Damon Hill: Watching the Wheels

Damon Hill: Watching the Wheels

Damon Hill was always a different type of motorsport star. In the flamboyant world of Formula One he came across as reserved. In a sport dominated by money, he struggled to the top. A successful family name, that should have eased the transition, proved to be a burden. Unlike stars today, he never cashed in with a cheap autobiography at the time. Twenty years later, Hill explains why in his book Watching the Wheels.

Damon Hill was unique and also a first. The history books will forever state he and his legendary father Graham were the first father and son to win F1 Driver World Championships. His father’s career and untimely death shaped Hill’s formative years and adult life in ways that took decades for him to understand.

Before Hill begins his story, the foreword explains his absence during the decades between retiring and re-emerging into public life as a broadcaster. In a brave and important move, he discusses his battle with depression. Raising awareness to the issue and explaining its nature will give hope to many sufferers.

After facing up to his demons, and sharing them with the reader, it’s understandable that Hill doesn’t shy away from how they were created. Before diving into the autobiography, it’d be fine to expect little of Graham Hill’s story. His shadow loomed over Damon’s career and it was something he could never find the speed to race away from.

His account of his younger years explains what it was like to live with a larger than life character. How Graham, like Damon would be himself, was a late addition to the sport. The effects of his fame did affect his mother at times and there’s a sense Damon adored, admired, and worshipped his father while feeling he was inaccessible.

The showcase of F1, in days where it was a different type of showbiz and the community was close rather than filled with suspicious rivals, didn’t appeal to the young Hill. He was a shy, under confident child. The attention that came his way he tried to avoid, feeling it wasn’t deserved, and he didn’t want to be defined by the success of others.

Despite the negatives that came with fame, like being singled out in school, he had a happy childhood. Sadly, when he lists the reasons why, labouring the point, it reads like a top ten of superficial positives. It could be a sign that even before his father passed, Damon was destined to have emotional difficulties.

The painful realisation Damon was getting closer to his father before his passing is even more upsetting. He uses the book as a means to exonerate Graham’s role in the plane crashed that took his life and those of his team on board. It rightly lays falsehoods to rest, explains how rumours had played like Chinese whispers over the years. And refers to a crash investigator that offers probable causes for the incident. It enables the legend of Graham Hill to continue untarnished.

After his father’s death, he buried the pain, choosing not to mourn, believing his father would have done the same. He had to assume the role of man of the house before he was a legal adult. The lavish lifestyle started to fade away. Lawsuits against the family and the loss of income meant the Hills went into survival mode.

Fast forward to adulthood and Damon found himself working in the building trade. The graft enabled him to focus, stopping his mind from dwelling on his father. It’s quite telling that during these stories he refers to “that Scottish man” and “the Irish man” he worked with for four weeks. Even after a month the class divide meant they were labels, not named people. Or at least, people not worthy of remembering now.

His passion was racing bikes, and he became a delivery driver around London, claiming the day-to-day hustle in the traffic honed his driving skills. During this period he met his future wife Georgie. Theirs was a stop-start relationship but it’s clear they had a deep connection early on. Sadly, the reader only gets an insight during the early days. Once F1 begins, the chapters are filled with a notable lack of family life.

His journey to Formula One wasn’t through desire. Damon preferred motorcycle racing but realised the chance of career-ending injury was high, the rewards low. So he took the decision to race single-seater cars.

It wasn’t a smooth transition, he lacked funding but it’s hard to fully empathise with his hardships when he explains how a Beatle rang him to offer the £75,000 required to race the following season. Through a good sponsorship deal he finally secured a safer drive and managed to get on the radar.

By his own admission, he was never the standout performer, and people like Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle were the established names of his generation. But he had an inner grit that people overlooked all his career.

He wasn’t trying to capitalise on his father’s fame, quite the opposite. He wanted to right a wrong, complete the family mission, and discover his true self.

Of course, he achieved that aim. He added a British Grand Prix victory to the family heirloom, a thing that had eluded his father. And repeated the feat of being crowned champion of the world.

The standoffishness and inaccessibility that made him less lovable than people like Nigel Mansell, permeates the pages. But this shows how he has always been genuine, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

A quiet heart doesn’t mean a smaller one.

The brooding intensity was mistaken for not being passionate enough. He explains his treatment at Williams, how he was never a preferred choice, even after keeping the team close-knit following Ayrton Senna’s untimely passing.

