It was upsetting to learn that Jimmy Hill has been suffering from Alzheimers disease recently. Football in general owes so much to Jimmy, and especially to those of us who grew up in the 1970s, to whom Jimmy Hill was the face of Saturday night football – just as much as Brian Moore was the face of Sunday afternoon football.
I am not old enough to recall Jimmy’s role on The Big Match as an analyst and interviewer, although the clips on the various Big Match DVDs are fascinating. To me, my first recall was on Saturday night, after the usual evening of entertainment, such as The Generation Game, The Two Ronnies, Mike Yarwood, That’s Life etc. After the news, the familiar tune of ‘da-da-da daaaa di-da-di-da-da’ hit the screens and on came Jimmy's face to welcome us and introduce the highlights of two games of the day.
Jimmy presented Match of the Day from 1973 right through to 1988 before remaining as an analyst. After the 1998 World Cup, at the age of 70, his contract was not renewed (an early example of BBC ageism?) and he appeared on Sky for a few more years.
But Jimmy’s legacy to football goes far beyond his broadcasting career. He played for Brentford and Fulham and made his name as Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, successfully campaigning against the maximum wage. He was chairman at Coventry where he oversaw the building of the country’s first football all-seater stadium. Perhaps, his biggest contribution to football was his campaigning for the three-points-for-a-win system – introduced in the English League in 1981 and finally reaching the World Cup in 1994.
Unusual for ‘know-it-all’ pundits, Jimmy is a fully qualified referee, famously appearing on the touchline as an emergency linesman in an Arsenal v Liverpool game in 1972.
And of course famous alongside Bruce Forsyth for his rather large chin. Interviewed in FourFourTwo, he said ‘I didn’t have a face for films but I had the legs for football.’
As a presenter and analyst, and experienced in all sides of the footballing business, Jimmy was never afraid to say what he thought, often offending but always honest.
Now 85, it is sad to hear how Jimmy is so unwell, living in a nursing home by the south coast. But his legacy is secure. It would be hard to name many people who have made a greater contribution to the British football business – but to many of us his face will always be associated with the Match of The Day theme tune and Saturday night footy on the box.