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Gordon Hill Signs for United - An extract from United! United!

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  • Gordon Hill Signs for United - An extract from United! United!

    United made their move in November 1975.

    “At half-time during a League Cup game, the Millwall manager told that that I was not going back on," says Hill. "I asked him why and if it was to save me for Saturday. He told me that I wouldn’t be playing for the club again because the bank had told Millwall they had to sell me. News of a bid from United had only just arrived. I was disappointed to go off, but excited about United.”

    Hill had to meet the Millwall manager the next morning at Euston station to get his ticket.
    “I took me boots and travelled north. Apart from the Chicago trip, I’d never travelled out of London by myself before.”

    Gordon Clayton was waiting for Hill at Piccadilly. Hailing from the West Midlands, Clayton had been a goalkeeper at United and a close friend of Duncan Edwards. Mainly a reserve ’keeper, he played only twice for the first team in his six years at Old Trafford but worked at the club in the 70s. He died in September 1991 aged just 54. He is referred to in the introduction to this book.

    The two Gordons hit it off immediately after Clayton said: ‘You are United. Your style is United.’

    Hill was taken straight to Old Trafford.

    “I was overawed by the place,” he says. “One of my brothers had a poster of Best, Law and Charlton on his bedroom wall and now I was being asked to join the club they’d played at. I was taken to a room where Louis Edwards, TD and Sir Matt Busby were sat down.”

    Edwards began with an insult, saying, “You’re a flash London bastard but we’ll cut you down to size.”

    “It didn’t put me off and United didn’t need selling,” recalls Hill. “I would have played for United for nothing. I signed a contract without actually realising how much I would get paid a week. I had to ask later and was told that it would be £125 – double what I’d been on at Millwall. I had a signing on fee of £3,500 too. United would also pay my lodgings. They told me that they were putting me up in the Piccadilly Hotel, but I was to watch United play that night.”

    The match was a League Cup derby where the score ended up Manchester City 4 Manchester United 0.

    “I thought it couldn’t be true, United losing 4-0,” he says. “Colin Bell got carried off the pitch and the injury was so bad that he would never be the same again.” City would go on to win the League Cup in what would be their last trophy for thirty-five years.

    Hill returned to the Piccadilly and stayed there until renting a place in Buxworth in the Peak District, 18 miles south east of Manchester.

    “All the other players lived around Sale, but I wanted to be in the country,” he explains. “I’d never lived in the country and wanted to live near the hills. There was fresh air and a good local pub owned by Pat Phoenix, Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street.”

    Hill lived there with his first wife Jackie. “I married when I was very young,” he explains.

    Hill’s fee was £70,000.
    “Even at the time it was a fairly modest fee,” commented Tommy Docherty later. “Gordon was a fast, direct winger who was not only a maker but a taker of goals. He had tremendous ability, and his attitude and character were first class.” Over time Docherty would sign Hill on three occasions.
    “Ken Ramsden, one of the United secretaries, pointed me to a financial adviser,” he explains. “He told me not to take my signing on fee but to start a pension. I could never thank them enough for that advice. It wasn’t a huge pension – it’s £400 a month now – but I have been drawing it since I’ve been 35.”

    Hill didn’t have an agent, but there were other offers of money.

    “Shoot! magazine offered me some money to do a column each week which was ghosted by a journalist.”
    Hill made his United debut v Aston Villa on 15th November 1975.
    “It was hard,” he recalls. “The standard was much higher and I got cramps after.” The United line-up was: Stepney, Nicholl, Houston, Daly, B. Greenhoff, Buchan, Coppell, McIlroy, Pearson, Macari and Hill. Docherty’s team was complete. United won 2-0.

    He travelled back to London after the game.

    “I’d travel by train, first class,” he says. “I’d never travelled first class but United paid for my ticket. I bumped into my old Millwall team mates. They spotted me. They were not in first class and had played at Bury. I was soon in normal class having a few beers. I wasn’t one for heavy drinking and never found pubs fun, but I’d left a mark at Millwall and it was time to say goodbye properly.”

    He was an immediate success at United, with fans praising Docherty for the signing. And he would go on being a success in each of his three years at the club. His goalscoring record of 51 goals in 132 appearances is one of the best ever achieved by a United winger.

    Hill liked living in the hills, though after a year in Buxworth, he moved to Bollington so that he could be nearer Macclesfield train station and the connection to London.

    “I stayed there for a long time,” he says. “Joe Corrigan and Rodney Marsh lived nearby, but Marsh was never my cup of tea, even though he was a Londoner. I remember him from being a kid at QPR. He was arrogant then and didn’t change.”

    Hill was an ever present after his debut and played 33 games through to the end of 1975-76, scoring 10 goals including both of those against Derby in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.
    He’d shown his volleying talents earlier in the competition when United knocked out Peterborough at Old Trafford.

    “That tie was settled by a wonderful piece of skill by Gordon Hill,” recalled Docherty later. “He was 25 yards from goal when the ball was played to him wide on the right. I expected him to control the ball and lay it off. Instead he conducted a half-turn of his body, got his head over the ball and volleyed it with his left foot. Eric Steele (the current goalkeeping coach at Old Trafford) stood frozen to the spot. A matter of a second after leaving Hill’s boot the ball jerked the centre of the net into he shape of an elbow. It was a tremendous goal.”

