Peter Hill (8.8.1931 – 8.1.2015)
A one-club man for all seasons.
Although Peter Hill was born & brought up in the Derbyshire village of Heanor he made his home in Coventry & gave his heart to Coventry City. Arriving in the city in 1947 as a 16-year old, he had a 16-year playing career with the club, followed by five years as the club trainer under Jimmy Hill. Later in life he returned to the club for a number of years as the kit-man at Ryton.
Educated at Heanor Grammar School, Peter was one of many Derbyshire youngsters brought to Highfield Road in the years following the war. His performances for Ilkeston team Rutland United caught the attention of several league clubs & Peter's father urged him to reject Derby County & sign for Coventry. He cut his teeth with City’s nursery club Modern Machine Tools FC alongside many other talented teenagers and played in the Coventry Works League. Lol Harvey, another son of Heanor, and four years younger than Peter, was a pal of Peter's younger brother Eric, and speaks highly of Peter: 'Growing up he was a natural sportsman & could have had a career in cricket he was that good. He was a very skilful footballer; in those days inside-forwards were expected to get up and down the pitch & needed lots of stamina, Peter had the skill & the stamina & scored more than his fair share of goals.'
His senior career started when legendary manager Harry Storer, recently back in the chair at Highfield Road after three years in charge at St Andrews, handed Peter his debut as a 17-year old at Sheffield Wednesday in a Second Division game in February 1949. Playing at inside-right, he was the club's youngest debutant at the time, aged 17 years & 181 days. He was truly a boy amongst men in a side with an average age of over 30 with team-mates such as Alf Wood, George Mason & Ted Roberts, all who had played for the club before the war. City lost 1-2 to Wednesday that day but the match report in the Coventry Telegraph was complimentary about him: 'Even under the trying conditions prevailing the five-man attack into which the 17-year old Peter Hill fitted so promisingly.... were much too good for the Sheffield defenders. Many of the 608 inhabitants of the Derbyshire village of Heanor turned out to see Hill fulfil the highest expectations at inside-right. He had a real hand in City's goal and his display all-through was another encouraging feature of his team's display. He fitted in so well that in not a single instance did he fail as a necessary adjunct to the City's scheme.'The bus ready to go to Sheffield in 1949. Peter is far right.
He played two more games that season, a 0-0 draw at Chesterfield probably watched by another big contingency from Heanor, and a home debut in a 1-1 draw with QPR. In the latter game Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph wrote: 'Young Peter Hill was playing with the coolness of a veteran'. In between times he was honing his skills in the Football Combination with the reserves alongside players like Jack Evans, Iain Jamieson, Peter Taylor & Trevor Lewis as well as carrying out the mundane jobs that fell to apprentices in those days, such as cleaning boots & sweeping the terraces. Peter was a slight teenager - the City squad list that season showed him standing just 5 foot 5 ½ inches & weighing 9 stone 1lb
The following season, 1949-50, he played five first team games & scored his first goals, netting in consecutive games against Preston & Swansea but in 1950-51 he was restricted to just one game because of the outstanding form of Welsh international Bryn Allen & Peter's obligatory two-year spell in the Royal Artillery doing his National Service. In 1951-52 City were relegated & Peter returned from the Army in the October & played five games before becoming a regular in Division Three South the following campaign. In September 1952 he scored his first hatrick in a 3-0 home win over Leyton Orient, including two rare headed goals & around this time it was common knowledge that Arsenal were interested in signing him.
