I observed with interest the talk of whether Arsenal would give Manchester United a guard of honour at the weekend after they won the Premier League on Monday – there are a few customs that have “crept” into the game from other sports, as a guard of honour has been present in others like rugby league, and I don’t think that it’s a bad thing that the winners of a trophy, if they have a game remaining in the competition or have another game after a Cup Final, receives a guard of honour from their opponents, it’s a nice touch.
First of all, I wanted to take time to congratulate Manchester United for winning the Premier League. I was so pleased for them and so pleased for all of the supporters, especially that it was done at Old Trafford and won in so much style. The players really came out and from the first minute their passing was crisp and quick – and what can you say about that second goal from Robin van Persie? It was one right out of my portfolio!
As I said earlier this week, I was honoured to be invited to the Hamilton Soccer Hall of Fame last weekend which is the biggest event of its nature in Canada. It was absolutely tremendous. Some of the biggest names in Canadian Soccer were there as well as the Canadian and Hamilton Soccer Associations, it was a sold out crowd of around 500. It was arranged by John Gibson and Vince Miciele who put it together with a fabulous back room team including volunteers – they made it work together absolutely fantastic and put on a great event. You can have a look and learn more about the Hall of Fame here.
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s been reading my columns and my website that I want to dedicate a short piece to one of my old clubs, Millwall, ahead of their FA Cup semi final with Wigan Athletic at Wembley this weekend.
I was in attendance for the biggest day in the history of Millwall when they took on another of my former clubs, Manchester United, in the 2004 final in Cardiff. That day was a special day – just getting to the final was like winning it for the Lions that day and that isn’t being patronising. No-one expected them to get a result but the fans were fantastic that day.
Millwall are a modest sized club and their list of honours is relatively short compared to other clubs. In that respect it’s incredible then to think that of their few trips to Wembley, who were their opponents the first time they played there? Wigan, in the 1999 Football League Trophy! Wigan aren’t the biggest club – some might even argue that historically Millwall are as big – but certainly in recent years they’ve done a great job at staying in the Premier League.
On that day in April 1999, Millwall lost to an injury time goal to Wigan, but this was a Lions side with a few names you might recognise – Tim Cahill, Paul Ifill, Steven Reid and Neil Harris all started that day. That was Millwall’s first trip to the old Wembley – on their first visit to the new one, they defeated Swindon Town to get promotion to the Championship in 2010. Funnily enough, that meant that Neil Harris played for the club in both of their first Wembley visits in each of his spells for the club.
Another player in his second spell at the Den is Danny Shittu and he has been a major reason for the club’s progression to the semi final this season. He not only scored the goal to get them there at Ewood Park but he scored a valuable equaliser in the fourth round tie against Aston Villa to give Millwall the renewed belief that they could go on. And what an achievement this is by the way – Darren Bent’s goal in that game was the only one Millwall have conceded in this season’s competition!
Wigan are doing as they always seem to and are staging a late run of good form to try and stay in the Premier League again – they’re coming into this game on a run of good form with five wins out of their last seven games, and they have players like Callum McManaman and Arouna Kone in great personal form too.
The manager at Millwall, Kenny Jackett, has done a brilliant job to get the club this far and he is dead right when he says the players need to play the match and not the occasion. That’s what got them this far after all and forget talk of Wigan being the so called easier draw in the semi final – they’re an established side in the top division and so every player will need to be at their best in order for my old club to pull off a shock.
But that’s the beauty of the Cup, isn’t it? Five good results, five wins however you get them can get you to a final – four wins gets you to Wembley! I’m not one who agrees with the semi finals being held at Wembley but it is what it is and Millwall will have a great day out that they thoroughly deserve. Sadly I won’t be able to attend but I’m ready to make plans to come back over to England to try and get to the final if they get there – with a little bit of luck, you just never know. What I do know is that I wish them all the luck in the world and I’ll be hoping that when I’m writing my next column I can congratulate Kenny and the boys for a job well done.
See you next week – all the best, Gordon.
I currently spend my time between Cleveland, Ohio, and my home in Florida. At present I have gone back to Florida to spend some time down there and enjoy my birthday. While I’m away I decided to run some old articles that I wrote that you might have seen elsewhere on the internet. This one was for “TotalFootballMag.Com” where I was a columnist, and I shared my story about my path to the “top” as a professional player.