    Hill was always determined to do better.
    “I used to watch ‘Match of the Day’ each week and see their goal of the month. Then I’d say to myself, ‘You can do better than that.’

    That semi-final brace is undoubtedly his most famous United moment and his personal favourite.
    “Those goals were the highlight of my whole career,” he says. “The first one stands out. I was in the middle and played a one-two with Gerry Daly, who was at the left edge of the penalty area. I took one touch and as Roy McFarland ran to close me down I bent a left-footer into the top corner. We were going to Wembley.

    “United fans took over Hillsborough and everyone was singing. We stopped at Mottram Hall to celebrate after and there was a wedding reception on. They invited us in and ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’ was playing. Tommy Docherty began singing away – but with the words to the United version. We were so happy to be going to Wembley for the first time since 1963 in the greatest cup competition in the world.”

    Hill’s greatest match was followed by arguably his worst in the final, but he wasn’t alone.
    “The 1976 FA Cup final was a nightmare,” he says. “Everybody expected us to beat Second Division Southampton but the day got to us. That season they’d brought out the card system, where they held up your number for substitutions. It was towards the end of the game and we were losing 1-0 when I saw number 11 go up. As I walked to the bench I turned to Tommy Docherty and said, ‘What? F***ing me?’ and he said, ‘No, the whole f***ing team’. Even though I was so disappointed I had to chuckle.”

    Docherty was later more pointed in his criticism.

    “Semi-final hero Hill found no headway against Southampton experienced skipper Peter Rodrigues,” he said. “As he wilted away I moved to substitute him.”

    Unfortunately, that Cup final was the only game in Hill’s entire career which his dad attended.
    “He never came again because he thought he’d bring me bad luck.”
    Hill had settled in and loved life at Old Trafford.

    “Teams hated coming to Old Trafford – they could smell us too. Our kit smelt of Five Oils, a preparation used in massages which no other teams seemed to use. Teams would smell us and say, ‘That’s Man United.’ All we had to do was open the skip.”

    While he was hugely popular with fans, his personality wasn’t for everyone. His birthday is April Fool’s Day and some considered it to be very apt.

    “I was a quick-witted and funny Londoner,” he says. “It wasn’t arrogance, but I’ve always felt that smiling is the best way to make people feel at ease. I did impressions of everyone off television. If I got just one word right then people would laugh. Norman Wisdom was my favourite one and I wore a cap to carry it off. I did John Wayne, Max Bygraves…”

    At one stage, Hill was photographed as frequently by the tabloids in a Wisdom-trademark peaked cap and ill-fitting buttoned-up shirt as he was in a red shirt.

    “I was a bit of a joker and didn’t see eye to eye with everyone,” Hill continues. “Martin Buchan once clipped me round the head for not picking up a player. I saw red and went after him. I told him that if he did again I would kill him. The ref pulled us to one side saying, ‘I’ve never sent two players off from the same team for fighting, so calm down.’ Martin was a good lad but you don’t have to be best friends with people you work with. There were 12 – 15 personalities in that dressing room. We may not all have got on well off the pitch, but when we went out on to the field, the respect for my team mates kicked in and we were the best young team in the country.”

    Buchan expressed his opinion of Hill in the lyrics to his ‘Old Trafford Blues’ song, which became the B side of the 1976 Cup Final single, ‘Manchester United’:

    Then there’s Brian Greenhoff, he’s got lots of skill
    And he really needs it to play with Gordon Hill

    The ‘different personalities’ manifested themselves in unusual ways.
    “Gerry Daly took his driving test,” recalls Hill. “He was picked up from the Cliff in an old Ford Cortina and a few of us watched out the window. Gerry made himself at home by opening the window and having a cigarette. Then we saw him drive away along a path. He later told us that the driving instructor had said: ‘Mr Daly, you can come off the path.’

    Daly did pass his test.

    “His car used to have bumps all over it. I pointed this out to him by showing him the marks and dents on the bumper. He replied, in all seriousness, that it was made like that.

    “Gerry bought a powerful car off Jim Holton and crashed it early one morning. The police came and told him to clear off. Gerry came in training the next day and had a go at Jim because he hadn’t told him that the car had power steering.

    “We locked the Doc in the toilet on the team coach on the way back from one game. After a while he just kicked the door open and steamed out looking to see who was responsible. Nobody owned up.
    “The Doc barged out and grabbed David McCreery - the player sat closest to the toilet. The Doc banged David's head against the coach window and then went back to his seat. McCreery wasn’t the one who had locked his manager in the toilet. No one owned up.”

    “We’d put marzipan or Five Oils on the toilet seat. Players would go in and sit there reading the programme and come out in pain.”

    Not everyone appreciated Hill’s brand of humour.
    “Hill might be termed an enigma; or to put it another way, he was scatterbrained. But my, how he could play,” said the former Busby Babe John Doherty, who remained close to the club. “He had a left peg to die for and, for a winger, his scoring record was nothing short of sensational.”

    For more info on the book, click below. And use 'uws' in the promotional code to get the book for half the rrp.