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Soccer trailblazer Jimmy Hill dies aged 87

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

Jimmy Hill, one of the most influential figures in English football history, died from Alzheimer’s disease on Saturday aged 87.

Hill, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years, played a major role in the development of football in a remarkable life that encompassed virtually every facet of the sport.

In a statement, his agent, Jane Morgan, said: “It is with great sadness that Bryony Hill and the children of Jimmy Hill have announced that Jimmy passed away peacefully today aged 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Bryony was beside him.”

Gary Lineker, who followed in Hill’s footsteps as a presenter on the BBC’s Match of the Day, led the tributes.

“Deeply saddened to hear that Jimmy Hill has left us. A football man through and through who gave the game so much in so many ways #RIPJimmy,” Lineker wrote on Twitter.

BBC pundit and former England striker Alan Shearer said: “Very sad news about Jimmy Hill. Footballers and football have so much to thank him for. A man who loved the game.”

English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke also saluted Hill’s wide-ranging achievements.

“In many ways, Jimmy Hill was football. What was remarkable about Jimmy was that he went on to have so many different careers,” Dyke said.

“I knew him at the BBC. He always kept a simple charm and had a warm personality.

“His insightful analysis and strong-minded opinions helped pave the way for the TV coverage of football that we love today.

“He was loved by millions, even among those who didn’t follow football. He was a true great of the game.”

Hill made his name as a player with Brentford and then Fulham in the 1950s, helping the Cottagers to promotion to the old First Division and once scoring five goals in a match against Doncaster.

But it was his achievements off the field that built his legacy and ensured he will be remembered as a trailblazing modernizer who helped revolutionize the sport.

In his role as Professional Footballers’ Association chairman, Hill led the campaign for the scrapping of £20-a-week maximum wage ($29.80, 27.40 euros) for professional footballers and freedom of movement once their contracts expired.

Hill was influential in the introduction of three points for a win instead of two in 1981, and also fought for the right for clubs to wear sponsors’ logos on their shirts.

– Innovation –

Not content with those ground-breaking ideas, he commissioned the first English all-seater stadium during his time as Coventry manager, introduced the first electronic scoreboard in 1964 and the first color match-day program.

During that six-year spell at Coventry, he won promotion from the Third and then Second Divisions to lead the team into the top-flight, while also finding time to change the club’s colors to sky blue and write the long-standing club anthem ‘The Sky Blue Song’.

Hill’s appetite for innovation wasn’t sated by those experiences, which have since led him to be immortalized in a statue at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, and the London-born milkman’s son left the midlands club in 1967 to work as Head of Sport at ITV.

Having devised the concept of the football pundit panel for the 1970 World Cup, he proceeded to become the nation’s most recognizable and influential expert during a long association with Match of the Day.

He made more than 600 appearances on the football highlights program and occasionally found his out-spoken personality could land him in trouble.

Few people can have led such a full football life as Hill, who also served as chairman at Charlton and Fulham in the 1980s, and even took a turn as match official when standing in for an injured linesman during an Arsenal against Liverpool match in 1972.

Hill will be cremated at a private ceremony and a service for his friends and colleagues will be held in the new year, his agent said.

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