Monday 27 May 2019
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Jimmy Armfield: Unsung hero for club and country

Statues are often erected outside of football grounds to symbolise those who created a long-lasting legacy at the club, with only true legends of the sport and those that made an outstanding contribution during their career honoured in that manner. Some even have a stand named after them to symbolise their historical importance, with Jimmy Armfield fully deserving of the double-barrelled accolade due to the years of dedication and loyalty he showed to Blackpool during a playing career which spanned a club record 568 games across a seventeen year period. His statue outside of Bloomfield Road is a fitting tribute to a man who, to this day, continues to give a lot to football; not many can say that they wore the captain’s armband for club and country over a number of years, but Armfield was considered one of the best players in the world in his position during the 1960s. Blackpool could certainly do with a player of Armfield’s quality today, but while fans back the club to bring back the glory days with Betway in the latest football betting odds as they attempt to begin another ascent from the lower leagues, the 81-year-old is able to look back at his career in football with pride.

Born on September 21st 1935 in the small Lancashire town of Denton, James Christopher Armfield made his breakthrough into football nineteen years later after he moved to Blackpool with his family. He played in a practice match at Bloomfield Road as a left winger, scoring all four in a 4-1 win – a performance which impressed on-looking Tangerines manager Joe Smith who offered him a trial. The rest, as they say, is history; Armfield joined the club at a time when Blackpool were on the up, having just won the FA Cup in a final that will forever be named the Matthews Final after magical winger Stanley Matthews lit up Wembley with a memorable performance.

He made his professional debut on December 27th 1954 at Fratton Park against Portsmouth as a right-back – a position he held throughout his entire career. Armfield was part of the team that secured Blackpool’s highest ever league finish when they came second behind champions Manchester United in what was then called the First Division (now the Premier League) in 1955/1956. Although the club achieved relatively little success during the seventeen years he spent at Blackpool, Armfield picked up individuals awards which highlighted his quality. He was voted Young Player of the Year in 1959, and although Armfield was pipped to the Footballer of the Year award by Bobby Charlton in 1966, the right-back was named Blackpool’s Player of the Year.

The accolades and praise did not stop there for Armfield. His excellent performances for Blackpool saw him make his England debut on May 13th 1959 in front of over 120,000 in the Maracana against Brazil. Armfield went on to pick up 43 caps during his international career which spanned over seven years, with his leadership qualities coming to the fore in the fifteen matches that he was named England captain. He was praised as the best right-back in the world following the 1962 World Cup in Chile, while he was voted as the best in Europe in his position in 1962 and 1964 as his peers appreciated the quality he brought onto the pitch.

Unfortunately, injury at the end of the 1963/1964 season saw Armfield lose his position in the England team to George Cohen, and although he was named in the squad that infamously lifted the Jules Rimet trophy aloft at Wembley in 1966, he did not receive a medal as only those who were on the pitch at the end of the match were given one. However, an FA-led campaign saw Armfield, along with the rest of England’s 1966 squad that were left empty handed, receive their medal in 2009. Many can only dream and back the Three Lions to win a major tournament with Betway, but Armfield has been there and done it with one of the best teams ever to pull on the England shirt.

After his playing career ended in 1971, Armfield enjoyed a relatively brief, yet successful, career in football management. He was appointed as Bolton Wanderers manager soon after hanging up his boots, and he led the club to the Third Division title in 1972/1973. Armfield then replaced Brian Clough at Leeds United on October 4th 1974 in what was a tough test of his managerial credentials, but he rebuilt the team with some success. He led the club to the European Cup Final in his first season in charge, where they lost 2-0 to Bayern Munich, while Leeds never finished outside of the top ten in the four seasons that he oversaw as manager.

Armfield has remained in football ever since he retired from management, as he has not only written for a number of newspapers as a journalist and sports columnist, but also serves as a match summariser on BBC Radio Five Live – a role he has held since 1979. He is also a football consultant with the FA, with Armfield playing an influential role in the appointments of Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle as England manager. His services to football and the community of Lancashire saw Armfield receive an OBE (2000) and CBE (2010) respectively, while being awarded the freedom of Blackpool in 2003 and inducted into the England Hall of Fame in 2008 rank highly amongst a plethora of accolades that Armfield has picked up since retiring from the game. Armfield is currently undergoing cancer treatment for the second time, having being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007, with the whole of football behind a man who gave so much for Blackpool and England.

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