Experienced and decorated central defender and right half John Henry “Jack” Hill joined the Tigers in November 1931 in the latter stages of his playing career. Standing at six foot three inches and reputed to be the tallest professional footballer of his era, Hill came to Hull as makeweight in a transfer that saw free-scoring Stan Alexander join Bradford City. Despite being in his mid-30s, Hill was still an agile and capable defender with a fine organisational mind and was quickly appointed the Tigers’ captain. City were establishing themselves as a solid Division Three North force following the post-Cup-run slump of Spring 1930 that led to relegation. The squad was already defensively sound – in the 20 games prior to Jack signing the team conceded 21 goals – but Hill’s dominant presence allowed Hayden Green’s side to be more expansive and attack with greater confidence. A top half finish in 1931/32 was followed by a dominant season in 1932/33 with the Tigers scoring 100 league goals to lift the Division Three North championship – Jack Hill missed only six league games all season. It was Hill’s only trophy in a high profile career.
City’s return to the second tier in 1933/34 proved to be a struggle with relegation and as Spring approached the Tigers were lurking dangerously close to the bottom of the table. It was Jack Hill that the City directors turned to to rescue the situation. At the end of February 1934, after an eight match spell that yielded only one win, Hadyn Green was relieved of his duties and Hill was installed as manager. He immediately gave up playing, but his towering presence on the touchline was sufficient to garner four wins in his first seven games in charge and steer clear of danger. City then made their supporters sweat as they lost the last five games of the season, 13 goals against answered by only 1 goal for, but the job had already been done and Second Division status was secure.
Hill took charge again for the 1934/35 season, which was characterised by streaks of extreme form. Opening up with a 6-4 defeat at Plymouth, Hill’s side lost 10 of their first 14 fixtures and the trapdoor again appeared to swing open. However a 3-2 win at home to Manchester United in mid-November sparked Hill’s side into life and the next 13 league games yielded 7 wins and only 1 defeat. A steady last third of the season saw City finish 13th in the table.
In 1935/36 a similar poor run at the start of the season saw Hill’s side rooted to the foot of the League table, with 10 defeats in the first 16 games. Two draws and a win in early December gave temporary respite but a lasting reversal of form was not forthcoming and Hill was sacked at the end of December 1935 after a 0-3 defeat at Fulham. Hill’s successor, the returning David Menzies, was unable to halt the slide and the Tigers finished rock bottom with only 20 points from 42 games, conceding 111 goals. Jack Hill never ventured into football management again, although he did perform scouting duties for the Tigers between 1948 and 1955.
Born in Hetton-le-Hole, a colliery town located between Sunderland and Durham, his father was a mason and bricklayer but young Jack worked in the local mine from the age of 14 – a remarkable feat given his six foot three stature. He served in the East Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army during World War One, seeing action and receiving wounds at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill’s failed attempt to secure a safe sea passage to Russia via the Sea of Marmara. On returning from the war Hill was appointed club professional at North Eastern League side Durham City, but within a year he had been snapped up by Third Divison Plymouth Argyle. The Pilgrims narrowly missed out on promotion twice during Hill’s time at Home Park, but he showed sufficient form during his 111 first team starts to attract the attention of England’s selectors in Spring 1923, albeit as a reserve choice.
In May 1923 Hill joined First Division Burnley for a £5,450 fee, amidst interest from several other top flight clubs including Bolton, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Manchester City. During Hill’s first three seasons at Turf Moor the Clarets flirted with and avoided relegation, though they did reach the FA Cup Semi Final in 1924, defeated 0-3 by Aston Villa at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in front of 54,500 fans – a pleasing symmetry with his transfer fee! With Hill now captaining the first XI, Burnley finished 5th in the First Division in 1926/27 but again struggled the following season. With Jack now turning 31 a change of scenery was justified after 184 league starts for the Clarets.
In October 1928 Jack returned to his native North East and joined Newcastle United for a £8,100, a fee that was inflated by parallel interest shown by Newcastle’s local rivals Sunderland and was both Newcastle’s record fee paid (a record that lasted 10 years) and Burnley’s record fee received. Hill had been recommended by Magpies team-mate Hughie Gallacher, a hard-drinking goal machine who had come up against Hill several times in past seasons. Hill was quickly appointed club captain and in three seasons he played 74 times as Newcastle hovered around the middle and lower reaches of the First Division table. Notably, Hill’s Newcastle side were dumped out the FA Cup in March 1930 at the Quarter Final stage after a replay against lowly Hull City. Having spent much of his time at St James’s Park on the transfer list, in June 1931 a more modest £600 fee secured Hill a move to Bradford City, a tenure that lasted only five months and 8 starts before he signed for Hull City.
In 1927 while at Burnley he married his Scottish wife Winifred in Glasgow. He also owned two sports outfitter shops Iin Burnley during his five years at Turf Moor. After World War Two Hill moved to Scarborough and for several years administered the Football Pools scheme for the area until he retired in 1963. He then moved to his wife’s homeland and died in Helensburgh, an attractive town on the Firth of Clyde, in April 1972.
Hill was an England international throughout much of the 1920s. Selected for the squad twice while at Plymouth but not used, at Burnley Hill made his England debut in February 1925 in a 2-1 win over Wales at Swansea. During 1926 he played two further times for England, against Scotland and Ireland, before being appointed England captain in April 1927. He played in a 1-2 defeat at Hampden Park against Scotland before embarking on a May 1927 tour of Northern Europe that yielded heavy victories over Belgium (9-1), Luxembourg (5-2) and France (6-0). He captained England twice more in Autumn 1927, then three more times in 1929 while at Newcastle United. In all he won 11 England caps, alongside three appearances for the Football League XI. He made his final appearance for England in May 1929, a 3-4 defeat to Spain in Madrid. In 2014, prior to a match at Turf Moor between Burnley and Hull City, Jack’s son Gavin and grandson Alex presented Burnley officials with one of Jack’s international caps and a pennant received prior to the 1927 clash against France.
Date/Place of Birth: 2 March 1897, Hetton-le-Hole
Hull City First Game: 21 November 1931, Rochdale A (Division Three North), 34 years, 264 days old
Hull City Final Game: 30 March 1934, Port Vale A (Division Two), 37 years, 28 days old
Durham City (1919-1920), Plymouth Argyle (1920-1923), Burnley (1923-1928), Newcastle United (1928-1931), Bradford City (1931), Hull City (1931-1934)
Hull City Record
Career: 102 apps, 4 goalsJack Hill