As it’s my birthday, and Manchester United play in the FA Cup today, the trophy I won whilst at Old Trafford, I thought this would be an appropriate story to share.
What does it take to get there and play at the top? Everyone, no matter what profession, needs help and guidance from other people if they want to be a success in life. Footballers more than most, rely on the influences of others. Why? Because like most talented artists, they need to be motivated and sometimes bullied into climbing the ladder to fame and fortune.
This week I’d like to devote my column to those people who’ve played their part in assisting me along the road to the top. I suppose the person I owe most to is my mum, because she told me in no uncertain terms that I would never make a professional footballer! She reckoned I was too full of myself and cocky to get anywhere.
As a lad, I naturally thought I knew all the answers and that no one could teach me anything about kicking a ball. Mum’s doubts about my ability and character made me even more determined to become a professional player.
Her words kept driving me on, I just had to prove that she was wrong. Dad didn’t take much interest in football. I came from a large family of five brothers and three sisters, and so he spent most of his time working to keep the Hill show on the road.
But two of my elder brothers, Sid and Graham, were enormous influences on me at the start. So was our next door neighbour in Sunbury-on-Thames, Johnny Taylor. They took me to the park at every opportunity, playing with them and against their mates taught me a lot; above all how to take care of myself. A sort of toughening up process, if you like. All three were good players and played a very high amateur level, but I always knew what I wanted to be, even though I was a few years younger. All three of them played for a professional club as a schoolboy then went on to play in the Rothmans Isthmian League in London.
Johnny knew a fair bit about the game as well and taught me a few tricks, mainly on how to avoid being kicked up in the air every time I got the ball. I never really gave school a thought, and that is something I sometimes regret.
I also owe a lot to the PE teachers at school. They realized I would one day earn a living with my feet and encouraged me. Because I often played against older boys, I came in for a fair amount of stick. As I would lie on the ground, more often than not in a pool of mud, they’d scream at me from the touchline “get up Hill, don’t be scared, get up and get stuck into them.”
They taught me the virtue of courage, they installed confidence in me, and for that, I will always be grateful. Through the honours I gained at school and then club football, I went on to win England youth caps. In charge of the side was Ken Burton, who was one of Don Revie’s assistants with the full England squad.
Ken was a great influence as well. He believed in my ability to make a name for myself in the game and taught me the importance of dedication and determination. I’d listen to Ken for hours; for the first time in my life, I had met a man whose advice I was prepared to take. Especially on tactics.
After leaving QPR and going on, I agreed to play for Southall with my brother Sid. I played under a manager called Tommy Tranter and he was a lecturer at Borough Road College where they turn out PE teachers.
Tommy motivated me ensuring that I never lost heart or had doubts about the talent I had been blessed with. In January 1973 came the big moment of my life: I signed professionally for Millwall and met Benny Fenton another man to whom I owe a lot too.
Benny was the Lions’ boss at the time. He put his complete trust and faith in me, but was constantly under-fire from various sources including a couple of players who resented my signing as brash.
They thought I was too big-headed and too young to be given a chance in the side. I could always take care of myself and gave as much verbal stick as I received, but Benny did his best to protect me from unnecessary resentment. That man put his head on the block, but he followed his judgment and gave me my first chance. I will always be eternally grateful to Benny Fenton.
Mind you, I did have my fans. The Millwall fans, they were fantastic and made me feel like one of them. They are part of me and my upbringing, along with a close friend who I lost in 2010: Brian Clark, another true professional. He told me to play my natural game and pay no attention to the criticism from certain quarters.
In November 1975, I was transferred to Manchester United under the stewardship of one of the finest managers in the game, Tommy Docherty. He was a whole-hearted man and had the special knack of boosting a player’s confidence and bringing the best out of him.
The Doc was a great character. He commanded respect and total dedication from everyone on the field but he was my friend and councillor off the field as well. Tommy Doc had so much to do with my development and progress in to the full England team.
Don Revie was the England manager at the time. Apart from his tremendous record at Leeds, there were two things that I admired about the man: the way he put his ideas across, and his total dedication to the game and his country. But the most important person for me – because behind every great player is a devoted wife – is my wife Claire who has always been there for me. I love you.
To all those I have just mentioned, thank you for your part in my life as a football player.