1952: Mitten and Hill

Thursday 27 June 2013 09:01

In the winter of 1952, we were stranded at the foot of the (old) First Division and our three-season tenure in the top flight was seriously threatened. Manager Bill Dodgin (Senior) plunged into the transfer market.

First he signed the gifted, colourful and controversial Manchester United left-winger Charlie Mitten, who had been part of the first of Sir Matt Busby’s outstanding Manchester United teams, and had starred (and scored) in the 1948 FA Cup Final.

Disillusioned with his financial situation at Old Trafford, he joined the exodus of English players to Bogota, where there were no wage restrictions, for which he received a six-month suspension on his return. When his suspension ended, Charlie joined Fulham and went straight into the First Team.

The second signing was wing-half Jimmy Hill from Brentford. He had made 86 appearances for the Bees, scoring 10 times. He and Mitten lined up for Fulham for the first time in March 1952, and were both on the scoresheet in a 4-2 defeat at Blackpool.

Both players were signed too late to save our top flight status, but both were to prove shrewd signings nonetheless. Mitten scored 33 times in 160 outings before departing to start his managerial career at Mansfield Town in 1956. He had delighted crowds with his elegant and sophisticated wing play and amused his team-mates with his stories and antics.

Hill played until 1961, making 297 appearances and scoring 52 goals. His energy and versatility were valuable assets to the Club, helping us to the FA Cup Semi-Final in 1958 and promotion back to Division One a year later.

As a player, Hill was an active member of the Players’ Union and from 1957 until 1961 was the elected Chairman. He led the Union through the most momentous changes in players’ status since professionalism was adopted in the 19th Century, the second of which brought him into conflict with his old Fulham colleague Charlie Mitten.

After securing the abolition of the maximum wage for footballers, Hill and the Union’s next battle was over the players’ registration - in effect the ownership of players.

Newcastle United’s George Eastham wanted a transfer but he could only go if the club agreed. So Eastham, supported by the Union, went on ‘strike’ against his club, a battle that lasted several months. His manager at Newcastle was... Charlie Mitten, who ironically had to defend the system against which he had rebelled a decade earlier.

To add another Fulham twist, the Secretary of the Union was Cliff Lloyd, another former Fulham player, while Eastham was given a job outside football during his strike by an industrialist friend of his father, Ernie Clay, a future Fulham chairman.

The Union eventually secured the players’ right to freedom of contract, after which Hill turned to management, with Coventry, and then television. He led the public fight to save Fulham from the property developer’s proposal to merge us with Queens Park Rangers in 1987 and a year later was Club Chairman when Charlie Mitten visited the Cottage for the last time on Easter Monday.

The picture (above) shows the two chatting amiably on the pitch before the game against Bury, the last time they met. Charlie died in 2002 and today Hill, now nearly 85, is living in retirement in Sussex.