November 23, 2018 12:43
Sunday marks the 65th anniversary of the day England lost for the first time at Wembley to a team from beyond the British Isles, the consequence of calamitously underestimating a skilful Hungary side.
A small group of young players from Watford football club, shepherded by player-coach Johnny Paton, arrive at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, in the early afternoon of Wednesday 25 November 1953.
They are in good time for the 2.15pm kick-off of the match between England and Hungary, a game that Paton, a 30-year-old whose former clubs included Celtic and Chelsea, is particularly keen his charges should see. ‘Hungary are an exciting team,’ he tells them, ‘and you’re going to learn something about the game from them today.’
Others are less convinced. Charles Buchan, a former England player and one of the most respected commentators on the game, has written in the build-up to the match: ‘The clever ball-control and close passing of the Hungarians do not alarm me in any way.’
Buchan’s smugness reflects the insularity that pervades English football at this time, a mulish refusal to admir Hungary inspite of the evidence: unbeaten in 24 games, unofficially ranked number one in the world and holders of the Olympic title. They are damned by being foreign.
Paton is not so blinkered. Having seen more of the world than most footballers during his service in the RAF, which included playing a great deal of football overseas, he is well aware that antiquated coaching methods and tactical dogma among English clubs are a serious worry for the prospects of the domestic game.
With his professional playing career coming to an end he has acted on this concern by enrolling on the Football Association’s first coaching course at Lilleshall, one of the few initiatives that points towards a more enlightened future.
On this November afternoon Paton takes his unease with him to Wembley. He has no faith in the argument that because England have never lost at home against a team from outside the British Isles Hungary are heading for defeat.
It is impossisble to be sure but almost certainly Paton is at odds with most of the crowd of 100,000. He can tell from the banter that the majority of the crowd, informed only by views such as Buchan’s, are expecting to witness confirmation of English football’s superiority.
Only some of them have taken much notice of reports that Hungary will parade a new style of football. Those who have and are unimpressed are in good company. Billy Wright, the England captain, says afterwards: ‘We completely underestimated the advances Hungary had made.’
He also confesses he ridiculed Hungary after the two teams first came onto the Wembley pitch. He told teammate Stan Mortensen, ‘We should be all right here, Stan’, having observed the visitors wearing what looked more like shoes than boots. ‘They haven’t even got the proper kit.’
Outside the ground, people are paying the ticket touts good money to see Hungary put in their place: a tenner for the £2 10s. top-priced tickets and more than a pound for the cheapest ones sold originally for 3s. 6d.
Paton and his group have seats at one end, behind a goal. They watch the Hungary team warm up before kick-off not by dashing about but by juggling the ball. Paton pays special attention Ferenc Puskas. He notices that Hungary’s captain and emblematic star is all one-footed but reckons if he wanted to he could keep the ball up all day with his foot, head, knee and shoulder. Around him Paton senses the spectators’ awe at what they are watching – and the match hasn’t even started.
Puskas continues to demonstrate his trickery until Wright, his fellow captain, joins him in the centre circle to toss the coin. It is the first time the two men have met. Puskas, having been intricately working the ball with his left foot, signs off by nonchalantly transferring it to his thigh and letting it run down his shin on to the centre spot.
Wright says afterwards that when Puskas then gave him a charming, you’ve-been-warned smile he realised his earlier ridicule had been misjudged.
It is arguable that English football has never learned the lessons of that 6-3 drubbing by Hungary in 1953. They certainly didn’t in the short term, showing little inclination to change their ways in two defeats that followed soon afterwards: an even heavier thrashing by Hungary, 7-1, in a return friendly in Budapest and a 4-2 loss to Uruguay that eliminated them from the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.
The 1966 World Cup triumph was greeted at the time as a new dawn, but even this has become an ironic symbol of our continuing deficiencies. The English game is still admired for its commitment and endeavour, but neither of these dated virtues has done the nation much good in international tournaments, where technically superior sides have prospered.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.
November 22, 2018 11:43
The retirement options for former Chelsea star Didier Drogba make a stark contrast with what Jackson faced half a century ago.
One of the biggest differences between the lives of today’s top footballers and those who played in the postwar years is the options they have when they retire.
