By Nick Friend
On 9th March 2013, Gordon Hill saw his life change forever. The Wealdstone fan made his way down to Whitehawk FC’s Enclosed Ground Stadium for their Ryman Premier Division clash. The rest, as they say, is history. Palatinate spoke to non-league football’s most famous face.
In reality, part of Gordon Hill wishes that 9th March 2013 had never happened – that the game had been postponed or that he’d made other plans for that specific Saturday.
However, unlike many of the media-made celebrities that invade our screens, our newsfeeds and our newspapers, Gordon Hill is different.
“Sometimes [I wish it had never come to light]”, he admits to me. “But as my manager says, make the most of it and enjoy it, which I have done.”
For, life has not always been this rosy for Hill, a 49-year-old unmarried builder and roofer. Until the age of fifteen, Hill, who suffered from toxoplasmosis, spent much of his life in Great Ormond Street Hospital. The parasitic disease can lead to other health problems including neurological diseases, heart, liver, ear and eye problems.
It is this, he tells me, that has inspired so much of his work since his ‘discovery.’
“The most amazing thing for me is to be able to put a smile on a poorly kid in hospital because that poorly kid was me once.”
Since Whitehawk fan Darren Ward – Dazman21 to his YouTube subscribers – filmed an inebriated Hill’s foul-mouthed rant, the lifelong Wealdstone fan has gone above and beyond to repay Great Ormond Street.
A charity single ‘Got No Fans’ took the charts by storm, and challenged X Factor winner Ben Haenow for the Christmas Number One spot. Ultimately, ‘The Raider’ reached number five – behind Haenow, Bruno Mars, Olly Murs and Ed Sheeran. Hill, though, is philosophical about his brief foray into the pop industry.
“No, not really”, he confesses when I ask whether he was disappointed to miss out on the win.
“That was all predetermined by Mr Cowell. I am just really proud that I got a single to number five in the Christmas chart from an idea that was only 9 days old. I loved it as it was all done in 13 hours through the night – from nothing to a finished single.
“But above all else, it raised over £30,000 for good causes.” Indeed, every penny from the song was split between Great Ormond Street, Wealdstone Youth FC and Autism Concern. Haenow’s, although labelled as a charity single, gave away just 17.5%.
Hill’s work doesn’t end there. He has been known to request £2 charitable donations for all selfies with the reluctant star. Even without the single, Hill has raised upwards of £10,000.
The success of the Wealdstone Raider is a victory, too, for non-league football. Too often is it overlooked as an irrelevance in a world where multi-billion pound TV deals are the norm in the Premier League. The stories of England strikers Les Ferdinand and Rickie Lambert, as well as soon-to-be England striker Charlie Austin are testament to the value of the honest toil by those lower down the footballing ladder.
The way in which Hill talks about Wealdstone speaks volumes for the increasing attitudinal gulf between the professional and semi-professional game. Dover Athletic chairman Jim Parmenter described Alan Pardew as ‘rude and arrogant’ after an FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace in January.
Although Hill’s bursting schedule has seen him miss more games than he would like, with Wealdstone in their first season as a Vanarama South club, he tries to go “as regularly as possible.
“I love it because the Stones are one big family. We have done remarkably well as we were six points adrift after twelve games so to finish in mid-table in our first season at this level is remarkable.”
The notion of “one big family” is alien to the big bucks environment of the Premier League – a money-making machine with little regard for the game’s most important aspect: the fans. Hill’s perception of Wealdstone is in keeping with his attitude towards his new-found fame.
At one stage pencilled in for a place in the Big Brother house alongside fellow social media personality Katie Hopkins, public opinion of the two differ hugely.
Counting McBusted and DJ Chris Stark amongst his fans, Hill remains refreshingly down-to-earth.
“I’m amazed [by the public reaction]. I have a lot of fans and always give them as much time as possible. Sometimes I would like a bit of peace and quiet but I mustn’t complain as I‘ve met some amazing people.
Such is his popularity, Hill has spent much of the past year in nightclubs throughout the country.
“I do enjoy my club appearances but not the travelling. I hope to get up to Durham later in the year.” However, with this unusual lifestyle comes its difficulties.
“I am not doing much building work at the moment”, he concedes. “I am working weird hours as I often don’t get home from a club until six in the morning.”
When thinking about the last two years, it is hard not to be impressed by Hill. Many weaker characters would have hidden themselves from public view after the Wealdstone Raider videos went viral.
That Hill has made a success of what could easily have been interpreted as, at best, cyber-bullying and, at worst, public humiliation, is praiseworthy.
Yet, there is something squeamish and cringeworthy about the original clip as one watches it back – not because of Gordon Hill – but because there’s a man behind the camera, who – in the words of ‘The Raider’, “gave me twenty minutes of abuse and was taking the mickey out of me because I talk a bit funny.”
“When I first saw it, I wanted to hide behind the sofa for the rest of my life”, he told Sky Sports in an interview at the World Darts Championships. “But, I thought, ‘everyone else is making money out of me, why don’t I make a few pounds for charity?’”
Photographs: Steve Foster