Frank “Tiger” Hill; a forgotten hero of the Chapman era

Frank Robert Hill was born on 21 May 1906 – 26 August 1993) played 81 times for Arsenal and in so doing won three championship medias (1932/3, 1933/4 and 1934/5.  He also won the Charity Shield in 1934 and three caps for Scotland.   Later in his career he won a Division 2 runner’s up medal (and hence promotion) and as a manager he won promotion for Notts County from the 4th division.  And yet he seems to be forgotten.  Even the site seems unsure of where he played, and has no report on him.

Tiger Hill was born in Forfar and started with the local league before going to Aberdeen and playing over 100 league games for them as a right defensive midfielder (right half in the parlance of the day).  His nickname came from his tackling.

Aberdeen alleged that some of their players were involved in a betting scandal, but no charges were made either by the club or the authorities, so it was a scandalous allegation to make.  Five players however were caught up in the affair and never played for the club again.

But always knowing exactly who was where, and who was any good, Herbert Chapman moved in in 1932.  Arsenal already had Bob John, Wilf Copping and Jack Crayston, but Tiger competed with them and always played enough games each season to get his medal.  He was able to play on the left in defensive midfield, and even on occasion on the wing.

Season League Appearances Goals
1932/3 20 1
1933/4 25 0
1934/5 15 3
1935/6 10 0

In 1935/6 he only played in ten league games and didn’t play in the cup final so asked to move on, and went to Blackpool whom he captained in the season of their promotion.  After that he moved to Southampton for £2000.  But injuries and age began to catch up with him, and it is said that he applied for managerial positions in other clubs while he was injured.  The board of directors didn’t like that and they, quite unusually for clubs, refused to release him under the retain and transfer regulations.

This meant that he could not play for anyone else – and club’s rarely used this clause in their contracts because of the bad publicity in general (allegations of slavery) and because once it was known that a club might do this, players generally did not want to risk their livelihood with such a club.  Under the system the retaining club did not have play the player, nor even pay him.  Until they signed the release clause he simply could not play.

But Southampton could not stop him becoming assistant trainer at Preston, although obviously the war meant that Tiger, look all fit men, served his country.  He was in the RAF.

By 1944 Southampton had released him, and he became player manager of Crewe, then manager of Burnley, and then Preston North End.

Then in 1957 he coached the Iraqi military team (honest!) before going back to Notts County, getting promotion from the Third Division in 1960.  Next he moved to Charlton, and save them from relegation and took them to fourth in the following season.  His final job was as a scout for Manchester City.

He moved with his family to California in 1967 and ran “Piccadilly Circus Fish’n Chips” as well as being a local ref into his 70s.  (Are you reading this Walter?)

He died in California on 26 August 1993, aged 87.

Reading between the lines and seeing a few confrontations with clubs it is easy to imagine that Tiger was a difficult man – and yet this was in an age when the clubs really did own the players, and Tiger was, in my view, just finding ways around the rules that tied him down.

To me he sounds like one hell of a guy, and I am sorry not to have information from more sources – and indeed sorry that Arsenal FC have ignored him.  If nothing else, this guy won three league winners’ medals with Arsenal.  Surely that means something.

I would love to know how Chapman knew of him and his problem at Aberdeen.  It suggests to me a remarkable scouting network.

11 April 1936: Last appearance for Tiger Hill.


8 Replies to “Frank “Tiger” Hill; a forgotten hero of the Chapman era”

  1. I waded through some more Internet (Google and DuckDuckGo) on this.

    There is a book on Frank Hill, which apparently is a paperback (224 pages). Lead author is Miller. It was apparently compiled from public (Internet) sources. Price on the book is supposedly about $100. In any event, apparently the book says he played right half.

    There is a picture of Frank Hill at:

    I guess a few years ago, there was an auction of football memoribilia which might include a signed copy of a program for Lincoln City. The mention of Frank Hill is on page 17 (of 24):

    There is some variance in the various Internet sources (per usual). One source has information similar to some of above, but says that Frank Hill died in 1970.

    My guess, is that there are multiple Frank Hill’s. But you guys are more expert on this than I am.

    At this point, it is time for me to go make some coffee and wake up. 🙂

  2. Frank hill was my great uncle and he certainly didn’t die in 1970. Very interesting what the internet throws up

  3. Frank Hill was my grandfather and I’m in tears seeing this article written. He died before I was born and it was really touching to find this article. Thank you so much.

  4. Frank Hill was manager of Charlton when I was first allowed down The Valley on my own. Happy Days and fond memories of a marvellous era for youngsters. I was allowed because I was prepared to do a paper round and pay for it myself.
    Children learned the value of work early.

  5. The English FA were arrogant and the players were treated like slaves The club owned the player for life until the Bosman rule. A player is one tackle away from a career being finished. I welcome honest agents and lawyers who can protect the sportsman.. Look at American colleges.Ask yourself are the the athletes being exploited by colleges. The coaches can get highly paid and sponsored at colleges, why not the athletes

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