Blackpool footballer who was a member of England 1966 World Cup squad
Jimmy Armfield obituary: Born September 21st 1935 – Died January 22nd 2018
Jimmy Armfield: captained England and played over 600 games for Blackpoll before moving into management and later media work. Photograph: PA Wire.
Around the time of the World Cup quarter-finals in 1966, the footballer Jimmy Armfield, who has died aged 82, was asked what chance he thought England had of winning the tournament. He deliberated a moment, then answered – “slight”. In the event, when England did win, it was without Armfield, who did not get a game in that World Cup despite being an integral member of the squad. Although he was a powerful, mobile and adventurous right-back, injury cost him his berth in the team, and his place was taken by George Cohen .
Armfield had been one of England’s standout players for many years, performing with great distinction in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he was considered one of the best defenders in the tournament, and attracting admirers throughout the game.
A colossus of Blackpool FC, which he captained for a decade, he won 43 caps for England, but the last was against Finland in Helsinki as part of a pre-World Cup 1966 tour. He did, however, eventually get a World Cup winners’ medal , following a campaign led by the English Football Association that persuaded football’s governing body, Fifa, to award medals in 1996 to all of England’s squad members, not just those who took part in the final.
Born in Denton, Manchester, son of Christopher and Doris Armfield, Jimmy was evacuated with his family during the second World War to Blackpool, where he developed a great affection for the town’s high-flying football club, who were then a power in the top flight and featured the incomparable Stanley Matthews . Although he did well at Arnold school in Blackpool and obtained his higher certificate, Armfield was delighted to join Blackpool at the age of 17.
He made his debut in 1954 against Portsmouth in the First Division as a quick, attack-minded full-back. He would eventually make a club record 627 appearances for Blackpool over 17 years, helping them to the runners-up spot in the First Division in 1955-56 (still the club’s highest-ever league position) and being voted the Football League’s Young Player of the Year in 1959.
Armfield admired the superb professionalism and fitness-building routines of Matthews, and greatly enjoyed playing with him. He recalled once giving the great man an errant, chest-high pass, which resulted in his being clattered by an opponent. Matthews got to his feet, regarded Armfield ruefully and emitted the word, “Shocking!” At his 80th birthday celebrations, Matthews joked that it was “nice to see Jimmy Armfield here, because had he been playing earlier, I’d never have lived to reach this age!”
Armfield would spend the whole of his career with Blackpool. In 1957 Matt Busby, then the manager of Manchester United, wanted to sign him, but his club would not let him go. Arsenal and Spurs tried to bring him to north London but Blackpool were obdurate.
Armfield’s last game for Blackpool came on May 1st 1971, at home against Manchester United in front of more than 30,000 people. His team were relegated that day, and it would be the last game played by Blackpool in the top flight for almost 40 years. Hardly pausing for breath, he moved into football management later that year, and spent three years in charge of Bolton Wanderers. By then they had sunk to the Third Division, but in 1973 Armfield brought them up to the Second Division, and that success led him to be appointed manager of Leeds United in 1974.
It was not an easy time to take over; Don Revie , under whom the club had so many triumphs, had gone, and Brian Clough had lasted only 44 days as his successor. But Armfield would survive for four years, and even if he could hardly have hoped to exert the same influence as Revie, he took Leeds all the way to the final of the European Cup in 1975, surviving a torrid second leg semi-final in Barcelona.
Under Armfield, Leeds always finished in the top 10 of the First Division, qualified for the Uefa Cup, and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1976-77 and the League Cup in 1977-78. But he was sacked in 1978 after a series of disappointing results and then turned down offers from Chelsea, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers, unwilling to move his family away from Blackpool.
Instead, he began a new career as a football writer and with BBC Radio as a fluent and perceptive commentator, latterly with Radio 5 Live. He was loved by listeners for his down-to-earth manner, his soothing voice, and his transparently warm and gentlemanly nature. Although Armfield’s active involvement in football had largely ended with management, the FA employed him in a consultancy role from 1994 onwards.
In 2008 Armfield was awarded a place in the football hall of fame at the National Football Museum in Preston, alongside his hero Matthews. In the same year he was given the Professional Footballers Association’s merit award, prompting three standing ovations as he accepted the prize. At Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road stadium there is a statue in his honour and a stand named after him. In 2000 he was appointed OBE, advanced to CBE in 2010.
He is survived by his wife, Anne (nee Ashurst), a nurse, whom he married in 1958, and their two sons, John and Duncan.