Remembering Jimmy Armfield, Two Years On
22 Jan 2020 09:21 am, by YorkshireSquare
It is two years to the day since we lost one of Leeds United’s greatest managers and one of football’s nicest men, Jimmy Armfield.
Armfield was born in Denton Manchester on 21st September 1935 and moved with his family to Blackpool at an early age. He signed for Blackpool in September 1954 after being spotted in a practice match at Bloomfield Road by then Manager Joe Smith. He made his League debut on 27th December 1954 at Portsmouth and after making just two appearances in the 1954-55 season quickly established himself as the club's first choice right-back in the following season. This started his long association with the club which culminated in him being the holder of the Bloomfield Road club's appearance record with five hundred and sixty eight League games, in which he managed six goals.
Armfield was voted Young Player of the Year in 1959. In 1966, he narrowly lost out to Bobby Charlton for the Footballer of the Year award and had to content himself with being Blackpool's Player of the Year. Although Blackpool were a consistent First Division club they never won any honours until after they had been relegated in 1966/67 and the loyal full-back was part of the 1969/70 promotion-winning team who fought their way back into the top flight as runners-up. Unfortunately the club again suffered relegation in Armfield's final season with them before retirement in 1970/71 after seventeen years loyal service to the one club, who he played six hundred and twenty-seven times in all competitions.
Armfield won forty-three caps for England between 1959 and 1966, and captained his country on fifteen occasions. He made his international debut on 13th May 1959, against Brazil in front of over 120,000 fans. He played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he was acclaimed as "the best right-back in the world". He was also voted "best right-back in Europe" between 1962 and 1964. He was included in the 1966 World Cup-winning squad but missed out on the tournament through injury. He also represented the Football League twelve times and gained nine Under-Twenty-three caps for his country.
Gentleman Jim took his first steps into football management with Third Division Bolton Wanderers and got them to seventh place in his first season of 1971-72 and soon tasted success the following season when they finished up as the Champions of Division Three and were duly promoted to the Second Division, where he consolidated with an eleventh position finish. After the turmoil at Leeds caused by the Clough debacle it was understandable that the club did not rush headlong into another disaster. The board deliberated before appointing the quiet, unassuming and immaculate temperament possessing ex-England Captain. On the one hand he certainly had an excellent football brain and a calming influence, but was relatively untried as an elite Manager.
As it turned out he was just what Leeds required in their hour of need and soon after he took over the club's position improved. While the atrocious start they had made to the League season would inhibit their ability to mount any challenge for the League Championship. Therefore Armfield concentrated on the European Cup. He made few changes to the playing staff in his first season and relied upon the hunger of the older players to take them to the their first European Cup Final with a string of outstanding performances. He achieved what Don Revie had not been able to do but luck was not on United's side in the Final with Bayern Munich in Paris.
In the aftermath of the defeat there was a riot by the hooligan element of the supporters and only a well-reasoned defence by Armfield at the UEFA hearing managed to cut down United's ban in Europe from four years to two. There was also a fifth place in the League as he relied on the old guard. It fell to his task to dismantle the ageing Revie team of heroes of the Glory Years. He quietly and efficiently released Terry Cooper, Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and, due to barracking by the fans, Terry Yorath.
He brought in the immensely popular and talented Tony Currie from Sheffield United, Welsh midfielder Brian Flynn and striker Ray Hankin from Burnley and flying Scottish winger Arthur Graham from Aberdeen. Leeds reached the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup in 1977 and a steady tenth in the League. A place in the League Cup Semi-Finals in 1978 and a solid ninth in the League was not good enough for the success-hungry board and although Armfield had, with the help of his able coach Don Howe, moulded United into a solid dependable team capable of better things, he was dismissed at the end of the season and replaced by Jock Stein.
The Leeds post was Armfield's final managerial role, and he decided to work in radio. He became best known as a match summariser for BBC Radio Five Live. He also became a consultant with the Football. In 2000 he was awarded an OBE and in 2004 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of his home county of Lancashire. In 2005–2006 he served as High Sheriff of Lancashire. Armfield was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 New Year's Honours list for services to the community in Lancashire. The South Stand at Bloomfield Road, which was opened on 20 March 2010, was named the "Jimmy Armfield South Stand". A life-size statue of Armfield was unveiled on 1st May 2011 at Bloomfield Road.
After a long and courageous battle with cancer Armfield passed away at the age of 82 at Trinity Hospice in Blackpool on 22nd January 2018. On that day Leeds United lost one of their greatest managers and football one of its greatest voices.