Sky Blues historian Lionel Bird pays tribute to Jimmy Hill
Jimmy Hill was appointed manager of Coventry City F.C. on 29 November 1961. The Sky Blue Revolution was born. Hill completely transformed a struggling Third Division club. Innovative ideas, inspirational leadership and the ability to produce an entertaining, successful team made Coventry a shining example on the domestic football map. His concepts were pioneering and unique: organised travel to away matches via train and coach; pre-match entertainment at home games; the iconic sky blue brand; Radio Sky Blue; free "pop and crisps" events for children; and even closed-circuit TV relay of away matches beamed back to Highfield Road, just to name a few. All designed to bring the supporter closer the the club.
JH was way ahead of his time regarding fan-representation. He knew the value of forging a strong, close relationship with supporters, a bond which would last a lifetime. He did not need a Supporters Consultative Group or Fans’ Forums. He simply created a personal relationship with supporters. He took the players to visit pubs, clubs and factories, forming a strong bond which galvanised the imagination of supporters and created the "Sky Blue family". He was truly a "man of the people".
His work with the Coventry City Supporters Club was phenomenal. The Bantams Fighting Fund was re-launched in 1962 to provide revenue directly to the football club to assist with operational costs. Proceeds from the Supporters Club Lottery, which later became the Sky Blue Pool, was specifically ring-fenced for funding ground improvements to an ageing Highfield Road. In November 1962 an upgrade of the pylon floodlighting system was completed and a new public address system installed. In May 1963 the six-feet diagonal slope which existed across the pitch was leveled and a new drainage system installed, prior to the laying of a new pitch. Construction of the new Sky Blue Stand on the Thackhall Street side of the ground was completed in the summer of 1964.
The Supporters Club raised £73,572 to pay for the new stand which housed their new premises. They now boasted a membership of 11,000. During this period the club won the Third Division Championship in April 1964 and progressed to clinch the Second Division title in May 1967. Attendances regularly exceeded 25,000 for home matches. This really was a golden age in the club's history. Sadly on 17 August 1967, two days prior to Coventry City's inaugural match in Division One at Burnley, Hill announced he was leaving to launch a career in television. He remained at City until Noel Cantwell was appointed as his replacement in October.
Perhaps the most important legacy JH leaves behind is the strong bond he created with supporters. He reached out far and wide to connect with people way beyond the city boundary. It was he who established and drew support from outside Coventry, creating sky blue hotbeds in places like Bedworth, Nuneaton, Kenilworth, Leamington, Warwick, Stratford, Southam and Rugby. Those areas of support remain in place today and contribute to an impressive fan-base. A fitting testament to a remarkable man.