The comparisons to rate Hill have always been lopsided. No one would ever claim he was a Senna, he even called upon the spirit of the great Brazilian to help him in Japan, but he wasn’t below the likes of fan-favourite Mansell. Hill never had a number two like Riccardo Patrese.

He partnered the best of all time, a David Coulthard in his peak, Mansell himself, world champion Jacques Villeneuve, and the brother of his chief nemesis Ralf Schumacher.

Those looking for a better insight to the battle with Michael may be disappointed. We get a glimpse into his mindset but a golden opportunity is missed when he mentions driving to see the German laid up in hospital with broken legs. This was after the 1999 British Grand Prix.

Instead we break to hear about more contract woes, it would have been nice to see that interaction. What was their relationship like as Michael was bed ridden? Especially poignant now the seven-time world champion may never communicate with the wider world again.

Early on in the book Hill talks about how motorsport is dangerous and we should never move away from the part of nature that is drawn to it like moths to a flame. Ultimately, the sense of that danger is what made him want to leave.

People will draw their own conclusions as to how successful Hill’s endeavours were. He was a victim of the British media’s classic “build ‘em up, to knock ‘em down” formula. As a wronged loser, they adored him. As a champion, they tore strips from him.

Perhaps this has had Hill on the defensive ever since. Parts of the book read like a list of excuses rather than reasons. He also has a sense of entitlement that can’t be overlooked. There are undertones throughout that Michael Schumacher was the chosen driver, protected by his team and given preferential treatment.

Later he demands special treatment believing he has earned it and paid his dues. Many drivers before and since have sacrificed just as much and never had the gifts that were delivered to Damon.

Hill should be applauded for speaking out about mental health issues and be thanked for taking a trip to the nostalgic years of his racing days and the enduring memory of his father’s. It’s unlikely this self-written book will win over many new fans but its greatest triumph is detailing the recovery of a man lost in the wilderness.


EFL Short-sighted

EFL Short-sighted

The English Football League (EFL) demonstrated ignorance and a lack of understanding with wider issues this week, in doing so it deepens a rift between its member clubs and the administration of the EFL. The much derided EFL Trophy, now renamed Checkatrade Trophy, was always a bone of contention. Now the fears of lower league clubs have been manifested in the form of ridiculous fines.

The concept of the revised EFL Trophy was after the lower tiered Football League clubs spoke out against the proposed League Three option, fearing the inclusion of Premier League B Teams would be a further example of looking after the big clubs at the expense of those without. Also, it would have damaged the accessibility of the current loan system.

The Football Reflective was a fan of the idea (Fair and Three) as it took a holistic view. The current loan system hasn’t proven to be beneficial for the donor clubs. Aside from Manchester City, who appear to frequently send their coaches to assess and assist those loaned out, once a player has left the nest they are under the guidance of lower grade coaches using lesser facilities.

The FA, after years of mounting evidence that suggests the national team has a bleak future, is desperate for a solution. When League Three was written off, they needed a halfway house. A trial to see if there would be the appetite for B Teams to mix in competitive ties with lower league clubs.

They took the essence of a good idea and managed to turn it against itself.

The EFL Trophy in its former guise was a good opportunity for the teams from the bottom two tiers to have a day out at Wembley. Not many cared for the competition until that chance was on the horizon, but when it appeared a play-off final vibe arose.

Adding select upper league clubs’ under-21s to the mix destroyed that slight fantasy. The idea of Stoke U21s v Wolverhampton U21s at Wembley doesn’t have any of the romance. All it would do is confirm to the smaller clubs that football in this country only cares about those higher up the league pyramid.

But the clubs that bemoaned the idea of League Three do need to take some responsibility. Their fears have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, acted out during the EFL Trophy.

Most blame has to go to the EFL itself. This week they fined twelve clubs, ranging from £3,000 to £15,000 each, for fielding weaker sides(five players must have appeared in the previous game, or contain the five most used players from the season as a whole). A format they didn’t trust has now hit their pockets.

Luton chairman Gary Sweet summed up the disparity best when he remarked he shouldn’t be paying fees to give his youth players experience. To make matters worse, his club’s youth defeated a side from the higher tier. So, is the Checkatrade Trophy only about developing youth players from big clubs?

The fear of the voiceless now realised with the opening of a cheque book.

The EFL Trophy fines come at the same time as talks to restructure the EFL to four leagues of twenty teams collapsed. Here the clubs and league are equally short-sighted. Chief Executive of Shrewsbury, Brian Caldwell, has been one of the most outspoken against. His concern, one mirrored up and down the country, was a reduction in fixtures would mean less money.

