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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Hill ready for Sky Blue send-off

By Chris Bevan

Jimmy Hill
I'm all for getting a better site. Tradition means nothing. It's about what you do tomorrow as a football club, not what you did yesterday
Jimmy Hill

The man who helped build Highfield Road is preparing to bid it farewell.

As manager and later chairman of Coventry City, Jimmy Hill reconstructed the ground while reinventing the club.

But the former Match of the Day host's next visit there will be to join a parade of Sky Blues legends before Saturday's game against Derby, the last to be played at the stadium.

Hill has fond memories of his time in the west Midlands and is proud of what he achieved in his 14 years there.

Hill told BBC Sport: "It was a fantastic time.

"The part of my life that I enjoyed most was playing. There is no substitute for being able to play at a professional level.

"That was my basic love, but next to that the years at Coventry were the most enjoyable of anything else I've done."

When Hill was installed as Coventry manager in 1961 he quickly made an impact on and off the pitch.

He took the club from fifth-bottom of the old Third Division into the top flight before leaving in 1967 to pursue his television career.

During that time two new stands sprung up at Highfield Road, but Hill also had a hand in other developments that soon caught on elsewhere.

Hill introduced City's current nickname as part of a complete image revamp that saw the club embrace its fans in a way never before seen.

The Sky Blue match programme was the first fully-fledged match magazine in English football.

And long before Sky introduced razmatazz to football with the advent of the Premiership, Hill was a pioneer.

He dreamt up Sky Blue Radio as a way of getting fans into Highfield Road early, and entertained them with pop groups, netball matches and dog handling displays.

"The players had come to appreciate that there was more to running a football club than just kicking a ball around on a Saturday and if you wanted Coventry to be special, you had to be special"
Jimmy Hill

Hill said: "The idea was to cement the relationship between the club and the supporters in general.

"When you start to put your mind to things like that, what it's like to be a supporter and how you can make it more enjoyable for them you realise there is not any particular cost in doing that.

"We had a Christmas party at the ground for our supporters where they all brought their kids along.

"No other club had done that before and we gave them a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop and they could get all the players' autographs.

"What we were trying to do was encourage people to like the club and come to it. In the end it was a great success.

Coventry captain Steve Hunt at an all-seater Highfield Road in 1981
Coventry captain Steve Hunt at an all-seater Highfield Road in 1981

"The players had come to appreciate that there was more to running a football club than just kicking a ball around on a Saturday and if you wanted Coventry to be special, you had to be special."

Hill admits his Sky Blue revolution could not have happened without the help of former chairman Derek Robbins, who died last year.

"The way I was very lucky was my relationship with Derek.

"Basically he trusted me especially when we got the first promotion. Any ideas that I had he was extremely good to encourage. He opened his mind and went along with it."

This weekend is sure to be an emotional one for everyone connected with Coventry, but even given his links to the ground, Hill is upbeat.

"I'm never sad," he added. "It's easy to say tradition is marvellous and it should always be Highfield Road because of all those matches that were played there.

"I just look to the future rather than the past and if the stadium is a better stadium and it will hold more people and they'll be comfortable - then it is a good move.

"On that basis move on and progress. So I'm all for getting a better site. Tradition means nothing. It's about what you do tomorrow as a football club, not what you did yesterday.

"When I left as chairman we owned not only Highfield Road but also the training ground and at the moment the club doesn't own anything.

"That is the sadness, that in those years of holding into their place in the Premiership, with chairmen who shall remain nameless, they have spent that money. They have grabbed it and spent it on keeping the club up.

"Of course you can understand why, but it has turned out to be short-termism because they've lost their ground now and they've got to rent another ground.

"But now there's an element of a clean sheet of paper like at school when you get a new exercise book. That's what they've got now with the new stadium and so we're looking forward to it."


SEE ALSO
Highfield Road's final farewell
29 Apr 05 |  Coventry City


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