While modern players, just like their predecessors, are still relatively young when the game’s physical toils become too much for them, the contrasts in the choices of what to do next could hardly be dilineated more starkly.
Most obviously, one of the choices that Didier Drogba could now opt for is to put up his expensively shod feet for the rest of his life, a recourse that would have been out of the question for his mid-twentieth-century counterpart.
In the days when wages were capped – at £20 a week in 1961 when the restriction was finally abolished – and players were too poor to give up work when they were no longer able to play, managers’ jobs were, for most, the only employment they were qualified to do.
As a result the numerous players who queued to be given a managerial break were motivated by a neediness that meant boards were as penny-pinching in rewarding them as they were their players.
No wonder this was the golden age of footballers regarding club directors with utter disdain, summed up by the chapter in Len Shackleton’s autobiography that was headed ‘The average director’s knowledge of football’ and consisted of a blank page.
For those players who failed to land a job as a manager or were not inclined to seek one, the possibilities were limited – and some were more accepting of this than others.
Alec Jackson was one of the accepting ones.
Jackson, who played in the Football League for fourteen years, ten of them (1954-64) with West Bromwich Albion, was one of those with no managerial pretensions. He left school at 15, found employment as a machinist close to his home in Tipton and, from everything he tells me, had no ambition other than living what might be described as a traditional working man’s life.
The fact that for a decade Jackson, an outstanding athlete and footballer, was idolised by thousands of Baggies fans did not alter his sense of who he was or where he felt he belonged.
Not much better off when he retired from playing professional football than he was when he started, Jackson wished only to return to his roots.
‘When I retired,’ he says, ‘I went into a mill and since then I’ve done just about everything, working 18 hours a day. It needed to be done.’
Jackson, born in 1937, was growing up when the population’s sense of self-sufficiency was reflected in the numbers who produced their own food on allotments, plots of land made available for non-commercial gardening. There were more than a million of these in Britain after the Second World War.
This number has dwindled to fewer than 300,000, one of them in the possession of Alec Jackson. ‘I’ve had my allotment for 37 years and I’ve still got it,’ he says. ‘I still work it but I’ve had to cut back. Me and a friend share it, one half each. I produce just about everything you can eat.
‘And I do other bits and pieces, making things, fishing. I’m lucky because I’m hanging on. There’s quite a few of those I used to play with who have gone. Good people have gone.’
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.
November 21, 2018 10:17
A match for Wales against England stands out for Cliff Jones among all his many other appearances for his country and Football League clubs, Swansea, Tottenham and Fulham.
‘For me, being a Welshman, putting on the Wales shirt was my biggest honour,’ Cliff Jones says. ‘It still stays with me.
‘My first game was against Austria in Vienna in 1954. I was 19. I struggled in that game a bit. We got beaten 2-0. So I didn’t get picked again for more than a year.’
He was brought back for the British Championship match against a powerful England side – Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Billy Wright – in Cardiff. ‘It was 1955 and I was 20 years of age,’ he says, ‘and the funny thing was I’d forgotten my boots.’
In a panic he rang his wife, Joan – they were still newly-weds – to ask her to deliver the boots to him at Ninian Park as quickly as possible. ‘It’s just before the game,’ Jones says, ‘and I’m sort of darting about waiting for my wife and the manager’s looking at me.’
‘What’s up, Cliff? Don’t worry about tickets,’ the manager said. It was now about an hour before kick-off. ‘Just give the tickets to the bloke on the door and he’ll let your wife and family have the tickets.’
‘It’s not the tickets,’ Jones said.
‘Well what is it?’
‘I’ve forgotten my boots.’
‘What, you forgot your fuckin’ boots. We’re playing against England, Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, and you forgot your fuckin’ boots.’
‘He went off on one, didn’t he,’ Jones says.
The upshot was that the boots arrived in time and Wales won 2-1, their first victory over England in 17 years, with Jones scoring the winning goal.
He details how he did it as exactly as if telling me what he had just had for breakfast. ‘I cut in from the left and Roy Paul, a brilliant wing half, slanted a ball over. I could see it coming and I came across Billy Wright, the England centre half, got up and went bang with my head.
‘It went straight in at the far post. Great goal. Billy Wright had no chance. I was carried off shoulder high at the end. Amazing. One of my great moments in football.’
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.
