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Tangerine Blood: Jimmy Armfield

21 September 2015

Legend Celebrates 80th Birthday

44 years have passed since Blackpool FC's most loyal servant pulled on the iconic tangerine jersey for the final time, but while his playing days are a distant memory, Jimmy Armfield's legacy is still going strong around the stadium he graced for 17 years.

The legendary right-back, who turns 80 today, now has a statue and stand in his honour, and rightly so – his Pool appearance total in excess of 600 is unlikely to ever be beaten, with Armfield going on to captain both club and country on countless occasions.

Now the vice-president of the club he served faithfully, Armfield will forever have tangerine blood running through his veins, and admits the feeling of representing his club has never been replaced since the conclusion of his playing days in 1971.

“I did it over 600 times, and since I've not been pulling on the shirt I've missed it,” explained the club's most decorated player. “I'd watched them as a boy, and I saw all these really great players.

“When I was brought into the team a lot of the other players were experienced, and I swallowed every moment really. When I first played with Stanley Matthews I used to idolise him, but the club never allowed you to get an edge, your feet remained on the ground.”

With 627, nobody has ever made more appearances for The Seasiders than Armfield - the defender played for just two teams in his whole career, Blackpool and England.

A cancer-survivor, as well as a football legend, Armfield was one of nine one-club Seasiders, but no player has gone on to captain both Pool and England simultaneously, and his acknowledgement around Bloomfield Road reflects his achievements.

“I was never sure if I'm worth it all,” the humble Armfield said. “A lot of these one-club-players, Tom Finney, Jimmy McIlroy, Nat Lofthouse, were nearly all forward players, full back isn't a romantic position.

“I'm one of those that changed the style of full back play, because I was a winger initially. I used to try and pressurise their left-sided attack players so they all had to chase me.”

Having joined one year on from Blackpool's most historic day, Armfield missed out on FA Cup glory, but went on to play a casting role as Joe Smith's side finished runners-up in the First Division, the club's highest ever league finish.

Tucked in behind Stanley Matthews that season, the duo struck up a formidable partnership, and Armfield has never tired of lauding the plaudits on his former partner in crime.

“When I got my first international cap Joe Smith sent for me. When I went in he told me I'd been picked for the England Under-23 team. I thought he was going to pat me on the back, but he never did.

“Instead Joe said: 'Have you thanked Stan? Well anybody could play behind Matthews'. The simple truth is he was probably right. As I was walking back I thought 'cheeky devil' and when I got to the top of the stairs I though 'he's right really'.”

As speaking the memories began to flood back for Armfield, who continued. “We were playing Luton when I ran in behind, and Stan slotted the ball between these two guys, so I was through coming in on the angle at the South Stand end, and I shot wide.

“We went in after winning two or three nil, and the manager said: 'What was all that about? This trotting down the wing. I don't know if you've noticed, but the winger we've got has done quite well without your help' and it was absolutely true,” he joked.

He was right to focus on his defending, Armfield went on to be dubbed the greatest right-back in the land following colossal performances in the 1962 World Cup.

Taking over the captaincy from Johnny Haynes, he captained England pre-1966 World Cup, and although he was injured for the competition, the honour of playing for his country remains to this day.

“It's hard to pick a best moment, but I was captain of England for three years, and the first time I walked out at Wembley was probably the pinnacle. The comradeship between the group we had was very good, it was a strong group of players, with a lot of international experience.

“To be picked for England really was something. Now we have players telling the manager they'll be retiring from international duty, nobody would have dared, people were too patriotic to do that.”

53 years later Armfield still holds his England caps dearly, as well as his Blackpool memories. Today he celebrates his birthday and still resides in Blackpool, the town he sees as his, despite being born 60 miles down the road in Denton.

Once his playing days had drawn to a close Armfield went on to manage Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United, where he proved successful, but it his love for all things tangerine which still shines brightest.

“The thing about us here, there are a lot of teams that share colours, but this is the one that strikes. They've all tried, but can never match it.

“I always remember when we went to Wembley with Charlie Adam and Ian Holloway, the sun was shining on our supporters. I looked to my left as this mass on tangerine. I looked at the Cardiff City team in blue and there was no comparison. It absolutely hit me when I went into the stadium, there was this mass of tangerine, it's unique.

“I watched the club in the boom years of the 1940s and 1950s, and the ground was full. Particularly at the start of the season, Christmas, Easter or if we had a good cup run the ground would be pretty full, maybe a 30,000 gate. It was an incredible atmosphere here.”

Armfield was in attendance for Blackpool’s 1-1 draw with Barnsley on Saturday at Bloomfield Road. Often asked if he'd have preferred to playing in the modern game, the 80-year-old remains philosophical on the topic.

“When I think about it, the pitches are better, the stadiums are better, the training facilities are better, the coaching is better, the wages are certainly better, and people ask me if I wish I was playing now.

“I'd loved to have played in this modern game just to see, but I don't think I'm going to make it now,” he delivered in a typically witty style.

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