With his extraordinary jutting chin, man-in-the-moon profile and distinctive nasal voice, there was no mistaking Jimmy Hill.
The man with one of the greatest claims to being ‘Mr Fulham’, the footballer, campaigner and TV presenter contributed more to the modern game than almost anyone.
His death – announced on Saturday lunchtime and flashed around football grounds preparing for afternoon kick-offs – is particularly mourned in west London. He was 87.
He’s ultimately responsible for John Terry earning £250,000 a week as he led the players’ protests which saw the abolition of the minimum wage, and he steered the movement which saw England introduce three points for a win instead of two back in 1981, giving teams fresh impetus to fight for victory.
His professional footballing career began at Brentford, although he had initially been ‘spotted’ by Ted Drake, then the Reading manager but who later became one of Chelsea’s greatest gaffers, who persuaded him to briefly turn out for the Royals.
He earned £7 a week at Griffin Park, sometimes as wing half, sometimes as centre forward.
Jimmy Hill at Craven Cottage
Then Cardiff and Fulham expressed interest. Fortunately for SW6, he picked the Cottagers in 1952, then managed by Bill Dodgin.
“Fulham were a good attacking side in those days, and a poor defensive one,” wrote Jim in his 1961 autobiography, wittily entitled Striking for Soccer. “It was interesting to see such players as Beddy Jezzard, Bobby Robson and Johnny Haynes maturing in this team.”
After a few seasons as wing half, he asked if he could advance to inside right, supporting Haynes. The then manager, Dugald Livingstone, agreed.
Hill scored 52 goals for Fulham in nearly 300 appearances (earning the nickname The Bearded Wonder), then switched to management at Coventry City at the age of 32.
But it was as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, the players’ union, that Hill truly made his mark, paving the way for the sky-high salaries enjoyed in the top flight today.
He began by collecting players’ weekly subscriptions in the Bees’ dressing room in the late 1940s, and by 1957 was union chairman, fighting for an improvement to rock-bottom pegged wages.
Why did a man whose chin was already practically a geographical feature grow an extension in the form of a beard?
The answer: goldfish.
Jimmy’s method of relaxing as a young footballer in the 1940s was to spend time by his pond at the bottom of his garden in Worcester Park, watching the goldfish. “I began to find I had less and less time to watch them, and it occurred to me that shaving was something of a waste of time… so I gave it up.”
As the only footballer then sporting a beard, he was approached by advertisers to earn a bit extra posing in ads!
Hill had signed for Fulham for £25,000, and spent his happiest playing days at Craven Cottage, scoring in every round of the 1958 FA Cup when the Whites made the semis.
In the late 1960s he became a TV presenter, initially at London Weekend, then at the BBC, where he hosted Match of the Day for 600 shows.
Jimmy Hill with Sven-Goran Eriksson
In 1987 he returned to Fulham as chairman, paving the way to the Mohamed Al Fayed era and helping the club beat back the bailiffs, save their riverside stadium and resist any suggestion of a merger with hated rivals QPR.
Arguably Fulham’s most popular chairman of all time, Hill remained a welcome visitor to the Cottage to the end.
Married three times, with five children, Jimmy Hill will be greatly missed at Fulham, and by football’s wider family.