Tuesday 11 December 2018

Obituary: Jimmy Armfield

Former England captain who was a member of the 1966 World Cup winning squad

TANGERINE DREAM: Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield played more than 600 times for the Lancashire club
TANGERINE DREAM: Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield played more than 600 times for the Lancashire club

Independent.ie newsdesk

Jimmy Armfield, who died last Monday aged 82, gave a lifetime of service to football; he spent his entire playing career at Blackpool, captained England in the years when he was regarded as the best full-back in the world, and later managed Leeds to the European Cup Final before becoming a popular commentator with the BBC.

He joined the Seasiders in the early 1950s, glory days in which they featured in three Cup Finals in quick succession, culminating in Stanley Matthews's triumph of 1953. Armfield had gone to a rugby-playing school in Blackpool but his real love was for soccer.

Nonetheless, he had never played on a proper pitch before having a trial for the club in which, from the left wing, he scored all four goals. A champion sprinter as a youth, Armfield made athleticism the hallmark of his game, becoming arguably the first overlapping attacking full-back seen in English football.

In 1954, aged 19, he made his club debut - an inauspicious one in which he was given the runaround by Portsmouth's Gordon Dale. But he would go on to play another 626 matches for the Tangerines (Blackpool's other nickname) at right back over the next 17 years, scoring six goals.

Although he won no honours with Blackpool, for the first half of his time at Bloomfield Road, they were a fine side. In 1953 they had fielded four of the England team that famously lost to Hungary at Wembley, and in Armfield's second season finished as runners-up to the champions Manchester United after losing their last four matches.

These were glory days, in which the club drew the largest away gate of any, as supporters wanted to see Matthews weave his spells on the wing. It was an age in which Armfield could smoke a pipe for relaxation and cycle to home matches through crowds he knew by name. Yet it was also one in which the fans' money went largely into the pockets of the owners.

As England captain in 1964, Armfield was earning just £40 per week - double what he had made before Jimmy Hill got the maximum wage abolished in 1961 - and driving not a Ferrari (which would have cost him three years' salary) but a Hillman Minx.

His pay went down to £14 in summer; throughout most of his time as a professional footballer, he had to supplement his income by working as a journalist on the local paper four afternoons a week.

In 1957 United wanted to buy Armfield, but agents did not exist and Blackpool simply vetoed the sale. Two years later, he was voted Young Player of the Year, and in 1966 narrowly came second to Bobby Charlton as Player of the Year.

By then he was captain of Blackpool, a position he held for a decade, although the side were already sliding towards relegation. They came back up in 1970, only to return at once to the second tier. Armfield played his final match for the club against Manchester United in 1971.

Between 1959 and 1966, Armfield was capped 43 times by England, succeeding Johnny Haynes as captain in 1962. Earlier that year, he went to Chile for the World Cup.

The manager Walter Winterbottom did not believe in fripperies. The squad acclimatised for two weeks in a mining camp. Though the side underperformed at the tournament, Armfield was voted its best right back.

Armfield led England for 15 matches but he then lost his place to George Cohen after rupturing his groin. Such was Cohen's form that Armfield never regained his spot, although he was in the World Cup squad in 1966 and, following a press campaign, in 2009, like his fellow squad members, he belatedly received a winner's medal.

James Christopher Armfield was born on September 21, 1935 at Denton, Manchester. His father managed a local Co-op, but in 1940, with the coming of war, Jimmy and his mother moved for safety to a boarding house in Blackpool. He lived in the town for the rest of his life. A bright child, Jimmy passed the 11-plus and went to Arnold School. Shortly before being taken on by Blackpool - then managed by the great Joe Smith - he was accepted by Liverpool University to read Economics.

After hanging up his boots, Armfield went straight into management at Bolton. In 1973 he won them promotion as champions from the Third Division. The feat attracted the attention of Leeds, and the following year he replaced Brian Clough after his ill-starred brief encounter with the club.

Armfield began to rebuild Don Revie's side and in 1975 guided the team to the final of the European Cup, though Bayern Munich proved too strong for them.

He left football and joined the Daily Express newspaper, for which he would work for a dozen years, being remembered by the copytakers for his charm and politeness. He soon become more familiar as a radio commentator for the BBC. His blend of insight, optimism and warmth endeared him to successive generations of armchair fans over the next 35 years, latterly on Radio 5 Live.

Jimmy Armfield is survived by his wife Anne, whom he married in 1958, and by two sons.

© Telegraph

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