man in football to really consider the spectators as customers of the club and therefore he set about improving the match day experience, something every club does these days.  He introduced the first electronic scoreboard, launched the first glossy match magazine, brought in the first pre-match entertainment any ground had seen in England, and provided free soft drinks and snacks for children.  He continued the change of image for the club by launching what was known as, the “Sky Blue Revolution”.  He changed their home kit from navy and white back to colours they used to use fifty or so years before, sky blue.  He gave them their nickname and a club song, as well as organising the club’s own rail service for fans to get to away games.

For the players he lifted a ten year club ban on them talking to the press and demanded they call him “JH” rather than sir, boss or gaffer.  He did not sign anybody above the age of 25 and brought in a more analytical approach to training.

In 1965 he set up the first ‘beam-back’ broadcast when City’s midweek game at Cardiff City was watched by over 10,000 supporters back at Highfield Road.

It wasn’t long before improvements were seen on the pitch too, and in 1964 they won the Division Three title and then three years later, won Division Two to move into English football’s top division for the first time in their history.  Their first two seasons were tough as they narrowly avoided relegation by a point each time but in 1970 they finished sixth, their best ever top flight finish.  But by this time Jimmy had stepped down as manager to take up a role at London Weekend Television as head of sport.


He didn’t wait long before making changes there too.  These were pioneering days for football on television and the 1970 World Cup in Mexico was going to be the first one where football showed a whole host of live games.  In preparation, Jimmy hit upon the idea of a panel of pundits to debate what they were about to watch and then chew the fat over what they had just seen.  Ever the visionary, Jimmy soon understood the effect having some big personalities and egos in the studio together, would have on the viewing experience for those at home.  The arguments between Derek Dougan, Malcolm Allison, Paddy Crerand and Bob McNab became compulsory viewing and the format has been retained ever since.

Jimmy was one of those visionaries who could see the impact television was likely to have on the game and this was where he concentrated his energy.  In 1972 he moved back to the BBC to present Match of the Day.  The programme had begun in 1964 but spent much of the sixties convincing the clubs it was not going to steal their audience.  Jimmy again brought his creative juices to the concept and encouraged slow-motion replays, using them as a way of showing goals as well as illustrating certain key moments in a game which may garner discussion for the watching public.  Jimmy would often criticise refereeing decisions and was able to use television to prove his theories.

In a time when live broadcasts of matches were still confined to the FA Cup Final, England v Scotland and the odd international match, Jimmy was one of the first to be used as a summariser during a match.  But not in a way where people today talk almost as much as the commentator, but during the cup final he would be asked his views on how the game was going about every fifteen minutes.

The 1983-84 season saw the advent of another of Jimmy’s ideas when Match of the Day showed a live league match on the BBC for the first time.  It was two months after ITV had shown theirs but still Manchester United v Tottenham on 16th December 1983 was historic at any rate.

During his broadcasting career, Jimmy returned to Coventry as managing director and eventually becoming chairman.   In 1981 Jimmy’s proposal to convert Highfield Road to an all-seater stadium was realised.  It was the first ground in England to move to all-seater and given what was suggested by the Taylor report in 1989, it was another example of Jimmy being ahead of his time.

Unfortunately, the all-seater project was abandoned two years later when standing room was re-instated.  What hadn’t helped the plan was Leeds fans ripping out several hundred seats just months after they’d been put in.

When Highfield Road closed its doors for the last time in 2005, Jimmy received a hero’s welcome from the crowd and fans voted for a bar at the new ground, Ricoh Arena, to be named “Jimmy’s” in his honour.

Other Notable Achievements

Unlike today where Match of the Day pundits watch all live matches at the same time from a control room at the studios, when Jimmy was preparing for the programme he had to be at a ground to be able to summarise it that evening.  Often he would get a private plane to fly him back to the studio.  During one match at Highbury in September 1972, the linesman pulled a muscle and couldn’t continue.  As the match couldn’t be continued without a qualified official there was an appeal over the tannoy to see if anyone in the crowd could help.  Step forward Mr Hill, who confirmed himself to be a qualified referee and so he donned a sky blue tracksuit and ran the line.

