Jimmy Armfield

Football's Pioneers: Jimmy Armfield

Gary James, an Honorary Research Fellow at De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, recalls the career of England captain Jimmy Armfield.
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Born in Denton, Manchester, in September 1935, Jimmy often spoke of watching the great Manchester City goalkeeper Frank Swift as a young boy. It was part of an early education which was added to when he was evacuated with his family to Blackpool during the Second World War, joining the local football club at the age of 17.

Armfield made his Blackpool debut in 1954 and would eventually make a club record 627 appearances during a 17-year career. He helped the club achieve its highest-ever league position in 1956 – runners-up to Manchester United – and was voted the Young Player of the Year in 1959.

That year, he also became a full England international, making his debut against Brazil in front of 120,000 in Rio de Janeiro. He went on to captain England on 15 occasions and was the Three Lions' right-back at the 1962 Chile World Cup.

He earned the last of his 43 caps against Finland two weeks before the start of the 1966 finals and was one of 11 reserves who did not play in the final against West Germany. He was belatedly awarded a winners’ medal in 2009. 

Armfield’s last Blackpool match came in May 1971 – a day when the team were relegated – and he moved into management later that year, spending three years in charge of Bolton Wanderers.

In 1973, he led Wanderers to promotion from the third tier and, the following year, he became Leeds United’s new manager, guiding them to the European Cup final in 1975. In addition, he guided the club to various semi-finals but was sacked in 1978 as Leeds searched for a man who could bring the trophy success enjoyed by former Leicester City man Don Revie only a few years earlier.

Despite offers from various clubs, Armfield chose to pursue a career in the media and became a well-respected football writer and broadcaster. He was loved by listeners for his warmth, knowledge and positive approach and it was no surprise when, in 1994, the FA turned to Armfield to provide much needed advice and consultancy on the selection of the England manager and other matters. 

In 2008, Armfield was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame and was presented with a PFA merit award. He is remembered with a statue outside Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground. He also features on a statue outside Curzon Ashton’s Tameside Stadium alongside World Cup winners Sir Geoff Hurst and Simone Perrotta, all three of them having been born in the Tameside borough of Greater Manchester. 

Armfield died in January 2018 after a second battle against cancer. A few months earlier, he had been interviewed by BBC Radio 5 Live about his life and commented: “All things change and invariably it has been for the better and yet I believe I might've lived at the best time." 

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