Munich, Moore and Clough – Armfield's life in football
Ask Jimmy Armfield to describe his career and he will tell you it has been a “chapter of accidents”.
But there are few, if any, living Englishmen who can boast a football career with the same breadth – from one of the most accomplished full-backs to pull on the England shirt, to a successful manager, to a widely respected summariser.
“All things change and invariably it has been for the better and yet I believe I might’ve lived at the best time,” the 81-year-old told the BBC for a special Radio 5 live programme about his life.
Jimmy Armfield: A Football Gentleman will be broadcast at 21:00 BST on Tuesday, 29 August.
But before that broadcast, Armfield tells us how close he came to the Munich air disaster, how injury prevented him from lifting the World Cup, what it was like following Brian Clough at Leeds, and why fans from Grimsby helped to persuade him to recommend Terry Venables as England manager.
Creating the overlapping full-back
Armfield was born in Denton, Greater Manchester, in 1935 but moved to Blackpool during the war. Right footed, he played on the left wing during a trial game for the club and scored all the goals in a 4-1 win. Armfield spent his entire career at Blackpool, for many years playing behind legendary winger Sir Stanley Matthews.
“I still think Matthews is England’s best ever player.
“He was so fit, I never saw him out of breath, and he was impeccable in his behaviour on the field. He used to say: ‘If they kick me, I’ve got them.’ He was innovative and above anything else he had fantastic skill.
“He was unassuming but used to say things like: ‘I’m making you into a half-decent player.’ The first goal I ever scored was at Leicester, we were losing 3-2, the ball came to me on the edge of the box and I just hit it.
“The match finished 3-3 and I was a bit full of myself, the crowd were giving it ‘good old Jim’. Matthews came into the dressing room, it was just me and him. He put his hand on my shoulder as if to say don’t get up. He said: ‘What was that all about?’ I said: ‘What?’ He said: ‘All that bit about being the town hero.’ I thought he was joking, but he told me that there had been two minutes of injury time left and that was enough to win the match. ‘What if they got a corner and your mind was full of the goal?’
|Armfield – a life in football|
|A one-club man, Armfield made 569 appearances for Blackpool between 1954 and 1971|
|He also made 43 appearances for England, playing at the 1962 World Cup in Chile|
|Armfield was a member of the squad in 1966 but did not play in the tournament|
|He managed Bolton and Leeds – taking the latter to the 1975 European Cup final|
|A respected summariser for Radio 5 live, he has worked for the BBC for more than 30 years|
“He was quite often double marked and that is how we started overlapping.
“The opposition quite often used to have two men on him, a full-back and a winger who dropped back. So I said to Stan in all humbleness one day that if there were two of us and I went round the outside he could put the ball through. He gave me a little nod, that meant no.
“But we played Luton, we were winning 2-0 or 3-0. I gave it to Stan, he was marked so I set off round the outside and Stan put the ball through, right through the gap. I was through on my own – but anyway I shot wide.
“The manager Joe Smith said to me afterwards: ‘What was that all about?’ I said: ‘What?’ He said: ‘That wing play. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but the number seven we’ve got has done quite well without your help so far.'”
Man Utd wanted me before Munich
Armfield was good friends with Duncan Edwards and several of the other Manchester United players who died in the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958.
“I’ve never really thought about whether it could’ve been me on that plane – but the previous year Matt Busby had made an approach to see whether I’d be interested in going to United.
“United quite often used to train at Norbreck Hydro in Blackpool and I’d gone to see quite a few of them – Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman and the like.
“I’d been very friendly with Duncan in the army team. I always had a soft spot for him, he was such a good player. He had terrific power and could really intimidate. When we were in the army we went to Shrewsbury once and it was the first time I realised he could do anything with the ball.
“Word had got out in the press that I knew Edwards, and Joe Smith knew about this. He said to me: ‘Well, Man Utd have enquired about you. You go and tell your friend Edwards that if he wants to go and tap anybody he can tap me.’
“Joining them had not really entered my mind, it was a bit of a surprise. It was the Busby Babes after all, but I would’ve gone.
“United’s approach was at the end of 1957. Munich was the following February.”
It was Moore and not me lifting the World Cup
Armfield made 43 appearances for England between 1959 and 1966. He was made England captain in 1962 and looked set to skipper the team at the World Cup in 1966 before injury struck.
“I was captain in Alf Ramsey’s first game in charge of England. We lost 5-2 in France and as we got the bus to the airport he came up to me and said: ‘Do we always play like that?’ When I told him we didn’t, he said: ‘Well, that’s the best bit of news I’ve had all night.’
“I got injured in the last game of the 1963-64 season at Ipswich. I had my suitcase with me ready to go to a tournament in Brazil but during the match I suddenly got this pain that stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Instead of Brazil, I ended up in hospital with a ruptured groin. I spent all summer recovering, running down the beach and into the sea, against the waves, trying to strengthen my leg.
