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Born: Saturday 21 September 1935, Denton, England
Position: Full Back
One of England's finest ever full-backs, Jimmy Armfield spent his entire club career with Blackpool and was a part of the team which recorded the club's highest ever league finish in 1956. Captain of Blackpool for more than a decade, he also led his country on a number of occasions in the early 1960s but was denied the chance to be a part of England's 1966 World Cup winning team by an injury just before the tournament.
Armfield was born in Denton, near Manchester, on 21 September 1935. During the Second World War, his family moved to Blackpool and it would be there that he spent his entire football career. Growing up playing football in the streets and on the beach, he only played rugby at school and had never played on a proper football pitch until he went along to a junior trial match at Blackpool where, playing on the wing, he scored four goals.
Having impressed the club officials, Armfield turned his back on the chance to go to university and signed for Blackpool in 1954. By the time he made his debut, in an away game against Portsmouth just after Christmas, he had been converted into a right back. He struggled in his first game and had to wait until the 1955-56 season to become a first team regular but would go on to be an almost permanent fixture in the side for more than 15 years.
Armfield's first full season saw Blackpool finish as runners-up in the First Division, a position which they have never matched, although they were a massive 11 points behind champions Manchester United. With the legendary Stanley Matthews playing in front of him, he took advantage of the tendency of opposing teams to double mark the right-winger to get forward far more than full backs were expected to do. Initially criticised by his manager, his style was eventually accepted and he became known as one of the first overlapping full-backs.
Throughout the early years of Armfield's career, Blackpool were a regular fixture in the top half of the league table without seriously challenging for the title, coming closest to a major honour when they reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup in 1958-59. Having been a regular in the England under-23 team for a couple of years, he was selected for the full national team for the first time in May 1959, making his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil at the Maracanã.
Moving into the 1960s, Blackpool started to struggle in the league and avoided relegation by only one point in 1961, but Armfield was still able to become a regular choice at right back for England. In the absence of regular skipper Johnny Haynes, he captained his country for the first time in September 1961, in a World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg. With England qualifying comfortably, the following summer he was selected for the squad to travel to Chile for the finals.
Although England as a whole were far from impressive, Armfield had a fine tournament in Chile, enhancing his reputation as one of the finest full-backs in the game. The team reached the quarter-finals, recovering from an opening game defeat to Hungary by beating Argentina and scraping through the group stage after a draw with Bulgaria. In the last eight, they were comfortably beaten 3-1 by defending champions Brazil.
During the 1962-63 season, England captain Haynes was hurt in a car crash in Blackpool and in his absence, Armfield became regular captain of the national team. He remained skipper for most of the next two seasons until replaced by Bobby Moore, and led England in the FA's centenary match against a FIFA XI in 1963. At club level, the early 1960s were characterised by frequent brushes with relegation at Blackpool, but Armfield managed to retain his place in the England squad as the 1966 World Cup on home soil approached.
Having been selected in the squad, Armfield picked up an injury during England's warm-up programme and was unable to appear in the tournament, with his appearance against Finland two weeks before the World Cup proving to be his last international. Like the other players who did not appear in England's win over West Germany in the World Cup final, Armfield received a winner's medal more than 40 years later as FIFA retrospectively gave the awards to all squad members.
In 1966-67, Blackpool's time in the First Division finally ran out following an awful season which saw them finish a full 12 points adrift of safety. The following season brought Armfield's first taste of Second Division football and almost saw an immediate return to the top flight, as Blackpool missed out on promotion only on goal average. Two years later he did help the club to clinch a return to the First Division, with a 3-0 win over local rivals Preston North End securing the runners-up spot.
The 1970-71 season proved to be the last of Armfield's playing career and although it was back in the top flight, it was not a happy end as Blackpool failed to hold on to their First Division place. He retired having played a club record 569 league games for Blackpool and having been booked only once in his career. He quickly made a move into management with Blackpool's Lancashire rivals Bolton Wanderers, who at the time were playing in the Third Division.
Armfield led Bolton to promotion as Third Division champions in 1973, before securing a solid mid-table finish in the Second Division a year later. In October 1974, he was offered the chance to take over at league champions Leeds United following the short managerial reign of Brian Clough. Although a poor start under Clough had left Leeds with no chance of retaining their title, Armfield led them through to the European Cup final. In a match which they largely dominated, Leeds were on the wrong end of several controversial decisions and were ultimately beaten 2-0 by Bayern Munich.
Armfield's time as manager coincided with the breakup of the great Leeds team of the early 1970s. Although he was able to keep the team in the top half of the First Division, they did not win any major honours under his leadership, coming closest when they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1977 and the League Cup a year later. He left in 1978, taking the decision to end his managerial career and move into media work.
He worked as a journalist for a number of years but became best known as one of the most respected radio commentators in the UK. Despite having to take time off when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, he still fulfils that role in his late 70s. Remaining one of Blackpool's most famous players, Armfield has a stand named after him at the club's Bloomfield Road ground as well as a statue in his honour, which was unveiled in 2011 on the 40th anniversary of his final game.
References (all accessed 27 October 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 27 October 2012 16:02