CLIFF Hill, the clever stand-off who joined Oldham from Wigan towards the end of his career and helped to transform Oldham's fortunes in the early 1970s, has died in a Wigan hospital, aged 78.

In the 1969-70 season, Oldham finished 29th out of 30 clubs in a one-division set-up.

Massive change was to follow on and off the field, including the election of a 'new' committee and the appointment as chairman of former Rochdale Hornets chief Arthur Walker, who had much to do with the appointment of a Rochdale lad and former Hornets player, Graham Starkey, as player-coach.

In Starkey's first three seasons at Watersheddings, first as player-coach and then as coach, Roughyeds climbed the table each year, from 29th to 16th in 70-71, to 13th in 71-72 and to ninth in 72-73.

That was the year, with Starkey as coach, Hill as captain and stand-off and prop Frank Foster as leader of the pack, that Oldham won 20 and drew two of their 34 league games.

They regarded their biggest achievement as the 24-2 win against Hull at The Boulevard in round two of the Challenge Cup.

Oldham lost 25-11 at Castleford in round three, but fans who travelled to Hull will never forget the Boulevard bombshell.

Starkey was way ahead of his time and he had two generals on the field who also worked wonders to bring out the best in a relatively young side in Foster and Hill.

If Foster marshalled his forwards and literally bossed every other pack man on the field – his own as well as those of the opposition – Hill was the footballing genius and master tactician who generally brought out the best in those around him.

Hill captained a side which played a brand of touchline-to-touchline rugby that wasn't only pleasing on the eye, but brought out the best in outside backs and wingers like Norman Hodgkinson.

In seven years at Wigan earlier in his career, Hill scored 57 tries in 192 games and then at Oldham, between 1971 and 1973, he played 59 times, scored nine tries – and made scores more for others. Brought up in Ashton-in-Makerfield, he was spotted by the great Eric Ashton while playing for Newton-Le-Willows RU club, the club that also produced another player for Oldham in scrum-half Tom Canning.

Hill signed for Wigan in May 1964 and it says much for his ability as a 21-year-old that within 12 months he was at stand-off in the Wigan side that beat Hunslet in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

By 1970, when they were at Wembley for the third time in six years, Hill was on the bench and his younger brother David, who also signed for Oldham in later years, was in the side.

But even then they couldn't keep him out of the news as in replacing Colin Tyrer he became the first substitute in a Challenge Cup final.

Not long after that, the man who had been scouted and taken to Central Park by the Ashton to replace brilliant stand-off David Bolton, signed for Oldham for £2,250. It was worth a lot more than it is today, but it was still a snip for a player of such outstanding ability.

"Roughyeds are saddened to hear of Cliff's passing and the thoughts of everyone at Oldham RLFC are with his family and friends at this sad time," a club statement read.