The EFL countered this by promising more Saturday fixtures, seen as a way to avoid the lesser attended midweek matches, claiming this would actually increase overall revenues. That plan was supposedly scuppered by the FA’s latest oversees TV deal for the FA Cup. The weekends they’d planned to use are now locked in for FA Cup ties.

By removing themselves from the negotiating table too soon, the EFL has failed to see its strong hand. Without the EFL clubs there is no FA Cup. The football league could have driven the demands for better distribution of wealth and proceeded with the reformation of its structure.

Not compromising for a few FA Cup weekends means its platform stays stuck in the past.

The Championship may be the fifth most watched league in the world but it has the weight of the entire lower tiers on its shoulders. It can’t thrive unabated like the Premier League, there is a glass ceiling imposed due to the EFL’s overall structure. It may carry the load but it is the EFL that should shoulder the burden.

Doing nothing will only see the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow.

By being overly defensive of the FA and Premier League’s intentions, the EFL and its members have only spited themselves. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to obscurity and obsoletion is paved with paranoia.

FIFA Reveals its True Colours

FIFA Reveals its True Colours

It should come as no surprise that FIFA is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The scandal hit organisation continues to display a lack of decency and awareness of public sensitivities. But poppies aren’t the peak of the problem.

FIFA’s announcement that wearing the poppy to mark Armistice Day goes against their rules covering the use of political symbols, has attracted much scorn on these shores. Understandably this was always going to be an emotive subject. To be told by a proven corrupt organisation, that it is incorrect to remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms we all enjoy, is beyond the greatest insult that could be spoken.

To enforce it as law is criminal.

The poppy doesn’t care about the motives behind men’s wars, it only displays respect and remembrance for the people that gave their lives.

While Armistice Day is held on the day and hour marking the end of World War I on the Western front, it has since combined with Remembrance Day to honour the servicemen and women that perished in both World Wars and every conflict since 1945.

Even this doesn’t add a grey area to the matter. The sight of a poppy doesn’t carry undertones of a political system or make wearers support a certain way of life. Unlike the swastika. From innocent beginnings as a Hindu symbol to attract good force and discourage evil, it became synonymous with the Nazi regime. This means the swastika will always have political connections, regardless of intended use; the poppy is a perfect example of an apolitical banner.

But there has to be a measured argument against FIFA, and it’s displayed on numerous occasions how out-of-touch it has become with the real world. From Sepp Blatter’s defiance in the face of irrefutable evidence, the blind eye it turns to human rights’ atrocities, the amassing of wealth when it claims to be non-profit, and the announcement that the world no longer suffers from racism.

It’s hard to judge too harshly when FIFA clearly exists on a planet alien to the rest of us.

The poppy ban has gathered the most media coverage in this country. England and Scotland already declaring they will defy FIFA on this matter. Failure to do so would have further sanitised the human element of the game that is self-proclaimed “beautiful.” But its beauty is being deformed by the distasteful motives of its corrupt keepers.

But the poppy ban shouldn’t be seen as the breaking point and call to action. That should have come a little over a month ago when FIFA announced its anti-racism taskforce had completed its mission.

If we’d been without a racist incident in ten years we’d still need a task force. As it stands, we haven’t even managed ten months. Add to the fact the next World Cup is heading to a country riddled with the problem, and houses teams that have recently served punishments because of fans’ racist behaviour, the announcement is more maddening.

Racism will always exist, it’s a sad symptom of any society. The taskforce should always exist in order to repel it at the first sign of a re-emergence.

Like all self-serving fascist dictatorships, FIFA broadcasts propaganda as fact. The more feel-good spin it can produce, the better. Let’s all pretend FIFA have ended racism. Another great success story for football’s benevolent overlords.

Oh, and the poppy represents suggestive ideas we should oppose, but don’t worry: in FIFA-world the only politics are the ones we take care of; you can trust us, we even managed to end discrimination and disharmony.

In the real world: Another dark episode from a despicable regime.

FIFA should be guardians of the game but are failing. We should be guardians of morals and ethics in their absence. Failure to contest any incoming punishment for the poppy ban, and widespread demand to make FIFA fund an independent Racism Taskforce, would be an equal failure.

If FIFA is so worried about using the game to send political messages, it should stop and consider its own behaviour. At the moment, it’s reminiscent of those that proudly wore Hindu symbols while imposing deceitful legislation on the unassuming masses.