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FEATURE: “He completely changed the entire structure at Coventry City, utterly incredible person." - Dietmar Bruck

20 February 2016

Ex-Coventry full-back, Dietmar Bruck looked back at his time playing under the late Jimmy Hill in the 1960s...

As a part of Coventry City’s continued recognition of the iconic Jimmy Hill era we have spoken to fullback Dietmar Bruck, who signed his first professional contract under the late Sky Blues manager in 1961. 

The German born defender began Sky Blues life at Highfield Road as an apprentice, but soon became a cornerstone of Jimmy Hill’s Sky Blue revolution in the sixties. He made his league debut at home to Swindon Town in April of 1961, aged just 17-years old.

Bruck was born in Danzig but long since adopted as a Coventry native, having moved to England at an early age and grown up in the West Midlands. 

He was part of the Coventry team that won the Second Division title in 1967, during a City career that spanned the best part of a decade - amassing189 league appearances for his ‘local’ club.

Bruck began by alluding to his admiration for the charismatic Jimmy Hill, whose timeless career included almost every role in modern day sport. 

“I’d be proud to talk about Jimmy. He gave me my first chance by signing me as a pro, he was something special,” Bruck explained. 

Bruck, who went on to play for Charlton Athletic and Northampton Town (among others), chuckled as he recalled his first memories of Jimmy:

“We all sat there in the dressing room and he made an appearance, just his appearance was awesome.

“He told us straight away what he wanted, what his ambitions were and what we as a group were going to achieve. When the meeting was finished, he made us all get changed and we had a practice match on the pitch.

“We knew this guy meant business.”

Having had his first association with the Sky Blues as an apprentice at the tender age of 15 and with no guarantees of a continued career in the game, Bruck was elated to sign his first professional contract under Jimmy. 

“I’d only got three months of my apprenticeship left to serve when Jimmy arrived. I was concerned initially, thinking I had to make a big impression on him. Luckily I did.

“When he actually put me in the first team – four weeks after he’d been there – it was down at Watford. I played 12 games that season. It was a great introduction to the first team squad,” Bruck revealed. 

With the Sky Blues in a difficult period, having just suffered an embarrassing FA Cup defeat at home to non-league King's Lynn, Jimmy (then a chairman at the PFA) was bought in to steady the ship at Highfield Road. 

“The club was in a bit of a bad state - that fateful afternoon where we were beaten by King’s Lynn. The atmosphere after that loss was frightening,” Bruck remembered.

“Jimmy presented a different system altogether. Training was sharper; it was mainly all with the ball. Short and sharp stuff, to get us on our toes and more mobile. It was an amazing transformation.”

Bruck continued to tell us about the players Jimmy bought in to strengthen the struggling City side:

“He went and bought a complete forward line, within a short space of time there was a complete forward line. 

“He gave Brian Hill a special role. Jimmy would always put Brian on to the most dangerous player on the opposition and told him to mark him out of the game – stop him from playing. It worked a treat.

“Jimmy didn’t mess about, I remember when he signed John Sillett from Chelsea. Again, a player from the top level and being 6ft 7’ he was a character in himself.

“Jimmy seemed to attract characters to the club. The dressing room spirit was awesome.”

Bruck, now in his seventies, recalled the moment he was told about Jimmy Hill’s passing:

“My son had text me to ask me if I had heard that Jimmy had passed away. I was nearly in tears - I was stunned. He meant so much to me because he signed me as a professional, he gave me the chance. I tried to repay him with my performances. It was just great playing for the club in that era. 

“We got promotion to the Second Division and then the First Division – it was a rollercoaster.

“Within the space of six months we started going places, he would predict things and it got us all really buzzing. We were getting results and it was a different club altogether. We didn’t know at the time that we were making history.”

Amid the success and achievements under Jimmy Hill, Bruck remembered some of the less glamorous times and spoke about Jimmy’s manner in the face of defeat:

“Jimmy would – providing that we would give 90 minutes – stay calm after a loss. He wouldn’t give us a telling off, he would explain one or two things that went wrong and give us solutions in training. In the main, he would praise us. That was Jimmy all over.” 

As part of the illustrious manager’s training schedule, Bruck spoke of Jimmy’s superstition in taking the side to train in different locations before a cup match. Believing that a change of atmosphere in the run up to the game would be conducive to the team’s performance, the ex-Coventry City defender recalled a particular game in which Jimmy’s theory was tested.

Bruck said: “I always remember one particular week, we went up to Blackpool to train and we were playing Plymouth at the weekend. We came back on the Friday and on the Saturday we came in at half-time loosing 1-0 - we played diabolical – it’s the worst we ever played under Jimmy. 

“We walked in to the dressing room and Jimmy told us we had 45-minutes to redeem ourselves otherwise all players would be out on the pitch training until 10pm that evening. Sure enough, we came off the pitch after 90 minutes and we had won 5-1.

“That was the effect that Jimmy had. He only had to say a few words. All pre-match organisation was spot on. He just gave you that enthusiasm, he had a special technique – a real people person.”

Certainly, Jimmy was famed for having an aura about his character and this transcended his role as a manager. When he first arrived at Coventry City, Bruck explains how his demeanor made an impression on the players:

“When he first came the only stipulation he had was to be called JH. Don’t call me Jimmy, don’t call me Hill, call me JH. First class he was.

“My fondest moment was the game we got promoted to the First division. We beat Wolves 3-1 and it was the first time I really saw him loose his inhibitions, he was over the moon. It was a joy to see him join in with us being stupid in our celebrations – he let his hair down!”

Jimmy Hill’s tenure was pivotal in modernising Coventry City’s image, the playing strip, the style in which they played football and guiding them from the Third to the First Division. 

Among his other innovations were the first fully-fledged match programme in English football and the organisation of pre-match entertainment to encourage fans to arrive early.

Withholding immense fondness, Dietmar Bruck finished by giving his assessment of the manager that gave him a break in to the professional game:

“He completely changed the entire structure at Coventry City Football Club. He was an utterly incredible person.”

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