District Post news editor Phil Dennett was among those who paid tribute this week to football legend Jimmy Hill, who died on Saturday at the age of 87 after living with Alzheimer’s disease since 2008.
Jimmy lived just outside the village of Hurstpierpoint, near Henfield, with his wife and author Bryony until he had to be admitted into care because of his condition.
Phil, 65, from Burgess Hill, has interviewed him several times in his journalistic career. When Phil launched a book “Knight of the Whistle” about Horsham referee Ralph Tarratt, who lived in later life at Southwater, to raise money for St Catherine’s Hospice Jimmy wrote a forward for it. He later launched the book at the Horsham care home where Ralph was living, just before Ralph died.
Phil said: “Obviously Jimmy is remembered by millions as former footballer, campaigning players’ union leader, successful manager, club chairman and high-profile football presenter.
“Yet the thing I remember about him was that he was, certainly in my dealings with him, a gentleman with old-fashioned manners. He was no pushover, but he was extremely polite and showed great courtesy.
“When I asked him to launch the book about Ralph in Horsham he agreed instantly and drove himself up to the town to perform the ceremony. Because of his help were able to raise several thousand pounds for St Catherine’s Hospice. Ralph, who was in fast-failing health, wanted the book published before he died to raise money for St Catherine’s because he had lost wives to cancer.
“But there was more tragedy when the man who started it, Jeremy Gambrill, also died from cancer with the book only part finished. Once I had completed it I was delighted Jimmy generously gave us all a huge boost.
“Sadly Ralph, who was in his 90s, very frail and really clinging on to life to see the book launched, died very soon after the book went on sale. But I shall never forget the look of delight on Ralph’s face when Jimmy walked into the room on that launch day.
“Jimmy had seen the hard side of football, both on the pitch and in boardroom politics, but seemed in love with and fascinated by the game for many years.
“Out of the limelight, Jimmy helped raise many thousands of pounds for charity, including his golf exploits. He was a man who once met was never forgotten for all the best reasons as far I was concerned.”
Jimmy played nearly 300 games for Fulham FC, was a campaigning chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, successful pioneering manager and chairman of Coventry City FC and a famous BBC soccer pundit, including hosting Match of the Day for huge television audiences.
In a statement last weekend, his agent, Jane Morgan, said: “It is with great sadness that his wife Bryony Hill and the children of Jimmy Hill have announced that Jimmy passed away peacefully aged 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Bryony was beside him.”
Bryony told Phil Dennett: “I am overwhelmed by the tributes and affection that are coming in from all corners of the world. He would have been so chuffed.”