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Legends Of Soccer: Jimmy Armfield

It’s fair to say there were times when football probably tried the patience of Jimmy Armfield.

Early Years

After enlisting his wife’s uncle Teddy to help him build a garage for his beloved first car — a black Morris Minor saloon — at the end-terrace house owned by his employers Blackpool in 1958, he discovered the club had put his rent up.

‘You’ve got a garage now. That’s 10 bob extra,’ the club secretary Fred Jones informed him when he found an extra deduction from his salary.

‘I paid up because in those days we were expected to know our place and keep our mouths shut,’ Armfield reflected, years later. Such was his abiding love for a game which dealt him some grievous blows, as well as triumphs, that he would probably have played for nothing.

Armfield, whose death at the age of 82 was announced on Monday, maintained such a curiosity and fascination with the sport that editors became quite accustomed to an unexpected message from him, commending some piece of writing or other and offering an observation on it.

The BBC journalists he accompanied to World Cups watched him rush off to the training grounds to discover how different countries prepared.

When Saturday Comes

He was born on a Saturday afternoon and felt it was little wonder the game became a part of his life, though few were woven into the fabric of the game quite like him.

jimmy armfield statueExceptional right back, distinguished England captain, top-flight manager, fine print journalist and a kingmaker on whose judgment the FA hired both Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle as manager. Such were the contributions he made. And then there was the wise, erudite broadcaster — never a word wasted — who proved such a soothing and necessary antidote to the sound and fury of the modern game.

Armfield was at the peak of the powers when the game dealt him his most grievous blow, depriving him of a part in England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team. Already well established as an outstanding full back for Blackpool and voted best right back at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Armfield had recovered from a career-threatening groin injury to retain his roles as captain and integral presence in Sir Alf Ramsey’s set-up.


He even read one of the lessons in a World Cup service at Westminster Abbey, leading into the tournament. But a broken toe, sustained in the last five minutes of a warm-up match against Finland, took him from the side. He never played for England again.

While the players enjoyed their lap of honour, he and the others headed to the dressing room, waiting for them and the trophy to arrive. ‘It was an awkward time, even though we were thrilled the lads had won,’ he reflected years later.

An England pay-slip was Armfield’s reward — £248, including six match fees at £30 a game, daily allowance and return train fare (second class) from Blackpool to London. He kept it, and savoured it, all the same. It would be 1996 before he got a World Cup winners’ medal, when the FA persuaded Fifa the whole squad should receive one.


It was the only silverware he collected. Though Armfield made a club record 627 appearances for Blackpool over 17 years and helped them to runners-up spot in the First Division in 1955-56, he also arrived a year after the 1953 FA Cup win in the ‘Matthews Final.’

He cherished the gifts the game had bestowed on him, though — and none more than the chance to run out in the same side as Matthews, who was a tough taskmaster yet always remained a friend. Matthews’ flamboyant ties, colourful dress sense and dubious driving ability were a frequent source of humour between the two.

And he also reflected often on the mercies of a road not taken. In 1957, Sir Matt Busby wanted to sign Armfield to champions Manchester United. It would have brought the 22-year-old into the company of his friends Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman, who had played in the same Army team as him.

Blackpool flatly refused and within a year Armfield was listening to news of the Munich disaster on an old Rediffusion radio in a local cafe. Edwards and Colman were among the eight players who died. Armfield would spend his entire playing career with Blackpool, leaving on the day they were relegated in 1971 and hardly pausing for breath before moving into management with Bolton.

jimmy armfield


After three years, he took over at Leeds in the wake of Don Revie’s exit and Brian Clough’s 44 days of chaos. Improbably, he took the club to the 1975 European Cup final, where some deeply questionable refereeing decisions saw Bayern Munich triumph, and in four years at the helm, Leeds never finished outside the top 10.

The manner of his departure cut him deeply, though. He was accused of managerial indecision, which he always felt was unfair. As the son of a Manchester grocer and sewing machinist, Armfield was of that generation with no sense of entitlement.

Every week for 12 years, from the age of 24, he spent three afternoons on the Blackpool Evening Gazette sports desk, writing a column, learning about reporting and sub-editing and watching games. He bought a typewriter for £2 from a shop in the town and started to learn shorthand. He didn’t really need this ‘insurance policy’, as he once described it, because he offered priceless counsel to the FA, first advising that they hire Venables.

Armfield spoke to so many possible replacements before Hoddle was hired that the governing body feared they might have a tapping-up controversy on their hands.


‘Jimmy was so popular in football that every manager invited him into their office,’ said former executive director David Davies. He was as an equally welcome companion to millions more through his BBC Radio 5 broadcasts. He brought great wisdom to his journalism, and a sharp wit. When Howard Wilkinson became exasperated by criticism of his tenure at Sunderland during a press conference in 2002, he haughtily said: ‘What do you lot know anyway? How many caps have you won?’ Armfield retorted: ‘Forty-three actually, Howard.’

There were certainly aspects of modern football which he questioned. Some of today’s players seemed like mercenaries, he felt: ‘Happy to join a club, play for a couple of years, make their money and move on.’

Yet he loved the game no less. ‘Football has given me excitement and heartache,’ he reflected, with typical shrewd eloquence.

‘It is the most democratic game because, on any given day, David can and does beat Goliath. Every fan and every player goes to the match thinking it could just be their moment. Football has been thought- provoking and character-building and it just isn’t like any other game. That’s why it has gripped me for all these years.’

Story appears courtesy of

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