Look At It This Way _ September 25, 2015

Jimmy Armfield celebrates his 80th birthday

Jimmy Armfield celebrates his 80th birthday

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You know the iconic shot of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea clutching a conch and singing Underneath the Mango Tree in the very first Bond film – Dr No – back in 1962?

It was just what the doctor would have ordered to get flabby middle aged men back in their trunks and training in the swimming pool ahead of their Caribbean breaks.

There’s another picture, taken in 1962, which always halts this flabby middle aged (if I live to 118) woman in her tracks.

In fact, it sat on my desk for so long after being used in some Memory Lane article or other years back that the editor ordered me to wipe off the drool, and return it to the care of the archives. Along with a picture of Hugh Jackman sent out by the Press Association.

It’s of Jimmy Armfield, taken the same year he was hailed the greatest right back player on the planet after the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

Move over Beckham and your H&M metrosexual kecks. Armfield would have shown him a clean pair of heels back then.

Our James had the look of a young Sean Connery when he was pictured bare chested and bare legged in training on Blackpool beach.

I can only imagine how many ladies in beehive hairdos crashed into one another off camera that day on Blackpool sands.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I’m not on the guest list for the big do at Blackpool Tower next month to celebrate Jimmy’s 80th birthday.

The only chance I’ve got of infiltrating the 500 guests is by baking a cake big enough to smuggle me in – and not singe my hair from 80 candles blazing above.

And it looked like The Gazette had almost beaten me to it this week – with the lovely birthday cake commissioned in honour of one of the resort’s finest heroes.

I’ve known Jimmy – not as a friend but as a contact – for as long as I’ve been a newspaper woman (some 40 years) and indeed since. So I was delighted when he turned out for one of my charity’s events earlier this year, because it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are – everybody knows Jimmy Armfield and respects him, and those press cameras still follow him pretty much everywhere he goes.

He’s one of football’s most respected public figures, the definitive elder statesmen, Our Jim to the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gentleman Jim to the rest of us, within the resort. Indeed, nowhere else is that expression more relevant than right here in Blackpool.

And when news broke in 2007 of his treatment for cancer, some 400 cards were sent to his home two streets back from the Promenade and 2,500 emails to Blackpool Football Club.

This week, in a surprisingly candid interview which was a joy to read, Jimmy told sports writer Will Watt that – at one time, presumably that time – he had doubted he would reach 80.

I don’t think the rest of us doubted it for a moment. Jimmy’s a fighter, as tough as old football boots.

But that soft heart of his reveals the real mettle of the man – for he seldom says no to a charitable or worthy cause needing a high profile champion, or a young footballer seeking advice, or an old hack looking for a quote.

“I’m just glad I’m here to see it,” he says with disarming modesty and that trademark grin of his milestone birthday.

So are we, Our Jim. Let’s hope the knighthood’s in the pipeline...

Sergeant Rick Clement made the main ITV news bulletin this week. And about time, too.

Rick is inspirational.

He’s declared his intention to walk to the Cenotaph to pay his respects to the fallen –his friends amongst them.

It’s all the more remarkable because Rick is an amputee – and he isn’t going to let that (literally) stand in his way. Rick came out of Helmand to living hell five years ago. The charity he set up, A Soldiers Journey, has since raised £250k for injured servicemen. He made the front cover of The Big Issue this year – photographed by Bryan Adams. THE Bryan Adams. Rick remains one of the most inspirational soldiers I’ve ever met – whether from the First or Second World War, the Falklands or subsequent conflicts. Time and again I’ve met squaddies – and by and large they are squaddies – who have refused to be defined by their appalling injuries. Rick still lives in the heart of the town he loves, in the thick of the South Shore community in an adapted home. And when you meet him you see nothing but the triumph of human spirit and real, raw courage that gives him a spring to his step – even though that step is now prosthetic. Rick’s the real deal. Blackpool’s bionic man. A hero.