If you say the name Jimmy Hill to virtually any football fan they will likely think instantly of the popular former Match of the Day presenter who also had spells as a player, manager, chairman and even on one occasion linesman!!! However there was another player by the name of Jimmy Hill who began his career as a right winger with Carrick Rangers in the Amateur League in Northern Ireland. Interestingly Hill was part one of the biggest signings not only in the history of Linfield, but also the Irish League as a whole.
Hill made his debut for his hometown side Carrick Rangers at the beginning of the 1951/52 season at the tender age of 15 and marked his debut in the perfect way with a goal. Carrick spent much of the season at the top of the table and would eventually wrap up the title, Hill became a regular in the team and caught the eye of many who seen him play and was called up to represent the Northern Ireland Schoolboys team on occasions as well as the Northern Ireland Amateurs. During the season Carrick were drawn against Linfield Swifts (Linfield Reserves), the tie had to be replayed twice, due to the first two matches finishing 1-1 and 4-4 respectively, before Linfield eventually ran out winners but Hill obviously impressed the opposition coaching team and at the end of the season Hill was Windsor Park bound.
Hill spent four seasons at Linfield and again established himself as a key player in the side that won three league titles in a row (1953-54, 1954-55 and 1955-56); Linfield also won an Ulster Cup and a Gold Cup during Hill’s spell at the club. Hill also received the honour of representing the Irish League XI on a few occasions and once again performances for Linfield seen him attract the interest for clubs higher up the footballing ladder. In June of 1957 Linfield announced that legendary Newcastle United striker Jackie Milburn would be joining the club as player-manager. Milburn had scored 201 goals in 399 appearances for Newcastle, a goalscoring record that stood until Alan Shearer would eventually break it in 2006, and his signing was a massive coup for Irish League football. As part of this iconic transfer, Hill travelled the other direction and signed for Newcastle in the top division of English football. During the 1957-58 season Newcastle struggled near the foot of the table but survived relegation by a point and improved the following season to finish in a mid-table position but unfortunately Hill’s transfer never quite worked out and he made only 11 appearances, scoring twice, in his stint at St James’ Park before dropping down to the Third Division to sign for Norwich City.
Hill enjoyed probably the greatest spell of his career in his five years at Norwich. In his first season at the club, they made it to the semi-final of the FA Cup, a fantastic achievement for a Third Division side made all the more impressive with victories over First Division sides Tottenham Hotspurs and a Manchester United side managed by the great Matt Busby. In his second season at the club, Norwich finished 2nd in the Third Division, behind Southampton, but this was enough to earn promotion to the Second Division and Hill had the extra honour of being joint top goal scorer with 16 goals in 40 appearances, an impressive feat for a wide player. Norwich continued to impress a division higher and in their first season in the Second Division they finished a lofty 4th place and weren’t too far away from securing back to back promotions. The Canaries were unable to produce as high a finish in Hill’s final two seasons at the club but they still finished comfortably in mid-table and Hill continued to play and score regularly and he returned to the First Division when Everton paid £25,000 for his services.
Unfortunately much like his Newcastle spell Hill’s time with the Merseyside club never quite took off and he spent just one season at the club playing only 7 times and scoring once before dropping down to Port Vale in the Fourth Division. Hill played fairly regularly for Port Vale in his first two seasons but he fell out of favour when the legendary Stanley Matthews took over as manager and after making 77 appearances for the Valiants and scoring 11 goals he decided to retire from playing professionally in 1968.
During his playing days Hill played twice for the Northern Ireland ‘B’ Team and eventually made his debut for the senior side in April 1959, in a 4-1 win against Wales. He went on to make appearances against Wales, West Germany, Scotland, Spain and finally England for a total of 7 senior international caps.
After leaving professional football Hill returned to the Irish League and took the managerial reigns at Derry City, leading the Candystripes to a 2nd place finish in 1968-69. Hill could never replicate that form in the league in his three seasons at the club as Derry dropped to 5th and then 9th but in his final season he did lead the club to an Irish Cup final where they came up against Distillery (now Lisburn Distillery) at Windsor Park. Unfortunately for Hill’s men they were second best on the day losing 3-0; incidentally a certain Martin O’Neill turned out against Hill’s side that day and scored two of the three goals. Hill left The Brandywell and returned to one of his former clubs Linfield as manager but spent just one season at the club before standing down for personal reasons.
Hill set up a sports shop in his native Carrickfergus and it proved to be very successful with most young people from the area buying their school P.E. kits from the shop and Hill spent 16 years out of football before being tempted back to the place where it all began, taking over as Carrick Rangers manager in November 1988. Carrick were by now playing in the Premier Division of the Irish League and Hill led the Amber Army to an impressive 8th place finish, at the time this was the highest they have ever finished in Northern Irish football. Unfortunately, much like his time at Derry City, Hill couldn’t sustain this and Hill eventually left the club February 1991 after a poor run of results.
Hill never took another role in football after leaving Taylors Avenue for the second time but continued to run his successful sports shop before eventually retiring to Spain.
As this will be my last article before Christmas, I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish anyone who reads my articles a very merry Christmas!!!