Jimmy Hill – Friend of Women’s Cricket

The sad death of Jimmy Hill, described by the BBC as “one of English football’s most influential figures”, was announced today.

Hill will no doubt be remembered for his football punditry, especially on Match of the Day, as well as his reign as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Not many will remember him for his relationship with women’s cricket. But I will.

Hill was born in 1928 in Balham. In one interview in 1985, he recalled his days growing up in the 1930s in south London:

“We were a cricketing family. My father often took me to see Fulham. My stepbrother, Wally, played football and cricket… My step-sister, Irene, played cricket for England. They were quite a bit older than me and they dragged me around to watch them.

The first time I went on a train was when Wally took me to see the Redoubtables play cricket at Beddington. It was only three stops down the line but to me going on a train was as exciting as today’s kids would feel about travelling on Concorde.”

Irene Panton never actually played a Test for England, but she certainly played at the highest level in the early organised years of the sport – the Women’s Cricket Association was set up in 1926, five years after Irene’s club, Redoubtables, formed. Sadly she was killed in a motorcycle accident in the late 1930s.

When I heard the news of Hill’s death, it took me back to the time several years ago when, going through the archives of the Surrey-based women’s club Redoubtables WCC as part of my PhD – the club still exists, and now play at Purley CC – I stumbled upon the most amazing series of correspondence between Molly Gilbert, then club secretary, and Hill himself:

October, 1985:

“Dear Mr Hill,

I was so delighted and surprised to read your ‘potted’ autobiography in the ‘Roots’ article in the Sunday Express Magazine. It was great to think that you remembered our Club name and were kind enough to mention it. We are still a club of keen players…When you came with Irene I was Match Secretary. I remember her so well, she was a lovely girl and a great player. Her early death was such a tragedy…

I also remember her friend Joyce Wawman… ‘Panton’ and ‘Wawman’ used to bring a small boy to our matches who may have been the brother of either of them, ie you.

I have a small snapshot of some of our members at that time accompanied by a small boy (Irene Panton is in the picture). We would be most interested to find out if we have a famous portrait or not. I think Irene and Joyce joined us in 1932 and we have five ‘old girls’ still interested in the Club, one as President (Miss S Swinburne OBE for Services to Women’s Cricket), two as vice-presidents, myself as Secretary (since 1935!!) and one other and we all remember Irene well.”

December, 1985:

“Dear Molly,

Thank you for your letter following ‘Roots’. Forgive my late reply… I’m certain I was the young boy in the photograph. Joyce Wawman was a kind of cousin who lived with us and who continued to take me around even after Irene’s death.

I remember your name well and Sylvia Swinburne too… Thank you for writing and do have a very happy new year.

Your sincerely, Jimmy (Hill).”

January, 1986:

“Dear Mr Hill,

Thank you so much for your letter… the Women’s Cricket Association is 60 years old this year and they are arranging a celebration match between two teams made up of first class players from all over the country. The match to take place at Bramley Cricket Club on Sunday 8th June, afternoon… We are hoping to have several famous people at the match (to draw the crowds) and I do hope you still have enough love of the game to come along and meet present day players. If you can possibly spare the time, we should all be delighted to meet you.”

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February, 1986:

“Molly,

I’m afraid I shall be in Mexico in the World Cup on June 8th, otherwise I would have been delighted to have come along. Perhaps there will be an opportunity on another occasion. Do please keep me informed if there is another match that I might attend after August.”

Sadly the correspondence ended there. I like to think that perhaps Hill did, though, attend another Redoubtables match or two after his trip down memory lane.

So there you have it. Jimmy Hill, 1928-2015: football pundit, player, chairman, manager and analyser…and friend of women’s cricket.

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