Stephen 'Mandy' Hill 1940-2010

Stephen 'Mandy' Hill 1940-2010

Gerry Wolstenholme

Former Blackpool outside right Stephen Hill, known universally as 'Mandy', sadly passed away on 27 November 2010. Born in Blackpool on 15 February 1940] 'Mandy' played his local football with Hawes Side Primary School team, Baines Grammar School, Highfield Youth Club and Poulton Spartans. Blackpool spotted his potential and signed him as a 16 year-old amateur for the 1956/57 season.

After playing in the junior sides in 1956/57, he jumped straight from the fifth team into the Central League side against Stoke City reserves on 2 November 1957 when Blackpool suffered a 2-0 defeat. Despite Blackpool's defeat coach Eric Hayward thought very highly of him and forecast great things ahead. Ironically his only other Central League game of that season also ended in a 2-0 defeat, this time by Chesterfield reserves He had a difficult decision to make in May 1958 when he had to choose between his career as an electrician or accept a place at Bloomfield Road. Fortunately he chose to join the Blackpool ground staff and he played three Central League games in the 1958/59 season, spending most of his time in the junior sides. However his consistently good performances were noted and in February 1959 he was regarded as "a potential first team man of tomorrow".

Blackpool signed him as a full-time professional on 19 May 1959 when his weekly terms for the 1959/60 season were £7 10s 0d [£7.50] in the summer, £9 10s 0d [£9.50] in the winter plus an extra £10 10s 0d [£10.50] if and when he played in the first team and an extra £2 when he played in the reserve side. And he began the 1959/60 season as the regular outside right in the Central League side.

After 10 Central League games he made his League debut on 3 October 1959 against Manchester City when he was told on the Friday evening that he might be in the team with the injured Stan Matthews' replacement Arthur Kaye moving to outside left. He later commented, "I hardly slept a wink that night and, in my imagination I played the game through a dozen times." He discovered four hours before the kick-off that he was in the side and said, "From then until the kick-off I had an overdose of butterflies and I have never known time to pass so slowly. Half-an-hour before the start Mr Suart called me into the boardroom and did a lot to soothe my attack of stage fright with an encouraging pep talk." Blackpool lost the game 3-1 but he kept his place for a further three games before the maestro returned and with Matthews back on the right wing 'Mandy' returned to the Central League side.

After scoring his first senior goal for Blackpool in the reserve side's 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United reserves, he returned to replace an injured Matthews for three games at the end of the season. He, therefore, played seven league games and 33 Central League games in the 1959/60 season and he was delighted to be chosen for Blackpool's tour of Ghana, Rhodesia, Nigeria and Nyasaland in the close season. He commented, "What is really important about the tour from my point of view is the fact that it should afford me the opportunity of match practice with recognised first team players."

He was rewarded for his endeavours with an increase in his weekly terms for the 1960/61 season when he was to receive £13 in the summer, £14 in the winter plus an extra £6 if and when he played in the first team and an extra £2 when he played in the reserve side. And again in 1960/61 he split his playing time between the first and reserve teams, once again playing the role of Matthews' understudy and he played 10 league games and 20 Central League games.

He was establishing himself for first team football by 1961/62 and the Blackpool directors recognised this by increasing his weekly terms to £19 per week plus an extra £10 when he played in the first team, in which he played in the second and third games of the season, a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers and a 3-2 defeat by Cardiff City. He scored his first league goal in his third league game of that season, a 2-0 defeat of West Ham United on 4 September 1961 and then when Matthews moved to Stoke City in October 1961, he had the opportunity to cement a regular first team place.

It was then he commented on being the maestro's understudy, "No matter how well I was playing for the first team I knew I would have to stand down once Stan was fit again. It was hardly the best way of helping one's confidence. But who was I to complain? If I'd been the manager I'd have done the same thing." Once Matthews had moved on, 'Mandy' was a regular in the side thereafter, playing in 36 league games and scoring the one goal.

