Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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God Bless Jimmy Hill

    For the first time since 1970 something is missing from British TV coverage of the World Cup. Actually it is a someone. Jimmy Hill.

    For those of you who know who he is, you are probably not missing him too much, especially if you are in Scotland, where old Mr Hill is a hate figure to rival Longshanks, Kevin Keegan and David Beckham. But I have to assume that most of you have never heard of him, so here is a quick run down of his career.

    Jimmy Hill started life much like all analysts - as a professional player, and eventually graduated to become manager then chairman of Coventry City. In the late 1960s he moved into broadcasting, and for the 1970 World Cup he fronted ITV's coverage. In the mid 1970s he made the jump to the BBC, where he remained until 1998, when his position as main analyst was usurped by Alan Hansen. He currently works for Sky, mainly doing interviews with old players that go out at 11pm, but is occasionally wheeled out for the odd England game.

    He managed to make a niche for himself as a 'controversial' analyst, and during the 1970s and 1980s his 'marks out of ten' for the latest England performance were widely respected. At the end of his time at the BBC he became a caricature of himself, playing up to the role of pantomime villain, and wore a hideous array of bow ties. It was no surprise that when a new generation of ex-players took over, he quietly 'disappeared'.

    So why on earth am I writing an article about him? Well, first of all this is not really about Jimmy Hill, but is more about one of his many ideas. Hill was a football innovator, both during his playing and managerial career, and also on TV. Famously, he invented the format for the 'football panel' to analyse games. In 1970 he hired three outspoken players and one very outspoken coach to comment on matches at the World Cup. 'Big deal', you say,' there are millions of those today - every channel has one'. True, but before 1970 they did not - certainly in the UK - and the job of TV pundit today would not exist without Hill.

    Yet that was probably the least influential idea he came up with. While at Coventry he designed, and built, the first all-seater football stadium. Today every ground that hosts a World Cup game must be all-seater. Another result for Mr Hill.

    But the reason I have for wanting to celebrate this marginally obnoxious man is for his third, and most important, innovation. Jimmy Hill 'invented' the idea of three points for a win in football matches, and managed to convince the English FA to pioneer it from 1981. It is now the accepted method used in all league and group competitions in football worldwide, having taken over from the old style two points for a win in 1994.

    Now I have no evidence that Hill actually invented the scoring system - proving that you invented something as simple as that would be very difficult. Moreover, regardless of who invents something new, nothing will change until someone in power champions it. And that is exactly what Hill did. It changed the English league. Whereas it was once common for the title to be decided by one or two points, or even goal difference, it is now the rarest of events, seen only a handful of time since 1981.

    Another rhetorical question: how can that be a good thing? Well, under two points for a win there is hardly any difference in reward for winning a game as there is for drawing it. For instance, if Everton had drawn all 42 league games they would get 42 points, but Liverpool would still have to win 21 league games to get 42 points - under three points for a win a team would get 63 points for winning that number of games. In other words, under two points for a win there was no major incentive to go for the win, especially away from home as one point could be won quite easily - especially if you put ten men behind the ball all the time. Three points for a win encourages teams to go out and look for a win, and makes football more exciting. In the 38 game Premiership, if you win 20 games, draw ten, and lose eight, you get 70 points, because the 20 wins are made more important. A side winning ten and drawing twenty would only get 50 points - that would leave the first side at the top of the league, and the second one near the bottom, even though they only lost 8 games. Brilliant, magic, but what has this, or Jimmy Hill, got to do with the World Cup?

    I am going to be controversial here, but I think that so far this has been the most exciting World Cup we have ever seen. Never before has it been conceivable that after the first group stage, the current World Champions and five former World Champions could be in real danger of elimination, while 'no-hopers' like South Africa, Costa Rica, Senegal and Mexico are in with a massive chance of going through. France, Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, England and Italy are all in danger of catching the first plane home because of three points for a win. Look at France for example. Under three points for a win you simply cannot allow your opponents to beat you if you want to qualify, but if you manage to win the game your position becomes so much stronger.

    Another example: South Africa. They were in big danger of losing to Paraguay in the first match, and would have been three points behind, so they fought back as hard as they could, got a draw, and were still alive. Now they had a massive incentive to go out and beat Slovenia, which they did, and now have four points. Under two points for a win, they could have settled for a boring nil-nil draw with Slovenia to get a second point, then done the same in the final match. Three points used to be enough for qualification - Ireland and Holland in 1990 springs to mind - and more often than not they came from terrible, boring draws. Now I have no statistical evidence that proves that World Cup games have become more attacking since 1994 - that sounds like a job for Peter Goldstein - but I have a hunch that they have.

    Another way they it has made the competition more exciting is that one defeat means you are in big trouble. Here we find Italy. We can argue all night about the two disallowed goals - for what it is worth, the first was a goal, the second was a foul and no goal - but three points for a win has put Italy in big trouble. Mexico's two wins have put them in pole position, and a draw will send Italy home, especially if Croatia can beat Ecuador like everyone else. Argentina are in exactly the same position. Sweden simply need one point to send the so-called favourites back to Buenos Aries - providing of course England do not let Nigeria beat them 2:0. Much more likely is two draws, or even a narrow win for England and a 1:1 draw in the other game. It is the same result though: bye, bye Argentina.

    And that is why this World Cup has been so good so far. It is a very open tournament, and while more of the big teams have lost in the first round than is usual, the points system compounds their errors to generate a lot of excitement.

    So as well as celebrating their great wins, the likes of Japan, Korea, South Africa, Costa Rica, Senegal and Mexico need to be thanking Jimmy Hill for getting such a brilliant system up and running. And that is not bad for a man with a horrible beard, massive chin and really bad clothes.

Well done Mr Hill.



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