Brian Gibbs looks back to when Jimmy Hill guided Coventry City to promotion and Notts County had their worst ever season
The long-term significance
Jimmy Hill had been a reasonably successful player with Fulham, for whom he was top scorer in their Second Division promotion season of 1957-58. He was also noted for being the only bearded footballer of the era, which led to his being nicknamed “the rabbi” and “the beatnik” by team-mates. Hill became a national public figure through his leadership of the players’ union, the PFA, during its campaign against the maximum wage, which was finally abandoned in 1961.
In November that year, aged just 33, he became Coventry manager shortly after they had lost at home to Kings Lynn in the FA Cup. They were 14th in the Third Division at the time but finished fourth in Hill’s first full season then were champions in his second. Chairman Derrick Robins stumped up the funds to transform the squad and, together with his manager, devised innovative ways to market the club including a charter train for away fans and a Michelin-quality restaurant.
After taking Coventry up to the First Division for the first time in 1967, Hill left to work in television. While still working for the BBC, he returned to Coventry as managing director in 1975 and oversaw the transformation of Highfield Road into the country’s first all-seat stadium. Coventry were to stay at the top level for 34 years.
Story of the season
Coventry began with a 5-1 thrashing of Crystal Palace and were out of the top two for just a fortnight in the autumn. Their strength was a formidable attack with strikers Ken Hale and George Hudson supplied from the wings by Northern Ireland’s Willie Humphries and Welshman Ronnie Rees. Such was Coventry’s lead that they stayed top for almost an entire run of 11 games without a win beginning in early January.
Benefiting from the goals of Peter Burridge and ex-Arsenal veteran Cliff Holton, Palace edged into the promotion places by New Year and put together nine victories in ten games while Coventry were in their slump. Top on the final day, they lost 3-1 at home to Oldham, allowing Coventry to snatch the title with a 1-0 defeat of Colchester watched by nearly 37,000. Eight of City’s squad went on to play for them in the First Division as did Palace keeper Bill Glazier who signed later in the year.
Third-placed Watford remained in dogged pursuit but won only one of their last eight. The last relegation issue was also resolved in the 46th game with Millwall crashing 4-1 at Mansfield while Barnsley got the point that kept them up against QPR. It was a worst ever season for Notts County who became the first founder member of the League to drop into the Fourth Division.
For the record books
Alfie Biggs, the Bristol Rovers striker with a comic strip name, was top scorer with 30 goals, one ahead of Mansfield’s Ken Wagstaff who went on to score nearly 200 goals in the Second Division with Hull City. Brentford’s 9-0 defeat of Wrexham was the biggest win.
Same place today
Eight of these clubs were in League One in 2008-09. Among them Walsall have spent the most time at this level since – a total of 33 seasons.
Moved furthest away
Hull City were top division debutants this season. Mansfield and Wrexham are both in the Conference, where they have just been joined by Luton.
Went on to greater thingsJ
ohn Sillett and George Curtis – Coventry’s right-back and centre-half respectively were the management team when the club won their only major trophy, the 1987 FA Cup.
Pat Jennings – The Northern Ireland goalkeeper was an ever present in his only full season with Watford, whom he left for Spurs in the summer of 1964.
Jeff Astle – Notts County’s young striker was in his penultimate season at the club. He was to be capped by England after joining West Brom for whom he scored the winning goal in the 1968 FA Cup final.
Dissapearing from view
Coventry’s white kit – Jimmy Hill brought back the sky blue last worn before the First World War. The club had briefly reverted to another old kit, blue and white stripes, when winning at Wembley in 1987.
Sammy Chapman – The Mansfield midfielder missed only one game in 1963-64 but was then banned for life for his role in a match-fixing scam that also led to the jailing of three Sheffield Wednesday players.
Bobby Johnstone – The ex-Hibs and Man City winger (above), who starred for a GB XI v Rest of the World in 1955, played his final season with Oldham.
From WSC 268 June 2009