Jimmy Armfield: farewell to a noble man of football

Monsieur Salut adds some belated lines in homage to Jimmy Armfield – footballer, manager, sports reporter, NUJ member, broadcaster, church organ player, absolute gent …

The two news items seemed unseemly if read one after the other. Sanchez moved from Arsenal to Man Utd on a new weekly pay rate of hundreds of thousands. And word reached us of the death of Jimmy Armfield, whose biggest pay packet was £70 a week, as he told Salut! Sunderland back in 2011 (see the interview here).

I have nothing new to say about the Sanchez deal or his terms of employment. It’s another world. And I wondered whether I really had anything useful to add to the wonderful tributes to Jimmy that I have heard and read (one piece I came across, by the Mail’s Ian Ladyman, stood out as a bit of a gem: ‘I never knew Jimmy Armfield the footballer but if he played with as much authority, enthusiasm and grace as he talked and lived, then he really must have been something’).

But having spent part of the day winding up Watford fans, I do not wish the death of football’s greatest radio voice – and that’s before you get back to his exemplary playing career – to pass without proper mention.

These comments from fellow Sunderland supporters appeared at Facebook:

Mike Dennison: I shall miss Jimmy’s commentaries – he was football’s John Arlott

Norman D Peacock Enjoyed the simple things in life, great story teller. Could play the organ to high standard and sing like Frank Sinatra but above all was modest and humble. The story about him missing the 1966 World Cup Finals is edifying and says it all: ” why should I be envious” ……he missed out because of injury but fit to come back having lost his place and position as captain

And Mike reminds me of that seven-year-old interview. It won one of 2011’s Haway – Highly Articulate Who Are You? – awards, a sort of interview-of-the-month honour midway through the season.

What should we get him? His wife put us on the right track and this lovely man, at home at the keyboard of a church organ as much as in the press box at Old Trafford, became the owner of a hardback copy of Memorials of the Bolton Parish Church Organs: Including Special Sermons by and Biographical Sketches of the Preachers (1882) by James Christopher Scholes.

Once again, the interview can be seen at this link.


Salut! Sunderland: What thoughts do you have on Sunderland AFC?

Jimmy Armfield: I played at Roker Park a few times, not at the new place of course. I used to like Roker, it was a good ground. the first time I played there, it was a 0-0 draw but I remember it because Charlie Fleming got a penalty in the last minute. Len Shackleton** said he would take it, there was a bit of an argument but Charlie insisted. “You’ll never score,” Shack told him and Charlie hit it five yards over the bar. I saw Len just before he died: he’d been a real character and still was. I remember seeing him knocking the ball so it came back to him off the corner flag, and – when he was a young player at Bradford – sitting down on the ball during a match.

Jimmy also recalled – via an anecdote from the late broadcaster Brian Redhead – the day in 1951 that Shack did take a penalty, against Manchester City, with a run-up from the halfway line. When he reached the spot, he just stopped, but not before deceiving the City keeper Frank Swift into making a desperate dive. Shack simply turned his back to goal and backheeled the ball into the opposite corner, impressing Swift so much that the keeper chased after him to add his own congratulations, grabbing Shack’s head in his huge hands and planting a kiss on it.

Salut! Sunderland:
so did you ever have the chance to go and play for Sunderland?

No fear. It’s cold enough in Blackpool thank you very much!

Rest in peace, Jimmy, a giant of the game we love.

* This is how I introduced the 2011 interview. I wouldn’t change a word:

Jimmy Armfield: placed together in that order, they are two of my favourite words in the English language. There have been better footballers and managers, though he wasn’t bad himself, acclaimed during the 1962 World Cup in Chile as ‘the best right-back in the world’ and later doing good work in charge of Bolton and Leeds. There have been better sports commentators. But he has a depth of knowledge and utterly dependable expressive qualities that most of them must envy … we salute Jimmy Armfield and offer our warmest best wishes to a wonderful voice of the game who played his entire Football League career for one club: Blackpool …

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2 thoughts on “Jimmy Armfield: farewell to a noble man of football”

  1. The likes of Jimmy Armfield have been in declining numbers for decades now. The man was simply at ease with himself and yet so in command on the field or behind a microphone.

    A sad loss not only to his family and friends but to anyone with a genuine interest in the game we all love. He will be very sadly missed by millions who never met him. RIP.

  2. To listen to Jimmy Armfield dissecting the game and offering sage words, was a revelation. Something today’s ‘summarisers’ and commentators should take heed. No shouting, no histrionics, just plain common sense. I will miss his observations on the radio.
    Thanks for the memories Jimmy.

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