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Fans' revenge on Fulham legend Jimmy Hill

Fans won't let Jimmy ever get away with it

Sunderland supporters drew satisfaction on Saturday from extracting a modicum of revenge on the man who condemned the club to one of the darkest days in its history.

Jimmy Hill was at Craven Cottage on Saturday to pay tribute to former Fulham team-mate Johnny Haynes.

But he found that Sunderland fans also have long memories and have far from forgiven him for his part in the Wearsiders' 1977 relegation.

Best-known these days as a veteran TV pundit, Hill was chairman of Coventry City in 1976-77 when three teams went into the last day of the campaign facing relegation – Sunderland, Bristol City and Coventry.

Hill had the kick-off at the Coventry-Bristol City game delayed for 15 minutes because of "crowd congestion" and when news came through that Sunderland had lost to Everton, he had the result announced over the tannoy.

That sent the message to both teams that – provided neither scored – they would stay up at Sunderland's expense and what followed was a farcical passage of play in which neither side attempted to win.

Hill was reprimanded by the Football Association, but Sunderland's relegation still stood.

Today, in the glare of the Premier League, it would simply never have happened or, had it happened, Hill would have faced being drummed out of football and a legal inquest held.

Sunderland fans have never fully forgotten or forgiven that stain on the game – it goes miners' strike deep in some parts of Wearside – and looks as though it has been passed down from one generation to the next.

The old saying reckons revenge is a dish best served cold, but the reception Sunderland fans gave Jimmy Hill was anything but chilly.

Towards the end of the first half of Saturday's game against Fulham, thousands of Black Cats supporters spotted him standing yards away and reacted angrily with boos and abuse. When Hill waved and blew kisses, their anger escalated and he had to be led away by police for his own safety.

Sunderland fans made sure that Fulham supporters knew it was nothing personal against their club or their greatest player, Johnny Haynes – a statue of whom was unveiled on the day.

Every one of Haynes' old team-mates was cheered by the visiting support at half-time; but Hill they jeered to the rafters.

Haynes represented all that was good in football, but, in the minds of many Sunderland fans, Hill epitomises the opposite.

And at least the travelling supporters ensured that, more than three decades on, Hill hasn't entirely got away with it.