The years from 1952 to 1958 were dark days for the club with managers coming & going, boardroom disagreements & financial crises & Peter was the one constant through the period. Playing at either inside-right or left, he was never a prolific scorer but scored his fair share of goals & reached double figures on three occasions. During his time as a first team player there were three other Hills at the club which often was a cause of confusion for the press-box. Once, at Gillingham in 1958, three Hills played in the same team, Peter, Brian, a 16-year old debutant who scored, and Ray, a little-used forward. Peter & Brian both netted to increase the confusion. Nemo in the Coventry Telegraph commented: 'Yes, there's gold in them thar Hills'. Earlier Peter also played alongside Jimmy Hill, not the man later to become City's manager, but a fellow product of Modern Machine Tools. The goals kept on flowing & he netted another hatrick in a 6-0 victory over Aldershot in 1957-58.Peter as a player in the 1950s
In 1958, after City were relegated to Division Four, manager Billy Frith switched Peter to the right-wing where his speed was put to best advantage – he was a natural on the wing & gave many full-backs a nightmare time. Injuries restricted him to 25 league appearances in 1958-59 but he was the creator of chances for the prolific scorers Ray Straw & George Stewart as the Bantams sealed promotion back to Division Three as runners up. Ankle & knee injuries kept him out of the promotion run-in & would hamper his later career. Lol Harvey remembers Straw telling Peter that season: 'get that ball into the near post & I will score'. His crossing was a feature of his game. His 11 years service at the club was rewarded in 1958 with a testimonial & his former manager Storer brought his Derby County side to Highfield Road for the occasion.
Peter returned to the side to aid City's attempt at a second successive promotion & scored a stunning goal from the right wing in the promotion battle with Norwich in April 1960, watched by almost 28,000 at Highfield Road, but they just missed out on promotion to Division Two. That season he also pitted his wits against First Division opposition as City became the first non-First Division side to lift the Southern Floodlit Cup (a pre-League Cup competition), beating top flight sides Fulham & West Ham on the way. The match report from the Fulham victory describes Peter as 'outshining England captain Johnny Haynes' & in the final he came up against a young Bobby Moore.
1960-61 was his last season as a regular & he had his best scoring record with 12 league goals in a struggling City team. Injuries kept his first team appearances down in 1961-62 but in November 1961 he was a member of the City team humbled by Southern League Kings Lynn in the FA Cup, an event that sparked the arrival of Jimmy Hill as manager. His widow Barbara told me that he knew after the Kings Lynn game that it was time to pack in & Peter made one final senior appearance, at home to QPR in March 1962, before hanging up his boots at the premature age of 30. A succession of bad knee injuries had taken their toll on him but Jimmy asked him to stay on & be the first-team trainer. He became the man with the 'magic sponge' & was the first man on the scene to tend the serious injuries of Ernie Machin, Bill Glazier & George Curtis.Peter as trainer in the Jimmy Hill era
Peter played 309 senior games for the club, the third highest by a City player at the time, and still the 14th highest of all-time. His 78 senior goals is second only to Ray Straw in the post-war period, and the fifth highest in the club's history.
After leaving the club in 1967 he went to work at the Morris factory at Courthouse Green alongside former City team-mate Harry Barratt but continued to be a regular at Highfield Road games with Barbara. In 1988 manager John Sillett asked him to return & be the club's kit man. He became a key man at the club, especially on match-days, responsible for ensuring that everything went like clockwork behind the scenes. Steve Ogrizovic has fond memories of Peter's spell in the role: 'Pete was very popular, down to earth & helped the club's management keep players feet on the ground. Because he had played & been involved in football most of his life he knew what was required of his job & he could talk for hours about the old days – he must have described every one of his 78 goals!'
Peter finally retired around 1996 but not before he had groomed the current kit-man Andy Harvey as his replacement. Andy describes Peter as 'very quick witted & at times he could appear to be cantankerous but underneath he was a loving man who loved watching & talking about football. He was totally dedicated to Coventry City'.
I met Peter about 15 years ago & loved time in his company. He could talk about football for hours on end & had lovely stories of the characters from the game in the 1950s & 60s. He never had a bad word to say about anyone & was a lovely man.
Lol Harvey, his teammate in the 1950s sums up Peter as: 'a terrific man, always helpful and a great man for getting you out of trouble on the pitch. A true gentleman'.
The Funeral will take place on 2 February at 11.15 am at Canon Hill Chapel, Canley Crematorium. Barbara has requested no flowers but donations can be made to the Salvation Army & the British Legion via the Co-op Funeral Service at 184 Ansty Road.