“By the start of ’66 I’d not played for England for over a year, George Cohen had been at right-back. Bobby Moore was captain. I’d seen Alf once at a match but he hadn’t said anything, but then I saw him after a game in the Midlands and he told me he wanted me fit for the World Cup.
“My first game back was against Yugoslavia. I was captain and played well. They had some good players but we beat them 2-0. We went on a pre-season tour before the World Cup and we were winning 3-0 in Finland. I was the captain again but right at the end a guy stood on my foot.
“The little toe had a crack, it wasn’t too bad, but Alf said I wouldn’t play in the warm-ups because he wanted me back for the start of the World Cup.
“The back four never changed. I never played for England again.
“On the day of the final we sat in the stand and I led them down to the dugout at the end. Just as I got there, West Germany equalised. I saw Alf, he told me to sit down behind him. You can imagine how he felt at that moment.
“Commentator Mike Ingham once asked me about the images of me on the field next to Moore after we’d won. I was smiling and he asked whether it had been difficult not playing.
“My answer was simple – isn’t it just better that we won?
“That evening there was a dinner at Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.
“They put the women in another room – and they were given a present, they were all given a pair of scissors. When we had the 50 years get-together, somebody asked me if I remembered that. I said: ”I’ve been reminded of it for the last 50 years.'”
I told them I wasn’t anything like Clough
Armfield retired in 1971 and immediately took over as manager of third-tier Bolton. They won promotion under Armfield, who turned down an offer from Everton before eventually joining Leeds in 1974, walking into the club in the aftermath of Brian Clough’s infamous 44 days in charge at Elland Road.
The following year they reached the European Cup final, losing a controversial match 2-0 against Bayern Munich. Referee Michel Kitabdjian turned down two strong penalty appeals against Franz Beckenbauer and ruled out an Alan Clarke goal for offside. Leeds fans rioted in the stadium and the club were given a four-match ban from European competition.
“I let Maurice Lindley – the assistant manager – pick the team for the first match after my appointment as Leeds boss.
“We sat down in somewhere near Roundhay Park and he said his words. I watched the players and I could tell they were looking at me.
“Eventually I said: ‘I’ll just say one thing to you. I will not make my mind up about you all until I’ve been here a bit of time. I’m the total opposite of Brian. Just answer me one question, why is this title-wining team full of internationals next to the bottom of the table?’
“The following year, in the European Cup final, I could not have asked more of the players.
“I turned at one point to our physio Bob English and said that I hope we finish with a draw. When he asked why I said: ‘I don’t think we are going to win this one.’
“Afterwards I was livid. I was upset for the players. They left their medals in the dressing room. I picked them all up and gave them to them when it all settled down.
“I didn’t want to believe that – all the talk about the referee. I’ll never know if he was got at.
“I went to the board and said we should appeal against our ban. They told me I was wasting my time. Nobody wanted to do it.
“So I got my air ticket and went off to Geneva. A journalist went with me. Everyone thought I had no chance but I got it reduced to two years. At least the secretary paid my air fare back.”
Armfield left Leeds in 1978. There were offers from teams such as Newcastle, Chelsea and Athletic Bilbao but it turned out to be the end of his managerial career.
The fans in Grimsby wanted Venables
Armfield combined a long career in the media – best known as a brilliant summariser for Radio 5 live – with a role with the Football Association that included him recruiting both Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle to manage England. Venables took the national team to the semi-finals of Euro’ 96, Hoddle to the second round at the World Cup in 1998. He was sacked in 1999 after comments about disabled people in a newspaper interview.
“I was not so much part of the Football Association team that appointed Venables – it was me!
“I remember going to a commentary at Grimsby. A few people came round the van when I got out. I asked what they thought of Venables as a possible England manager. To a man they all said: ‘Great.’ I did that at two or three different grounds and it was always the same.
“A few people at the FA were not that keen on Venables and when it came to the vote I was the one who really stood up for him.
“We should have won Euro ’96, we were the best team.
“I’d had a phone call telling me that I’d better go down to London because they were not going to keep Terry.
“Not long after Euro ’96 we had a World Cup qualifier and needed someone. I needed to get on my bike quick. I went to see FA boss Graham Kelly and he told me to go and find someone.
“I had a word with Alex Ferguson but he was not interested. Glenn wasn’t doing anything, he’d been a manager, he was keen on coaching.
“I met him in a car park, told him that I’d recommend him if he wanted to do it.
“I said to both of them that if there is anything untoward we should know about it, that we might as well get it out in the open. If there is anything the media will find it, it won’t need to get Scotland Yard out.
“They both told me there was nothing to worry about.”