November 20, 2018 12:44
The Noble Liar: How and why the BBC distorts the news to promote a liberal agenda ||
DEAR READER, INDULGE ME for a few moments and enter into a thought experiment. Suppose you were to land in Britain from outer space, an alien explorer with no foreknowledge of the country, no understanding of its culture or history, how would you go about trying to make sense of the place? A useful place to start might be to try to determine where authority lay. ‘Who’s in charge here?’, the alien wants to know, deploying that intergalactic travel cliché, ‘Take me to your leader’. But unravelling the question – what makes this place tick? – yields a very complex answer with many ambiguities and conundrums.
Perhaps our alien would seek out and consult some constitutional expert to guide them through the formal structure. They might be told that Britain, aka the United Kingdom, is a constitutional monarchy, and that all power is exercised in the name of the monarch. They would hear how the Crown is a hereditary institution, with kingship passed down through the family line; that usually the monarch is male, but can be female if the family tree so dictates. It would then have to be explained that although the monarch is the head of state from whom all authority notionally flows, in reality, the individual sitting on the throne exercises almost no executive power.
Real power, they would learn, lies in the hands of Parliament (and its legislature), which passes laws in the monarch’s name; and that Parliament is the domain of people we call politicians, and that these people are elected by the ordinary citizens who, periodically, are asked to vote to elect those they favour. This system, we call ‘democracy’. We would have to introduce our visitor to the idea of ‘the rule of law’, which embodies the important principle that, once Parliament has legislated, everyone in the country is subject to the law – no one is above it – and that this system relies upon an acquiescence by all, even those who oppose certain specific laws.
This explanation, though, is far from comprehensive; to make sense of how democracy works the whole question of political parties would have to be untangled – as well as an elucidation of what ‘parties’ actually are. Namely, that they are voluntary groupings that coalesce around certain abstract philosophical and economic ideas. We would have to explain that, while all parties are to a certain extent tribes that stick together in the face of opponents, some of the smaller parties, like the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru are much more tribal, and are largely concerned with group identity. At some point our constitutional expert would also have to try to outline that the foregoing explanation applies only to the House of Commons, and that, when it comes to the ‘Upper Chamber’, a whole different set of – sometimes illogical – rules apply. Luckily our alien is equipped with massively powerful cognitive abilities, so all this information can be taken in without trouble; they are, after all, only seeking to understand what the system is – they are not trying to interrogate our constitutionalist expert about any anomalies or inconsistencies.
So, Parliament, democracy and the rule of law succinctly explained, there we have it: that is where authority lies in contemporary Britain. Not so fast, alien truth seeker. We have many levels of complexity yet to unravel. There is, for instance, the European Union, and its authority superimposed on our domestic arrangements. It is true, we seem to be on our way out of that particular structure, but there are other international organisations of which the UK is a member, which can also lay claim to some authority in certain areas of life. The UN, NATO, the International Court of Justice, and so on: a whole host of organisations which can exercise some degree of authority. And then there are referendums – those occasional plebiscites that test the public will on matters of importance.
And so our visitor would come to see that though preeminent, Parliament’s authority is not absolute. And at this point, it would have to be explained that the account given so far only covers the formal structures of power. To understand why that power is exercised in the way it is we would have to introduce our alien visitor to another concept, which we might term moral authority. That is to say, the authority which flows from our understanding of fundamental truth. A grasp of this particular concept is necessary to comprehend why the politicians who we elect do what they do; and to understand the mechanisms by which the legislature is guided, so that it is in accord with the popular will. So, for instance, we hold it to be a fundamental truth that no individual can be executed by the state because we have decided that it is always wrong for the state to kill its own citizens. But from where does such a belief come? Not from the popular will, which has always been in favour of the death penalty; although support for the death penalty has been slowly declining and dipped below 50 per cent for the first time in 2015, according to recent figures. And if you discount the undecided, those wanting its reintroduction outnumber opponents by 45 per cent to 39 per cent. So, answering this question introduces a level of complexity quite above and beyond anything which our back-of-the-envelope introductory course on the British constitution has so far attempted.
