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First Team

Feature: Hungry Hill keen to scale new heights

AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Despite swapping Victorian beach resorts, sunbathing and sandcastles are the furthest things from the thoughts of James Hill.

Single-minded Hill traded Fleetwood for Bournemouth in January, leaving behind his family in pursuit of achieving his career goal.

Just days after inking a four-and-a-half year contract, Hill exited his teenage years and feels the move has helped him come of age.

Since signing for the Cherries, the defender has become a Premier League footballer and an England under-21 international. Not bad for seven months’ work.

Told as a youngster to choose another profession, Hill has continued to prove people wrong and is relishing the next stage of his journey under Scott Parker’s tutelage.

When he steps foot in Portugal for the Cherries’ pre-season training camp next week, Hill will add another string to his bow, having never been abroad as a professional.

“I always missed out!” laughed Hill, during an interview with afcb.co.uk. “We went to Scotland when I was a first-year scholar and a couple of other times I stayed behind to train when the lads went away. It was too expensive to take everyone.

“I was all set to go to Portugal with the first team at Fleetwood but someone else did really well in the lead up so they replaced me with him.

“That’s another reason why I’m so hungry in pre-season. I want to work hard because I want to have those moments. I want to go away with the squad, get to know people better and enjoy the team-bonding exercises.

“When I arrived in January, everybody was pushing for promotion. It’s a fresh start now and we’re going into the best league in the world and the hardest.

“That’s bringing us a little closer together because we know how tough it’s going to be. But we don’t just want to stay in the league, we want to do well.

“Everybody is looking forward to the new season and the Portugal trip is something new for me so I’m really excited about it.”

The youngest player to represent Fleetwood when he made his debut at 16, Hill was restricted to one brief substitute appearance for the Cherries in the Championship, coming on in the closing stages of the 1-0 win at Barnsley in January.

He said: “It was all new to me and I had to accept that I might not be involved much. Coming from League One, I could see the standard was very high here and the club was pushing for the Premier League.

“Although I didn’t play a part in the games, I felt I played a massive part in training and I have learned so much since I’ve been here.

“I had to make sure I kept ticking over. I played games for the under-23s and treated them like Premier League games.

“It only takes a couple of injuries or a couple of players going down with Covid and you can find yourself on the bench or even starting.

“One minute you are out of the picture and, the next, you are starting a game. I learned that at Fleetwood because that’s what happened to me.

“I was supposed to start for the under-18s but someone got injured in the first team and I made my full league debut in the seaside derby against Blackpool. You always need to be ready.”

The son of former Bristol City defender Matt Hill, James and the family relocated from Bristol to Preston when his father joined the Lilywhites in 2005.

Asked about leaving the family home, he said: “It was a tough transition at the start because all I had ever known was living with my family.

“When I was in digs at Fleetwood, I would go home every weekend. When I turned pro, I moved back home with mum and dad.

“Seeing them every day made me feel happy and they would always pull me through the tough times.

“I had to start fending for myself after moving here. There is nobody to pick you up and help you through things or to give you a little kiss on the cheek!

“This has all made me a stronger as a person. I drive myself because I want to get to the top. I’ve started to realise you can never get too down with the lows and too high with the highs.

“It’s been good for me and I feel like I’m becoming an adult and taking more responsibility for my career, instead of always having to turn to my dad. It’s been a real eye-opener for me but really built me as a character.

“I have a small apartment in Bournemouth. I enjoy my own company and enjoy planning what I’m going to do the next day with my recovery and stuff like that.

“I love the game and am very dedicated. It’s everything I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a cliché, but it’s every kid’s dream to play in the Premier League.

“Not many get the opportunity or reach the level. I have to do everything in my power to grasp it and make sure there are no excuses.”

Hill, who once played under four different managers in one calendar year at Fleetwood, says his game has come on significantly working with Cherries head coach Parker.

“He’s changed my game massively and it’s been great working under him,” said Hill. “Where I’ve come from to where I am now, I think I’ve come on leaps and bounds.

“I don’t think I would have learned as quickly had it not been for the gaffer taking me to one side and telling me things and giving me advice.

“Things like passing to the back foot instead of the front foot, the weight of pass and moving the ball quickly. It’s those little things that I never thought of properly until I came here.

“I know there’s a lot more to work on but these things have changed my game. I have also become more athletic.

“The way he drives standards in training is nothing I’ve experienced before. He gives us belief and is inspirational.

“He talks about how he would have done it for us if he were in our shirt now. He says he would have run himself into the ground for us.

“You can see it in the changing room every day and I certainly saw it last season.

"Coming to the end of the season, you could see every player giving everything for promotion. I think this group can do something really good this season and am looking forward to it.”

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