It was during that 1961/62 season that he won representative honours, his form being such that he played four times for the England Under-23 side. He made his debut at that level against Israel Under-23 at Elland Road on 9 November 1961 when he scored one of the goals in a 7-1 victory. He also played against Holland Under-23 in Rotterdam on 29 November 1961 when he provided the cross from which Ted Farmer scored one of England's goals in a 5-2 victory. His third Under-23 cap came against Scotland Under-23 at Aberdeen on 28 February 1962, when he was partnered by Jimmy Greaves, and he provided the cross for Mike Harrison to score one of England's goals in the 4-2 victory. Blackpool manager Ronnie Suart went to watch the game and said, "This ranks as one of the best games I've seen Hill play. He parted with the ball quickly and accurately and nearly always to great effect. He had his full back beaten and had a direct hand in one of the goals." His final Under-23 game against Turkey at Southampton on 22 March 1962 lasted only 28 minutes when he was injured and replaced by Terry Paine as England went on to win 4-1.

Interestingly Suart's comment about 'Mandy' having his full back beaten brings to mind the trick that he very often played on his opponent. He would waltz up to the full back and then flick the ball over his opponent's foot on the outside, sprint round him and attack the goal. When asked about this tactic he commented with a wry smile, "The management, the players, the Press and the public have all been at me about it. Why don't you go inside more often? Well, occasionally I surprise them by going inside, but I have much more confidence in my ability to beat an opponent on the outside. I look at it this way, if I try to beat a man 10 times on the outside and succeed, say five times, and then do something worthwhile with the ball then I must be playing my part. It's too late to start mucking my style about now. Instead I want to speed up my game so that I can get away even faster on the outside."

Once again his worth was recognised for the 1962/63 season when his weekly terms were increased to a basic £24 plus an extra £5 when he played in the first team but the arrival of Leslie Lea restricted his appearances in that season when he played spasmodically, making nine appearances. Because of this, he attracted the attention of Shrewsbury Town during the season but Blackpool were not interested in any deal, still considering him an important part of their plans.

However, the emergence of Lea continued to keep him out of the side and he played only when Lea was injured, making nine appearances in 1963/64 and spending most of his time in the Central League side. He was reluctantly placed on the open-to-offer transfer list on 26 February 1964 after he became the regular second choice to Lea and he commented, "I think a move would be the best thing for me the way Les Lea is shaping at the moment." Immediately his availability was announced Blackpool received tentative inquiries from Swansea Town, Brentford and Bolton Wanderers but no deal was made.

As a Central League regular, Carlisle United manager Alan Ashman watched him in early September 1964 and made approaches about signing him. Terms were agreed with Blackpool manager Ronnie Suart but 'Mandy' hesitated and said on 10 September 1964, "I'll think it over tonight." Ashman remained in Blackpool overnight but in the event 'Mandy' returned the next morning to say that he needed the weekend to consider the matter. It was understood at the time that he would have preferred to join a club closer to Blackpool. There was talk then that Tranmere Rovers were in the hunt but the question was whether he would want to join a Fourth Division side.

That question was answered when he was transferred to Tranmere Rovers on 14 September 1964 for a fee of £6,880 much to Ronnie Suart's disappointment as he felt that Hill's early promise never came to full fruition at Blackpool. It was the biggest transfer fee Tranmere had paid up to that time and 'Mandy' commented on the move, "Tranmere is nearer Blackpool and although I'll be going to live there I'll still be able to get back here pretty easily from time to time. The Tranmere offer was comparable to Carlisle's, but I'm happier going to Cheshire. Apart from anything else Carlisle have to travel much further and I'm not a very good traveller."

His Blackpool career had encompassed 71 League games, in which he scored two goals, four FA Cup ties, nine League Cup ties and 124 Central League games, in which he scored seven goals. And he went on to play 130 League games, make one substitute appearance, and score 10 goals for Tranmere Rovers, staying with the club until the end of the 1967/68 season.

After retirement from football he managed a television rental shop in Blackpool.

He was always a most popular figure around town, and at Palatine gym where latterly he trained regularly, and he will be sadly missed by family and the many friends and supporters that knew him.