The children of Blackpool’s newest school, Armfield Academy, gave a warm and musical welcome to the VIPs visiting the Lytham Road school for its official opening.
The gathering heard how keen Blackpool football icon Jimmy Armfield was on education, almost becoming a teacher himself, and how he would have loved to have been there to see the new school opened as he was an advocate of giving children in Blackpool the best opportunities to succeed.
In the memorial hall, where a plaque was unveiled in the honour of the Blackpool and England right back, the great and the good of the town were treated to a moving ceremony featuring a tribute to Jimmy, who died in 2018, plus speeches and singing from the year seven and eight pupils – the first to be taught at the academy.
Year eight pupil Ruby Fothergill acted as the master of ceremonies for the event, while head boy and girl Jamie Sharp and Ellie-Rose Smith also addressed the packed room.
The school’s talented choir deservedly got a standing ovation for their performance of the school’s song “Armfield State of Mind” led by solo singer Taya Frearson, who later performed again, this time with teacher Mr Bache.
Tony Nicholson, chief executive of the Fylde Coast Academy Trust (FCAT), which runs the school, opened the proceedings, welcoming the guests from the council, builders Conlon, and a variety of notable figures from the town.
Head teacher Mark Kilmurray then told how the cornerstone of the school would be discipline and hard work – though the overriding principle would be putting the children first.
He got his pupils to shout out the reasons that they were at school – “to learn, to be the best we can” – and he read an extract from Jimmy’s autobiography about his love for learning – but how his piano teacher told him: “Maybe your talents don’t lie in your fingers after all. Perhaps they lie in your feet.”
Jimmy’s sons Duncan and John also told how Jimmy was taken aback and humbled when he was told that they wanted to name a school after him.
He thought about it for a week before agreeing, not because they wanted to use his name but because he had to think whether it really was the right thing for the children and for the town he loved.
They said that although he had no ego, despite having been the best right back in the world and a former England captain, what he did have was a love of education and an understanding of the opportunity it gave to a young lad, who was bombed out of his childhood home in Manchester and moved to grow up in one of the poorest parts of Blackpool, Revoe.
And it was for this reason that he was keen to see his old school, Arnold, transformed from a derelict building into the town’s newest all-through school for reception to year 11.
Duncan and John told how Jimmy worked hard, passed his 11 plus exam, and was instilled with an ethos of self discipline and hard work at school – which he carried through his footballing days and onto his career as a journalist and broadcaster.
Jimmy wanted to be a teacher and got a place at Liverpool University to study humanities, but then got the call from Blackpool and decided to give football a go.
John Armfield said: “Dad believed in life-long learning, in learning from every experience you have.
“Hard work and honesty were key. He worked hard and had no ego, and always said having ambition was as important as having talent.
“He would have said that a school is not just about the buildings and the playing fields, it’s about the people. The teachers and staff and the students and families.”
Duncan said: “This has been a very moving experience and an honour. Dad would have loved to have been here to see this wonderful building on the site of his former school.
“He was deeply honoured to have the school named after him and he was always mindful of the importance of giving something back to the community.
“He wanted to give people opportunities and this school is a massive opportunity for the children and for South Shore.”
The Mayor of Blackpool Coun Amy Cross said: “It is really important to the town that the Armfield name lives on. Jimmy was big supporter and advocate for Blackpool.”
Children presented the Armfield brothers with pictures of The Gazette’s front page tribute to Jimmy after his death, which was signed by the first pupils to join the school last year.
The Armfield family has also loaned Jimmy’s English Football Association blazer and the cap and got he got when he was made an honourable fellow at the University of Central Lancashire.