Many of you may know him as the soccer pundit on BBC Radio Five Live, but he is, and has been, much more than that in his distinguished career.
James Christopher Armfield, Jimmy to his friends and fans, was awarded the C.B.E. in the Queen's New Year's honours list to add to may other well deserved awards. He was born in 1935 in Greater Manchester but moved early in life to a flat above his parents shop near the sea at Blackpool.. I first knew him when he was a multi-sports star at our school in rugby, cricket and sprinting and feared his presence as a dining hall monitor at our lunch table when he insisted that us young lads would grow stronger if we at all our cabbage and sprouts.
He had a trial while still a school boy down the road at Bloomfield Rd, and Blackpool FC manager Joe Smith saw his skills and speed and signed him. He was converted from a speedy winger to one of the fastest and most feared right backs in the world, and played 627 matches for Blackpool, his only club, from 1954 for 17 years.
Matt Busby at Old Trafford wanted to sign him, but when the local newspaper, 'The West Lancashire Evening Gazette" offered him a job and combined with his playing contract, he stayed put. £100 a week was a fortune in those days.
He played for England 43 times and made his debut in the cauldron of the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro in front of 120,00 fans in 1959. One amusing story is that when one of the forgetable English managers of recent years blasted the assembled press at a press conference. " What do you lot know, how many times have you played for England?" Up jumped Jimmy and replied, "Fourty-three times, fifteen as captain! " He played for England in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where they were well beaten in the quarter-final in Vina del Mar, home of Everton FC. which I visited a quarter of a century later.
He was named as the best right back in the world for a few years and I remember watching him tame the speedy Real Madrid winger Francisco Gento, playing for Spain at Wembley. 'Doing an Armfield' was a phrase at the time as he played an attacking role and burst up the wing from his defensive position.
He succeeded John Haynes as captain of England and after suffering an injury in late 1965 was succeeded by Bobby Moore. However, he was a valued member of the 22 man squad and although only the 11 players on the pitch that famous day in 1966 at Wembley were given medals at the time, he and the rest of the squad and familes were finally presented with them by P.M. Gordon Bown at a special ceremony at No. 10 Downing Street six months ago. I left a couple of large team photos of the squad at their hotel on the morning of the final for Jimmy to get signed and he mailed them home to me signed by the World Cup winners..
His managerial career started at Bolton Wanderers and with immediate success and promotion there, was persuaded to follow the ill fated reign of Brian Clough at Leeds United, where he took them to the 1975 European Cup Final and a controversial 2-0 defeat by Bayern Munich in Paris. The Leeds board were not satisfied with progress and he was fired and replaced by Jock Stein who only lasted 3 months. Just a couple of months after the final I phoned and asked him if I could bring a group on a tour of Elland Road. Not only did he agree, but called up Sheffield Wednesday and they came over and played a pre-season friendly just for us in a closed stadium. That was VERY SPECIAL.
He worked for The F.A. as a consultant and was responsible for suggesting Terry Venables as England manager, and then Glenn Hoddle. His latest award was for 'Services to the Community in Lancashire' where he has been High Sheriff, a church deacon and organist, a Justice of the Peace, and selfless charity fund raiser. The recently completed South Stand at Blackpool has been named the Jimmy Armfield Stand and on his 75th birthday on 21st September 2010 there are plans to unveil a full size statue of him outside the stadium's front entrance on Seasiders Way.
His 2004 autobiography 'Fighting Back to the beginning' was published. In 2007 he announced that he was undergoing treatment for cancer, and to this day is fighting back. Long live 'The Blackpool Rock'.