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Martin Kelner, Journalist, Author and Radio Presenter.
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My Celebrity Death Match
By Martin "winning" Kelner on Dec 20, 2015 - 8:00:36 AM

Clearly one mourns the passing of not just an innovator in the world of football, but a major figure in broadcasting, but still I felt Jimmy Hill's passing was kind of a result for me.

Let me explain.

Around two-and-a-half years ago I got a call from The Guardian's sports desk telling me Jimmy Hill wasn't too well, asking me to write a piece about him.  I was pleased to get the call, because I'd grown up with Jimmy on the TV, had written about him in my book about sport on TV, and felt he was an even more significant figure in broadcasting then he is given credit for.

I was doubly pleased because at the time I was not too well myself.  I had recently returned home from the life-and-death ward at Leeds's St James Hospital, after surgery to remove what we doctors call a big fuck-off abdominal tumour.  I was lying on my day bed, anxious to do some work to convince myself there was a way back, and to keep me away from daytime TV.

So I wrote the piece, only to be told, in an, er, uncharacteristic case of The Guardian's right hand not being entirely conversant with what the left one was doing, that the fine staff writer Barney Ronay had written a similar piece which had appeared in the paper two days earlier.  But mine, they said, would be saved for when Jimmy carked it - these sort of conversations go on all the time among the heartless bastards who put your newspapers/websites together - so would I rewrite it as a sort of sidebar for the obit.

This I did, not being over-busy at the time, and the paper paid me.  But still, you like your stuff actually to see the light of day, so about six months later, when Jimmy appeared to be stubbornly refusing to check out - I told you we were heartless - and I was still convalescing, I spoke to the sports desk, and asked if I might use the piece on my website.  They demurred, feeling Jimmy was very much in the pending tray, and my piece might be called upon to enliven The Guardian any day now.

I told them about my tumour, and some later complications, and offered the opinion that the way things were going there was every chance I might cross over before him.  "Tell you what, if I go first, get him to do mine," I said. 

As Jimmy, bless him, remained a going concern for two more years, I began to tell those few people who were interested in what I was doing, that I was involved in a Celebrity Death Match with Jimmy Hill.

And now, fully recovered for the time being, I appear to have won. 

Of course, our thoughts are with his family and all that, but we all have to go some time, and if we assume this life is the only one we have, Jimmy made the most of it.  A life well lived, certainly.

Anyway, yesterday I'm eating lunch with my family in a pub in the beautiful garden city of Leeds, when Matthew Hancock, one of the Guardian's top sports guys, calls to tell me Jimmy has finally succumbed and my two-and-a-half year old piece is to appear on the website and in The Observer.

This was followed by several texts from friends giving me the news, including this one..

Friend: "Jimmy Hill's died - does that mean your obit goes in?"
Me: "Yes.  Online this PM.  In Obs tomorrow.  He died before me.  Result!"

Heartless, moi?


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