This week marks the 58th anniversary of the end of the maximum wage that had been imposed on professional footballers for the preceding 60 years. Jimmy Hill worked tirelessly while still a player – with Brentford before doing nine years of yeoman service at Fulham – to bring this about with a combination of charm and bloody-mindedness. But it was not just for this that I dedicated my book When Footballers Were Skint to him
This book is dedicated to Jimmy Hill.
As chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Hill, a Londoner born in 1928, did more than any other player to bring an end to the maximum wage in January 1961, by which stage it was £20 a week.
I knew him reasonably well in his later years, having a number of conversations with him when I was a sports journalist. I interviewed him for a profile in The Observer at a time when he was the country’s most recognisable pundit on the game.
Also, I asked him one day if he might give away the awards after a fundraising event for a medical charity. ‘Maybe you’d say a few words,’ I said. He came, he charmed, he spoke movingly, alluding briefly to his own mid-life medical problems that he had overcome. He waved aside the charity’s offer to pay for a taxi. But he did accept my offer to drop him off at Victoria Station.
I have a last image of him cheerily stepping out of the car into a windswept night. He had given freely of his services and turned what might have been a mundane evening into something a little special.
His views as a television pundit are what most people remember him for, overshadowing his relatively modest career as a player and his far greater legacy of having football’s grossly unfair wage cap abolished.
As an innovative manager of Coventry City and then as a media figure he continued to have a considerable influence on the game’s development.
I would have liked to have interviewed him for this book in his capacity as a key figure in its narrative, whom today’s multimillionaire players owe so much and, I suspect, know very little. Sadly, his failing health meant I was unable to do so.
Jimmy Hill died aged 87 a week before Christmas 2015.