Jimmy's 'heart belonged to Coventry'

Jimmy Hill Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Jimmy Hill became Coventry City manager in 1961, setting them on their way from the Third Division to the First Division

Every football club has its legendary figures, from star players lighting up the pitch to illustrious managers masterminding a golden path to silverware. Few, though, are as indebted to one man as Coventry City is to Jimmy Hill.

The London-born former Fulham forward and England international had no links to the city before he arrived at the club in 1961, when they were languishing near the foot of the Third Division.

By the time he left six years later they were on their way to the top tier, where they would stay for 34 nerve-jangling years, but Hill gave the club far more than a few seasons in the sun.

Tributes to Jimmy Hill and more live updates

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Media caption700 tickets to the celebration are for fans

He changed the club's kit to the now famous sky blue, he pioneered colour programmes, all-seater stadia and other features of the modern game. He also wrote the club song 'Play Up Sky Blues', which echoed around Wembley in 1987 when they famously won the FA Cup.

While the wider football world remembers Hill as a broadcaster and revolutionary football figure, his relationship with Coventry endured throughout the decades, so much so that a statue of him stands outside the club's home ground.

The club is holding a celebration of Hill's life at Coventry Cathedral on Friday.

Image copyright Dave Long
Image caption Coventry Cathedral is hosting the event for Sky Blues fans to pay tribute to Jimmy Hill

When it announced the event, hundreds of fans - including many who never saw his teams play - snapped up the tickets so they could send off their former manager.

Ahead of the celebration, fans, ex-players and key figures in Sky Blues history have spoken about why he is so fondly remembered.

'Revolutionary' manager

Andrew Dawes, an academic from De Montfort University, wrote a thesis on Hill. He said the "incredible" success he had in rebranding the club set the tone for his close relationship with the city.

"There are so many of the ideas that he had in the 1960s that shaped the way football is today, and especially with Coventry City," he said.

From special chartered trains for away matches to family events at home, the fans were always high on the list of his priorities as manager.

Image caption Fans who attended Coventry City's home match with Oldham Athletic on the day his death was announced paid tribute to Jimmy Hill at his statue outside the Ricoh Arena

Jim Brown, Coventry City's official historian, said it was "a wonderful time" to support the club when Hill was at the helm.

"If you were young and growing up in Coventry and Warwickshire in those days you followed this man, because he was the Pied Piper of Coventry City," he said.

"The off-field things were innovative and far-reaching and were great, but on the pitch was where it mattered, and he did it."

Image copyright BBC Coventry and Warwickshire
Image caption Fans gathered at Jimmy Hill's statue

Stuart Brown, a Coventry fan who runs a sporting nostalgia shop, was too young for the Hill era, but said all generations of Sky Blues supporters would never forget his impact on the club, especially when they sing the song he helped to write.

"When Jimmy Hill came to the club we didn't really have an identity," he said.

"We didn't have a song or an anthem, so Jimmy Hill helped pen the Sky Blues song we know today."

Image caption Coventry City fans wearing their famous sky blue shirts, the club colours created by former manager Jimmy Hill

The fans were boosted by Hill's ideas and for players his innovative approach to management was warmly welcomed.

Dietmar Bruck, a former full-back who played for Coventry on their rise to the top division, said the pre-match preparations and routines helped to put them in a positive frame of mind.

"We were just buzzing, we couldn't get out quick enough from the dressing rooms," he said.

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Media captionJimmy's Sky Blues fans say thank you

Even for non-football fans, Hill's Sky Blue revolution was felt right across Coventry, with the feelgood factor in the club's march through the divisions carrying over into the city's once-famous car-making industry.

"I found that if you look at car production then it peaked, initially in 1968 following the promotion season, and then there was another peak in 1970 following the highest position that they got in the First Division, which was sixth," said Mr Dawes.

"I couldn't quite believe it, so being an academic I thought I'd better get some basis for this, otherwise it's going to look a bit ridiculous, so I went and talked to a few people about it at the working men's clubs and things like that before a game.

"They said it was true, that the team was doing well it gave you a sense of pride about being from Coventry. When you went to watch the team you were really proud of them, and then when you went to work on a Monday morning you just put that little in because life was good."

Image caption Jamie Hill visited the statue of his father outside the Ricoh Arena for the first time since it was unveiled ahead of the event at Coventry Cathedral

Ahead of the celebration, Hill's son Jamie returned the city, including a trip to the former family home and Highfield Road, site of the club's former stadium.

He also called into the Ricoh Arena - the club's current home - to see the Sky Blues play Scunthorpe United, his first visit since the statue to his father was unveiled five years ago.

He said he had "very fond memories" of living in the city and how well his father connected with the residents.

"He never used to finish his meal - he was either too busy signing autographs or chewing his food with his overshot jaw," he said.

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Media captionJimmy's heart belongs to Coventry

"There'd always be someone who wanted a word or an autograph."

Love for Coventry

For Hill's widow Bryony, the affection for her late husband - whose last public appearance was at the unveiling of the statue to him outside the Ricoh Arena in 2011- is an endearing and enduring tribute.

She said she was looking forward to "a very very special occasion that I will cherish forever".

"I would love to say a huge thank you to Coventry - to the cathedral, to everyone involved in putting this event on," she said.

"I know Jimmy's heart will be very much in Coventry, because he loved his time there.

"He loved the people, he loved the city, he loved the countryside - he loved everything about Warwickshire, and particularly Coventry and the club."

Image copyright Rex Features

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