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FEATURE: Coventry City legend Bobby Gould opens up on Jimmy Hill, his management, his personality and his finest moments

21 February 2016

A must read for any Coventry City fan as Bobby Gould recalls some incredible memories of Jimmy Hill...

There are many people who owe Jimmy Hill their career, none more so than former player and manager Bobby Gould. 

Gould was signed by Hill and was trusted to fire the Sky Blues through the leagues during the Sky Blue Revolution. The Coventry-born former striker also went on to have a successful management career, managing the Sky Blues on two separate spells as well as West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and Wimbledon, where he won the FA Cup in 1988.

Here at PUSB, we could think of no-one better to speak to on ‘JH’ so we picked up the phone and enjoyed the stories. In fact, his stories was so good, there’s no polishing needed, the transcript…

PUSB: Thanks for taking time out of your day for us Bobby. Firstly, simple question, what was your first memory of Jimmy? 

BG: Well, my first memory. I’d been released by Billy Frith who got the sack when we lost against Kings Lynn in the FA Cup. Then, I went and played local football and had a job for Dalinsons. My first memory was seeing Jimmy Hill on the back of the Telegraph as he went and brought a whole forward line, all free transfers. After three or four weeks since he took over, he invited all the lads who had been released from the club back for a trial. At the trial, he came over and said I want to see you this afternoon but said ‘I can’t see you this afternoon Mr Hill.’ He looked at me and I said I had something to do so he invited me back the next Sunday.

I came back and after the second game, he came up to me and offered me an apprentice contract but asked why I couldn’t come back last Sunday. I said to him that circumstances at the time meant my father had lost his eyesight and Sunday was the only chance to see him. No-one, not even Jimmy was getting in the way of that. He looked at me and winked, and said ‘Me and you are going to be alright…’

PUSB: What a story, so you signed for the club, it must have been a special time to be around…

BG: I was part of a special group. So, as an apprentice professional, you were also part of the ground-staff and did loads of work around Highfield Road, clean the toilets, sweep the rooms, whatever really. In 1963, we had the worst winter of all-time and we were out working on that pitch morning, noon and night. It got pretty tough so we had a meeting and said that we’re going on strike. 

So, we did. We told the Head Groundsman that we’re not working any more as we weren’t getting any money from the gate receipts so we said you can go and tell JH. So, we were in the away dressing room where there was a great big bath and stream was everywhere. All of a sudden, the Bearded Wanderer talked through the mist and stood in front of the bath. He looked at us and said, ‘who is the ringleader?’ and everyone looked at me! I stuttered but said ‘we’re earning nothing’ as we were only on £5.10 a week. He stroked his beard and gave us another ten shillings so we were getting almost six quid. So, we jumped out and was straight on the pitch! 

PUSB: You didn’t sign professional until 1964, when did he start to realise your talent?

BG: Well, I logged all my games I played, even for the reserves and Academy side. I scored a load of goals in the reserves and we beat one team 8-0 or something like that and the next game was Shrewsbury away. My hero was George Hudson and he got injured and all of a sudden I was in the first team at just 17-years old. We played at Gay Meadow and drew 0-0, and the next day I went to get the Coventry Evening Telegraph to see what Jimmy Hill had said. I read JH said ‘And young Bobby Gould played with great aplomb.’ Well, my English is terrible and it’s still bad now, I blame the teachers at Caludon Castle! I didn’t know what the word meant and I thought it was a negative!

PUSB: It’s well known that Jimmy Hill always brought forward lines so you must have done pretty well to break into his side…

BG: Ah yes, he was brilliant. He just knew how to get the best attacking football out of his teams. He left all the training to Alan Dix but he had the insight to get sand-pits installed at the training ground. Clubs are only just doing that now but he was doing that in 1966. He had an intelligence which just brought us on.

PUSB: How did he make sure that you continued getting promoted, did he just fill you with confidence?

BG: I tell you a story. We’re playing Ipswich on a Friday night and he’d just put up the new goal-scoring chart behind the goal at Highfield Road. At about 6.50pm, we were in the dressing room and silence fell on the room when he walked in. And looked at me and said ‘you young man, you will score a hat-trick tonight!’ and turned around and walked out. I was around 19 at the time and the lads all started taking the p*** out of me. Ronnie Farmer was the nicest and put an arm around me and said ‘if you get a hat-trick, you’ll be ok pal.’

So, we kick-off at half past seven and at two minutes to eight, I looked at the scoreboard. I wore the No.9 shirt and on the scoreboard was ‘9, 9, 9’. I had scored a hat-trick in 28 minutes. I turned around and the lads were elated. I looked up into the stands as Jimmy Hill always sat in the stands and I picked him out and thought, ‘how did you know I was going to score a hat-trick?’ I thought to myself ‘you must be god’. 

PUSB: You went on to have an extremely successful management career. What did you take on from Jimmy into your management career?

BG: The media, the way he handled it. His passion for the game, he had a wonderful ability to make you feel good and to lift you up. He did have a wonderful relationship with Derrick Robbins, the Chairman, and that is something I tried to take on. He just always knew what to do, he always had a solution. Going back to 1966/67, we’re trying to get promotion and we flew to Carlisle and Portsmouth at important times so we didn’t have to travel. When we did have to travel, he put Aeroplane seats in the Red House Motors coach so we were comfortable. 

PUSB: Did you under any extra pressure as he had looked after you all as manager that you wanted to repay him?

BG: No, I wouldn’t say that. He had great leaders in his dressing room, especially George Curtis. If you didn’t do as you’re told, George would hit you. The club was on a huge buzz and the song was brilliant. We were playing Preston North End and it was 1-1. All of a sudden, the fans around Highfield Road start ‘Let’s all sing together..’ and it had such an impact that we won. If you look back at that period of promotion, we scored so many goals in the final minutes of games and it was down to the singing as it drove us on. 

PUSB: You went on to have an incredible career at the likes of Arsenal but would you say your time at Coventry ranks up there?

BG: Oh yes, 40 goals in 80 games?! (laughing) Starting as a 17-year old… (laughing)… and someone telling you a year before that you’re no good! 

PUSB: So… yes?

BG: OF COURSE! The beauty of it is that I’m 70-years old this June, it’s all gone to quick. I was privileged to go and see JH a few years back. I was working for Talksport so I went to stop off at his home and I had the best afternoon off and the best company I’ve ever had. His memory was receding but when we looked back on the olden days, he was still razor sharp. Never missed a beat…

PUSB: Final question, what was your outstanding memory of JH?

BG:… (silence) Wow. It’s a tough one. When I walked into the boardroom at Highfield Road with the rest of the team and JH was there. Having been the Bearded Wanderer for six years, he turned around to the lads and said ‘I’ve asked for a 10-year contract but it’s not been forthcoming. I just can’t rely on 11 people keeping me in a job every Saturday afternoon.’ And that’s when he went into the media.

And to think we he had achieved, never to go back in football management, it was quite stunning really because really, I found out when I went into management, how right he was! That was Jimmy, he was never wrong.

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