Jimmy Hill: Football pundit & Emergency linesman
Just imagine. There is no fourth official and the linesman gets injured in an important Premier League football match. No one in the crowd is a qualified referee. Who could replace him? Think. Gary Lineker runs on the pitch offering his services. Then Alan Shearer says ‘I’m available?’ Sounds completely ridiculous? Yet this scenario was once a true event.
On Saturday 16 September 1972, Arsenal were playing Liverpool at Highbury (Arsenal’s home ground at the time). The game was being covered by London Weekend Television to be shown the next day on ITV’s ‘The Big Match’
Half way through the first half the linesman Dennis Drewitt tore his knee ligaments. A very nasty injury for a player let alone an official. It was obvious he could not continue. In those days there were no fourth officials, so an appeal was made to the crowd of just over 47,000 to see if there were any qualified referees present who would be able to run the line?
There didn’t seem to be anyone coming forward. FA rules stated that the match could not be completed without a referee and two linesmen, so the game was in danger of being postponed.
Sitting in the stand was former football player and manager, now Head of Sport at ITV Jimmy Hill. He was watching the match preparing for his Sunday punditry on the game. Hill went down and spoke to the referee Pat Partridge offering his services. ‘You’ll do me.’ Said Partridge. So, Jimmy went off to get kitted out in an emergency light-blue tracksuit and plimsols. These light shoes began to become very uncomfortable being two sizes too small. At half time he changed into a more conventional black top and shorts. They also found some size ten footwear for the pundit turned linesman. Up to then Jimmy described ‘his toenails getting more and more bruised as I digested a painful lesson in how far a linesman has to run in a game.’
Referee consults managers
The managers Bill Shankly (Liverpool) and Bertie Mee (Arsenal) were at first amused when Hill appeared. The referee consulting them both, around the tunnel area with his plans to use Jimmy Hill as the replacement. Here was now a football pundit who had put footballers and officials under the spotlight in his Sunday afternoon football programme, now putting himself firmly in the lion’s mouth.The crowd had a good deal of fun at Hills expense. But he said later ‘I was unaware of it as I came to realise the particular pressure under which I had put myself. Any mistake would be undoubtedly make big black headlines.’
The game ended in a 0-0 draw with little excitement. The long break in finding the new linesman had broken the flow of what was up to that point, a very good game. Liverpool went on to win the first division championship that season with Arsenal just three points behind.
There were several of Hill’s work colleagues believed Jimmy would have pushed anybody out of the way to take the lineman’s job. Something Hill completely refuted and explained. Indeed, he found later, that Pat Partridge had preferred him to a 27 year old, Class 3 referee. According to Jimmy, ‘on the grounds of nervousness and fair play. He didn’t want to pitch him in front of over 40,000 spectators.’
The Sunday Press
John Jenkins in the ‘Sunday Express’: ‘Hill’s first offside decision was greeted by friendly boos from the 47,000 crowd – the second a bad piece of miss judgement was angrily jeered. Poor Jimmy needed the slow motion cameras to help him out.
Tony Pawson in ‘The Observer’: ‘Hill was immediately approved by both managers and referee Pat Partridge, a confidence he justified. There is no need to fear his own critical analyse of any playback decisions.’
However, Jimmy wasted no time in personally checking the accuracy of his ‘offside’ decisions. This time, he used the ITV slow motion and playback facilities on himself – rather than some other player or official. He was delighted as all the reply’s he viewed gave him ‘a clean bill of health.’
‘The Big Match’
The situation made excellent television for ‘The Big Match’ programme and excellent publicity for Hill. Who was never slow in coming forward. In so doing achieved much for the game of football as well as causing a few arguments among fans at home and footballs administrators.
Video: (Sunday 17 Sept 1972) Jimmy Hill discusses the events of what happened with Brian Moore
After dinner speaking
Jimmy would often refer to the incident in his after dinner speaking engagements. Comicus provides several ex-footballers, pundits, managers & commentators such as Chris Kamara, Glen Hoodle, Sir Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Harry Redknapp, Alan Mullery, Lou Macari,Kevin Keegan, Sammy Mcllroy, Teddy Sheringham, Garry Richardson, Jim Rosenthal among many others for speaking engagements.
Read more about Jimmy Hill & football pundits in: The History of football: TV coverage & punditry
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.