From where does this moral authority derive? Our alien quite understandably wants to know. Where to start? Perhaps with Christianity and the ‘national church’ – the Church of England – and some elementary theology. At this point our alien would have to be introduced to the notion of an omniscient Creator who we call God; an entity beyond human understanding who brought our planet, and indeed the whole universe including our alien, into being through an act of inscrutable will at the beginning of the dimension we call time. One can foresee some potential problems here, but let us battle on regardless (we aren’t inviting a debating contest with this stranger, merely telling it how it is according to orthodox Christian teaching): God has handed down to us fundamental truths which, should we listen to our consciences, will guide our actions. But then we would have to heavily qualify this belief by explaining that the Church of England, though nominally the ‘national church’, has only a relatively small and dwindling number of members. And that, in fact, in the UK there are many other religions, some of which have significantly more committed adherents than the C. of E.
Our alien might, at this point, be forgiven for some confusion; after all, surely the ‘national church’ of which the monarch is the ‘supreme governor’ has some right to assert primacy in this area? The point could be argued, but not conclusively. There is no clear answer. And anyway, we would be obliged to point out that, according to polling evidence, many citizens reject this traditional idea of a Creator God along with the right of any of the many and various churches to lay claim to any moral authority whatsoever. Many Britons see themselves as secularists – actively opposed to religion of all stripes – and if one had to pigeonhole their philosophy, ‘humanism’ might be as good a label as any.
So what moral authority do these citizens, the atheists, acknowledge? Well, that is a devilishly tricky question to answer. We would have to admit that many citizens have but little faith in the moral authority of politicians but that – by way of counterbalance – there is widespread support for the notion of ‘the rule of law’. While many citizens are critical of the law as it stands, and believe it should be improved in ways that accord with their own preferences (so that there is a constant debate about what the law should be), the United Kingdom is a country where there is a consensus that the law binds us all. Leaving aside criminals, who obviously reject the law, here perhaps we have arrived on solid ground. It is in the law itself that true authority resides, and the fact that our laws derive from a democratic process invests them with a kind of moral authority. But our alien is puzzled; what, it wants to know, determines what the law should be? The politicians, our expert replies, who take their instruction from the voters. And how do the voters form their view of what the law should be? Ah, now we have hit upon a further complexity.
The voters formulate their views of how the world should be through their own intellectual processes, which in turn, are informed by a myriad of sources; everything from a conversation with a neighbour over the hedge (a quaint image – more likely these days to be a Facebook exchange), to their own reading and investigation of issues important to them, as well as following formal political debates accommodated by newspapers, radio, television and online sources. These interactions between individuals and the ideas floating around them are what the commentators, somewhat pompously, call the ‘national conversation’ – though it seems most of the time, most people are not included. It is a conversation heavily mediated by various forms of communication – books, newspapers, radio, television, the internet – doubtless all rather primitive in the view of this advanced alien. This debate, unceasingly conducted through all the different types of media available and contributed to by many different individuals and organisations, acts upon the politicians who then enact laws to carry into effect the will of the majority. Simple, n’est-ce pas?
Our alien visitor, because of their superior cognition, has easily grasped the main points; they get our drift. They see that, in theory at least, in the UK, the voters are the masters: authority flows from the people, upwards, to Parliament, which enacts the will of the people by passing laws that reflect the majority view. They understand that this is an imperfect system in the sense that it means no one individual is ever completely satisfied with the state of the law (because it is unlikely that any one individual agrees with every law), but that this collective expression of the majority’s preferences – what we call public opinion – is a serviceable starting point for ruling the country according to the will of the people. It does not then take our alien long to figure out that the most important influence acting on the whole democratic mechanism is this notion of the public’s aggregate opinion; if the system is working properly, a majority opinion emerges in the public mind and the legislators duly take notice and pass laws accordingly. And it follows from this that the institutions which mould public opinion play a very important role in the whole process. The ideal situation is that through a process of public debate everyone engages with a topic, the different sides struggle for supremacy and eventually one side emerges triumphant having persuaded a majority to support it. Then this winning idea is transmitted via the various mechanisms which act upon the legislators and, at the end of the process, new laws and regulations emerge reflecting the majority opinion. But is this, in reality, how our system works?