At the beginning of the 1980’s there were discussions around how to improve football and raise the attendances at league grounds.  One of Jimmy’s ideas was the change the points awarded for a win from two to three.  He argued many matches can end up turgid, dour affairs with neither side wanting to make a mistake and risk losing the point they were on course for.  Jimmy’s suggestion promised to offer a greater prize for the side willing to give it everything right up to the final whistle, turning one point into three.  In 1981 the FA formerly adopted the new system for league matches.  Few major nations followed, until Italy brought it in, in 1993 and then UEFA used it for the Euro ’96 qualifying campaign.  Nowadays it is used globally around all leagues.

 When Coventry City won the FA Cup, their only major honour ever, joint managers George Curtis and John Still were keen to point out the excellent ground work Jimmy put in which they believed had gone a long way to contributing to the club’s success.  Having never ever been in Division One until promotion in 1967 under Jimmy’s management, Coventry then spent thirty-four seasons in England’s top division.  By the time they eventually succumbed to relegation, in 2001, only Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool had spent a longer unbroken spell there.

He returned to Fulham as chairman in 1987 where he staved off the threat of bankruptcy and a merger with Queen’s Park Rangers before setting the club up for a more successful period under new owner, Mohamed Al Fayed.

He was awarded the OBE for services to football in 1994.  In 1999 Jimmy moved from the BBC to Sky Sports and fronted a new programme, Jimmy Hill’s Sunday Supplement, a weekly discussion between Jimmy and three football journalists conducted over breakfast.  He chaired the programme for six seasons before his co-presenter, Brian Woolnough took over and Jimmy was no longer a regular on our screens.

Some may have viewed Jimmy by then as a man of the past, a dinosaur, stuck in the past.  In fact, during his broadcasting career he was continually criticised for his outspoken views.  Yet this is what attracted the viewers and after all what is the point of a television programme if you cannot get anyone to watch it?

Above all, Jimmy was ridiculed for his chin which protruded somewhat.  In fact when I was at school there was a fashion to rub your chin when you were being told something you didn’t quite believe, saying ‘Jimmy’ in a rather sarcastic voice just to confirm the disbelief.

Des Lynam recalled, “we were at a ground and all 30,000 people started chanting at him, but not quite in his favour.  I asked him how he put up with it and he simply said ‘that’s fame for you’.  He was not going to be beaten by a chanting crowd”.

For a man who achieved so much in football it must have appeared odd why he would be subject to such ridicule but Jimmy clearly loved the game and seem to revel in any debate about it.

Shortly after his final appearance for Sky Sports he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  This seems a particularly cruel disease for a man with so much to be proud to remember.  His last public appearance came in 2011 when he unveiled a statue of himself at the Ricoh Arena.  In 2012 he was moved to a nursing home where he spent his last three years.

Jimmy Hill died on 19th December 2015 aged 87.  He can honestly be considered to have lived a full life and much of it in the service of others.  His love of football was obvious and whether you agreed with him or not, you cannot deny he had the game’s best interests at heart.

All footballers these days owe a debt of gratitude to Jimmy every time they negotiate a new contract and look at their bank balance.  Every supporter who enjoys the comfort of a matchday experience can largely tip their hat to Jimmy for having the foresight to consider them when other clubs were just content to pack as many people in for the match itself.  When you watch coverage of football from the comfort of your home, you can thank Jimmy for pioneering many ideas to improve the viewing experience.  There are many other things for football to be thankful to Jimmy for and we will never know what might have been had he not been around.  Given the events at FIFA recently, one feels certain the organisation would not have got into such a mess had he been involved.  His sense of fair play and concern for the paying spectator would have given the international game a completely different look.

As it is we can be thankful for being around when Jimmy was and thankful there are people who can relay his story.  In a time when football and footballers have never been richer, football is a poorer for his loss.