The day Jimmy Hill came to Coventry was the beginning of his Sky Blue dream and it all came true.
Coventry City were a mediocre Third Division club and had just been beaten in the FA Cup in the second-round by non -league Kings Lynn when a certain Jimmy Hill decided to become their manager. That was in 1961 and the long suffering Coventry fans were a little dubious at the appointment of this extroverted ex footballer who breezed into Highfield Road talking of a revolution. Many said he won’t be here long.
But Jimmy Hill wasn’t just a talker as he backed it up with action and one of the first things he did was to drop the clubs nickname of the Bantams and replace it with the Sky Blues to match the new club colours that he introduced. But when he said that he would turn his Sky Blues team into a top flight club within five years the cynical City fans started to question his sanity. This was Coventry City, where nothing much happened, let alone success and excitement.
Another thing that the City supporters were concerned about was Hill’s lack of management experience but the Chairman was unconcerned at that and offered him a five year contract with complete control of the playing staff, coaches and scouting staff too. The chairman also promised his new manager that he would never interfere with the playing side of things and so Jimmy Hill was given the freedom to do whatever he wanted.
Hill decided to have a good clean out and got rid of players he deemed not up to what he had in mind. He replaced them with footballers who would play with style and skill which was obviously lacking at his new football club. He also brought in free pop and crisp sessions for the young City supporters after games so that they could meet the players and get autographs – a simple idea but never seen before at Highfield Road. Hill wanted to make the club more community minded and as a young kid myself when Jimmy took over I can recall how excited I was to meet my heroes face to face.
I also remember fondly being with other kids down at the front of the Spion Kop, the large terracing behind one goal and all of us with our Sky Blue wooden rattles clicking away whilst banging the wall in rhythm to the music blasting out from the tannoy. Back then it was usually a Beatles record being played or Dave Clarke Five’s big hit Glad All Over, which is still used at the Palace ground today. So it was the grownups job to pass us youngsters down to the front when there was a big crowd at a match, with the adults smoking away on their fags. On Boxing Day it was the smell of cigar smoke wafting around the Kop end of Highfield Road in the 60’s.
That was Jimmy Hill’s aim for his Sky Blue revolution – to bring fathers and sons to matches and it paid off as when the team started winning and playing entertaining football. The crowds flocked to Highfield Road and a gate of 28,000 was the average attendance. He also introduced the Sky Blue Express, Coventry’s own club train to carry fans to away matches, Sky Blue Radio, which was the first of its kind in the country, which offered supporters information and entertainment before and after games, and he also for good measure decided the club needed its own rousing anthem, so he co-wrote the Sky Blue song based on the Eton Boating Song, changing the words to fit in with his main objective of getting Coventry City into the First Division of English football.
So began Jimmy Hill;s Sky Blue revolution and although his first season in charge was one of keeping his team in the Third tier which was achieved only just, there was so much going on behind the scenes it was hard to keep up with all of the changes..Yet Hill remained confident that he would get the players in he wanted to achieve promotion and he had a chairman who wasn’t afraid of giving him the cash needed to bring them in. Players arrived in their numbers which had even the most cynical supporter starting to believe something good was evolving.
Two seasons after taking the reins at Coventry, it all fell into place as the campaign of 63-64 saw the Sky Blues win promotion to the Second Division by beating Colchester at Highfield Road with a crowd of 36,000 cheering them on. To show the football world he meant business, Hill broke the then world record fee for a keeper when he bought Crystal Palace’s goalie Bill Glazier for £35,000 and it was money well spent as Glazier was a fantastic keeper and went on to become like Jimmy Hill a Coventry City legend. The chairman showed too that when his manager asked for the money to obtain quality he was only too willing to get his cheque book out.
The success on the pitch just kept on coming. In the 66-67 season, Coventry City became champions of the Second Division, with the last home game of that victorious campaign verses local rivals Wolves attracting a gate of 51,000 a club record. How will I ever forget that day as I was sat on the edge of the pitch with other youngsters as we were allowed there because of the crush of the crowd. We had the best view in the ground to see our beloved Sky Blues beat the Wolves 3-1 with hundreds of us running on to the pitch after each goal went in and of course staying on it at the final whistle to salute all the players and our Messiah Jimmy Hill.
Jimmy Hill had achieved all he said he would do and that was to get Coventry out of mediocrity and up into the top flight and he did it in a manner never seen before at a lower league club with new ground breaking innovations. That is why he was honoured by having his statue put outside the Ricoh Arena, the new home of Coventry City Football Club.
Sadly Jimmy passed away recently at the age of 87, but we Coventry City fans will never ever forget what he did for our club. Coming up in February, at the Coventry Cathedral, there is a service which will be attended by people from the football world in celebration of all that Jimmy did not just for our club, but for football too. Yes he made some mistakes along the way, but there will never be a bad word said here in Coventry about Jimmy Hill for what he did for our club.