At this point our explanation needs to take a short detour to describe the country’s media landscape. The UK is a country rich in media sources. We have about 100 daily newspapers: some national, some regional, and about 450 weekly newspapers. There are also about 8,000 magazine titles, of which some are very specialist, but about 3,000 of which are aimed at a general audience (an increasing number are available only online). We have an enormously prolific book publishing industry – the UK publishes about 180,000 books per year,1 which is the highest, per capita, in the world. We also have nearly 500 television stations, which variously cater for both a broad range of tastes as well more niche markets, and there are about 600 radio stations. And, finally, there’s the internet, where the range and variety of sources cannot reliably be counted. What this amounts to is a cornucopia of information; we are surrounded by a sea of data, factual news reports and opinion. No one in Britain can plausibly claim to be starved of facts – seek and ye shall find.
Given all this our alien might conclude that the UK has the wherewithal to nourish a system that reliably reflects the popular will, and, in theory, that is the case. But if our alien, having absorbed the theory, set about doing some fieldwork among the natives, they would find that is not how it seems to an increasing number of citizens. Rather, the country appears at odds with itself over all manner of subjects. Our alien would discover that in the view of many people, the rules which govern our lives make no sense any longer; that there is a deep disconnect between the views of the ordinary citizen, based on their own ‘common sense’, and the prevailing orthodoxies which are promoted in the media and which often end up being enshrined in legislation. Many people feel something has gone wrong.
Thankfully, you might feel, we can now discard the rather tiresome device of our alien and bring the subject of this book into focus: it is an examination of why there is such a gulf between the world as the media presents it, and the world as most ordinary people experience it. Why is it that so many people find no echo of their own opinions in the big media outlets that serve them? And this brings the British Broadcasting Corporation to centre stage. The BBC, by a very large margin, is the most important media organisation in the country, and to understand what has gone wrong, we need to examine this mighty institution in close detail.
This book is about something so pervasive that it is difficult to see it clearly. It is like the story of the three fish. Two fish were swimming side by side in their pond; a third fish swam towards them and as he passed said, ‘Nice water today’, and swam on. After he’d gone, one of the fish turned to his companion and said, ‘What’s water?’ The mass media is the water we swim in and it takes an effort of concentration to see it as it really is. The etymology of the word ‘media’ leads back to its Latin root, meaning ‘intermediate agency’. In our common usage it implies all those intermediate agencies, like the BBC, which present us with information about the world. It is a function so commonplace that we hardly notice it, and yet it has a profound impact on the way we live. Without an understanding of its guiding philosophy we are in danger of being led blindfold into a way of thinking we have not freely chosen, but have merely absorbed.
In pursuit of better understanding our media, and particularly the BBC, the following pages will explore the size, scope and influence of the Corporation within the context of issues of contemporary importance; Brexit, for instance. The writer and social commentator David Goodhart coined a useful formula for a difference in outlook between two big groups in society; he said that people are largely divided into ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’. His theory is that ‘somewheres’ are more traditional types: the sort of people who feel rooted in a particular place in a particular culture. These are the sort of people who voted to leave the EU. ‘Anywheres’, by contrast, are the kind of people who feel pretty much at home anywhere in the Western world; these are the global citizens who feel as much at ease in Sydney, Saratoga or Sydenham. They have wider horizons and weaker national allegiances and they voted instinctively to remain in the EU. One of the things this book examines is why it has come to be that the BBC – which might be thought quintessentially British – so often sounds like one of these ‘anywheres’.
If my analysis is right, an understanding the BBC’s ‘deep state’ helps to explain certain obvious biases in its news coverage; why it is, for instance, that the Corporation is so nakedly hostile to Donald Trump’s presidency and Viktor Orbán’s ascendancy in Hungary. Also, why the theories that drive radical feminism are never challenged and why the difficult subject of Islam in the West is consistently soft-pedalled. Most importantly, and overarchingly, this book explains how it is that the BBC has become so deeply hostile to social conservatism – that way of thinking, shared by tens of millions of us, which values a traditional moral code that emphasises virtues like patriotism, self-restraint and decency. Social conservatives are at odds with a media culture which is obsessed with identity politics; they mistrust the campaigns of self-declared victimised minorities – whether defined by sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity.
