The man who revolutionised football


Jimmy Hill and his battle with the Football Association over wages in the 60s.


Few are more dedicated to anything else than Jimmy Hill has been to football. At one time or another he has been a player, union leader, coach, manager, director, chairman, presenter and analyst. It is true that he played most of his football outside of the top-flight, but his innovation and drive changed the sport forever.

He is credited with the current three points for a win system we have in place today, a system that encourages positive attacking football. As chairman of Coventry City, he installed the first all-seater stadium. But, perhaps most impressively, he took on the Football Association in order to improve the wages of footballers. 

In 1958, footballers were subject to a £20-a-week wage cap put in place by the FA. Back then this would have equated to just above the national average, which stood at around £16 by comparison, a far cry from the situation we have today.

In comparison, John Terry on £150,000 and Wayne Rooney on £250,000-a-week each respectively, isn’t really just above Bob and Linda next door on £26,000-a-year each.

The person Terry and Rooney can thank for the astronomical amounts they earn is Hill. Probably better known to many today as the host of his old football show, Jimmy Hill’s Sunday Supplement or due to his stint on Match of the Day, but he was the driving force behind the removal of the wage cap.

In 1957, Hill became the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) chairman and within just a couple of months of his reign he had to deal with a massive scandal. “The Sunderland Affair” concerned apparent illegal payments made to Sunderland players that would have put them above the wage cap.

The five players in question were summoned before a Commission of Enquiry set up by the FA and in turn the players turned to their Union. Acting on the advice of solicitor, George Davies, all five of the men refused to comment at the enquiry, ensuring they didn’t incriminate themselves.

What came next wasn’t predicted by anyone, though. The decision was made to suspend all five of the men from the sport with immediate effect. Hill responded by calling for the FA to hold a full enquiry into illegal payments, and pledged the Union’s full support as long as any player that voluntarily admitted to receiving payments wouldn’t be punished, and that the suspension on the five Sunderland players be lifted immediately, and looked at further down the line if necessary.

Tackling the FA head on, Hill encouraged all players who had received illegal payments to sign a specially designed petition. Hill never released the statistics to the press, and it was therefore said to have been a catastrophe. However, the FA then gave the Sunderland five an opportunity to confess, and were promised that their suspensions would be lifted if they did. The men talked, and their bans were dissolved.

Hill’s proactive stance not only put him in the spotlight, but also the maximum wage limit. He continued to battle the FA in order to improve the wages of footballers; his argument was that as it stood, players received a maximum of £17-a-week and an additional £3 if they featured in the starting line-up. He said that this meant some players would play below themselves just to ensure they received the extra money.

Hill’s argument obviously wasn’t enough to convince the powers that be, because in 1960 the wage cap still stood, but he had not given up his fight against it. By now, footballers felt as if they were falling behind the rest of the country on the income front.

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James Haggis

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