KING OF THE HILL

From Tran­mere liability to QPR sta­bil­ity, de­fender Clint’s ca­reer story

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

TH­ESE days, Clint Hill is ev­ery man­ager’s dream – as long as they over­look the creak­ing joints and lack of pace! Fear­less, com­mit­ted, ul­tra-pro­fes­sional – Harry Red­knapp once lamented that for all the mil­lions spent by QPR, no­body proved as valu­able to the club as the 37year-old de­fender.

“Clint wasn’t the great­est player,” said the former Spurs boss, who in 2012 in­her­ited a Rangers side bur­dened by over­paid, un­der­per­form­ing shirk­ers.

Com­mit­ted

“But he would run through a brick wall for QPR and you could tell he was dis­gusted with some of the at­ti­tudes he en­coun­tered.

“He didn’t have the tech­ni­cal abil­ity of some of those play­ers, but if we had more like him we might have stayed up. His de­sire was incredible.”

Lit­tle won­der. Com­ing through the ranks at Tran­mere, the Scouser who’d grown up watch­ing Liver­pool from the Kop with his dad was treated to “£60 and a free bus pass”.

Other du­ties in­cluded clean­ing toi­lets, baths and uri­nals along­side fel­low YTS boys like Ja­son Koumas. Even his first pro­fes­sional con­tract paid just £200 a week.

“When you look at the wages now, it’s hard to be­lieve,” he said ahead of last year’s clash with Manch­ester City’s mil­lion­aires. “But I was liv­ing the dream.”

Back then, how­ever, the de­sire and de­ter­mi­na­tion that would be­come Hill’s hall­mark was fre­quently mis­guided .

Con­stantly en­veloped in red mist, the de­fender was sent off an incredible seven times in just twoand-a-half years – caus­ing his gaffer and child­hood hero John Aldridge no end of prob­lems.

“Clint was a funny one,” re­calls Hill’s former Rovers team-mate Dave Challi­nor.

“Off the pitch, he was the most placid lad you could meet. On it, he was mas­sively driven to win.

“And in those days that man­i­fested it­self in him get­ting sent off an aw­ful lot. John used to go mad at him but, as with most play­ers like that, there comes a mo­ment that set­tles you down.

“For some, it’s get­ting mar­ried or hav­ing kids. For some it’s an in­jury. For oth­ers it’s some­thing that hap­pens on the pitch. For Clint, I think it was prob­a­bly get­ting sent off in the League Cup fi­nal when we lost to Le­ices­ter.”

Dis­missed for trip­ping Emile Heskey in the 63rd minute, Hill de­parted the Wem­b­ley pitch in tears and had to be talked out of quit­ting the game.

“All my fam­ily had come down, all the fans from Tran­mere,” said Hill. “It’s ev­ery kid’s dream to walk up those steps and I’d had that mo­ment taken away.

Tears

“It was prob­a­bly my low­est point in the game. I sat in the chang­ing rooms think­ing ‘Is it re­ally worth play­ing any­more?’ – I’d had about four red cards that sea­son and had stopped en­joy­ing it.

I talked to my mum and dad, talked to the man­ager. And I said to them, ‘I don’t think I can carry on’.”

Aldridge’s re­sponse was to give Hill the cap­tain’s arm­band.Two years later, he’d gar­nered not a sin­gle red card and the ‘Clint Hill – we only need ten men’ chants had fallen silent.

“If it wasn’t for John, I don’t think I’d have made it,” ad­mit­ted Hill in 2011. “I was a bit of a loose can­non back in the day and he was the one who knocked that out of me. I’ve re­ally got to thank him a lot.”

Forced out of Pren­ton Park in a raft of cost-cut­ting, Hill joined Old­ham in 2002, where he was tipped by then-man­ager Iain Dowie to play in the Pre­mier League. “He’s phys­i­cal, he’s got a sweet left foot, he can pass the ball out of defence,” said Dowie. “He’s got every­thing you need to flour­ish at that level.” Sadly, a bro­ken leg –

fol­lowed by an in­jury­plagued spell at Stoke City – robbed Hill of al­most three years and by 2008 he had been jet­ti­soned into no man’s land by Tony Pulis. It was at this nadir that Neil Warnock came call­ing.

The pair in­stantly hit it off, each be­ing im­pressed by the other’s blunt hon­esty and heart-on-sleeve de­sire.

And what started as a ten­ta­tive two-month con­tract with Crys­tal Palace be­came a four-year re­la­tion­ship that yielded pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League with QPR in 2011. “Clint’s a gem of a per­son,” said Warnock.“You get what you see. Ev­ery club want peo­ple like him around. He’s in­fec­tious.

“I re­mem­ber the year we went up, Clint saw a spe­cial­ist at the start of the sea­son be­cause he had a load of bits float­ing in his an­kle. The guy said ‘You might get five or six games out of it – see how it goes’. In the end, he only missed one match.

“The pain he must have been in; half the peo­ple in my squad wouldn’t have played half those games, the way he suf­fered. My wife’s al­ways said she hopes our son Wil­liam grows up to be as fear­less as Clint, which is the big­gest com­pli­ment you could give him.”

Though Warnock de­parted in 2012, Hill has re­mained a bea­con for Rangers fans, fre­quently speak­ing out against the fly-bynight chancers whose megabucks wages were rarely matched by their per­for­mances.

Fear­less

And while the old ten­den­cies haven’t quite dis­si­pated – he was sent off in his first ever Pre­mier League match for head­but­ting Martin Petrov – former Hoops team-mate Shaun Derry says Hill still sets the stan­dard at Lof­tus Road.

“Even though Clint’s 37 now, he still gets frus­trated when he doesn’t play,” said Derry. “What that doesn’t stop him be­ing is the best pro­fes­sional I’ve ever worked with. He trains ev­ery day like he plays ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon. What a won­der­ful ex­am­ple to the young play­ers.”

And man­age­ment? “He’ll be a nat­u­ral and he’s made no se­cret of the fact it’s some­thing he wants to do,” added Derry. “But I think he still has a huge role to play at QPR – he’s more than good enough at that level.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

EX­PE­RI­ENCE: Clint Hill has seen it all in his long ca­reer

ON THE LINE: Clint Hill has played through in­jury for QPR

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