The BBC has come to the point where it now, seemingly automatically, takes the side of the identitarians in every debate. It has become an unthinking champion of a set of values sometimes called ‘liberal’ (but in no way distinguished by the tolerance once thought integral to a liberal mindset), which has profoundly changed British society over the past half-century. The culture we inhabit – much of it trashy, tawdry and shallow – is in large measure the creation of our media. Individually, we have not willed this culture into existence, it is the work of many hands, but it has arrived nevertheless because there has been no apparent way to stop it, nor any concerted attempt to do so. The first step in reversing the process is for us to collectively understand it, which is precisely what this book sets out to achieve.
The title of this book draws on a concept originated in Plato’s Republic; a ‘noble lie’ is a myth or an untruth, knowingly propagated by an elite, in order to promote and maintain social harmony or advance an agenda. The BBC prides itself on being a ‘truth teller’: its hard-won, worldwide reputation is built on the foundation stone of audience trust. But what ‘truth’ is the BBC telling? It is the contention of this book that the BBC, along with its media and establishment allies, has become the vehicle for the propagation of a series of noble lies in pursuit of a political agenda.
Though the noble lie is always told with the best of intentions, there is an inherent problem with it: the deception misleads people and substitutes imagined problems for real ones. The great danger is that sooner or later people will realise they have been duped, and this will be a moment of great peril for the established order – with unpredictable consequences. This is the prospect facing Britain. What is urgently needed, this book will argue, is a new and bracing honesty which allows the nation to face its problems in full possession of some uncomfortable facts.
The Noble Liar: How and why the BBC distorts the news to promote a liberal agenda ||
November 19, 2018 10:55
If Ben Purkiss, chairman of the PFA, the professional footballers’ union, needs inspiration as he seeks to improve the lot of the modern player he should look no further than Jimmy Hill, Jon Henderson writes
The trouble stirring at the Professional Footballers’ Association over the circumstances of many modern players is a timely reminder that although a good number of them earn fantastic wages theirs can be as precarious an occupation as any other.
Ben Purkiss, the PFA’s chairman, drew attention to this fact last week when he said: ‘I would like to see a situation where they [the players] truly understand what we can do for them, not just in times of need but taking the proactive approach. Going into dressing rooms, talking to the younger players, helping them financially, so – for all the players who do fall by the wayside and have their dreams shattered – we are there, they know exactly who to come to and they can come to us straight away.’
He might have added that even those on fantastic wages are not immune from having their lives shattered. The pitfalls for the twenty-first century footballer are evident from figures broadcast recently by a charity for former players. These show that two out of every five of them are made bankrupt within five years of retiring from the game.
Reading Purkiss’s words immediately made me think of Jimmy Hill, the PFA’s chairman from 1956-61. There have been many admirable chairmen of the players’ organisation since Hill but the link between Purkiss and Hill is particularly strong.
It was on Hill’s watch that the players overthrew the maximum wage – rigidly enforced at £20 a week before it was abolished in 1961 – and cleared the way for their earnings to become commensurate with the highly skilled entertainment they provided for huge audiences.
And some might argue that what Hill did created the conditions that produced the sort of distress that Ben Purkiss is now having to deal with.
This would be a distortion. The fact is that Hill was first and foremost a player – if no more than modestly successful for Brentford (1949-52) and Fulham (1952-61) – and remained staunchly on their side through his years as a manager with Coventry City (1961-67) and celebrated TV pundit.
Also, his success in driving through the reform of wages was by no means the opening of the wages’ floodgates. For many years after 1961 the rate of increase proceeded at an orderly, pragmatic pace.
Where things went wrong was identified not long ago by Jim White writing in the Daily Telegraph: ‘What happened later, as post‑Bosman all the power leached into the hands of the superstar player and his agent, was not the fault of Hill. He may have released the genie form the bottle, but he cannot be held responsible for the subsequent failure to corral it. What Hill did was right, proper and decent.
‘The subsequent arms race in player salaries is rather the fault of those owners and administrators who have failed to exercise appropriate control. Just as it was when he was agitating against their parsimony.’
As a journalist myself I interviewed Jimmy Hill on two or three occasions and got to know what sort of a man he was. An anecdote tells its own story, remembering it is from the time when Hill had become a national celebrity through his trenchant punditry:
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.
He was and still is – even though he died three years ago – an inspirational figure and I am confident he would be right behind Ben Purkiss in what he is trying to achieve.
Jon Henderson is the author of When Footballers Were Skint / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.