Standing in the rain with the top of the Tower rising up through the mist, hundreds of people lined the streets to say a final and fond farewell to Blackpool’s favourite son Jimmy Armfield.
The crowd fell silent as the sporting icon’s funeral cortege pulled up slowly and carefully outside his beloved St Peter’s Church, in Lytham Road, yesterday.
The same fans who were once enthralled by the seaside favourite bounding up and down the pitch for an hour-and-a-half tuned in again for another 90 minutes, this time for a live broadcast of the emotional service.
Minutes earlier, respects were paid inside Bloomfield Road stadium, where Pool players formed a guard of honour before well-wishers in the Armfield Stand gave their hero a standing ovation as the cortege travelled past.
Saying au revoir today until we meet again, you’ll always be with me. Love you Dad x
Icons from the sporting world, including ex-Manchester Utd legend Sir Bobby Charlton and his brother Jack, former West Ham star Trevor Brooking, former Leeds player Norman Hunter and ex-Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale, were among the mourners.
Also paying respects were Fleetwood Town owner Andy Pilley, Blackpool owner Owen Oyston, and a number of dignitaries, including Blackpool South’s Labour MP Gordon Marsden, former Sheriff of Lancashire John Barnett, and Gordon Taylor from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
They sat in the church – aptly unassuming for an unassuming man of the people – to hear memories of Jimmy’s youth, of him kicking a tennis ball through the streets and playing football on the beach with his friends.
Fans had been asked to respect the family’s wishes by keeping the funeral itself a private affair, and the silence was almost deafening as they watched the cortege turn the corner from Bloomfield Road and drive towards the church at around 12.30pm. Some stood with their hands clasped. Others held scarves aloft.
It was a fitting send-off for a man who rejected big job offers to remain in the resort which had catapulted him to world-wide fame from humble beginnings.
Cameras from the world’s media, standing on tripods behind barriers either side of the church’s doors, rolled as pallbearers carried Jimmy on the last lap of his final journey – before the crowd calmly walked home to switch on their radio sets.
Before the service, Jimmy’s son Duncan had tweeted: “Saying au revoir today until we meet again, you’ll always be with me. Love you Dad x”
And he spoke in greater detail of his love for his father during the service, sometimes triggering laughter and often pulling on the heart-strings.
Tales were told of a hard-working, humble family man, who shunned fame to help resort charities and to lend wise words of advice to anybody lucky enough to meet him.
The scores of tributes left by Jimmy’s statue since his death aged 82 on Monday, January, 22, have shown the strength of feeling in Blackpool, which has lost its favourite son.
Despite the weather, despite the time of day, despite the emotion of the occasion, the crowd stood quietly proud to see their Jimmy one last time.
Last month, Tim Fielding from the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, told a huge crowd outside Bloomfield Road: “Jimmy loved Blackpool and Blackpool loved him back. The town will miss him and the time that he gave to it.”
Against a backdrop of grey clouds, rain-soaked pavements, and plummeting temperatures, the town proved both its love and its ability to pull together in times of grief yesterday.
Rev Tracy Charnock, said St Peter’s had been open most days since Jimmy’s death, to allow people to pay their respects, light candles, say prayers, and sign a book of condolences.
And she added: “People have taken great comfort in that, and there has been a sense of the community pulling together in support.”
Perhaps nothing will sum Jimmy up more than the music that accompanied his poignant church exit – a organ medly of I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, and the Sports Report and Match Of The Day themes.
MPs’ tribute to Jimmy
Blackpool South’s Labour MP Gordon Marsden tabled an early day motion in Parliament so MPs could pay tribute to Jimmy, who he described as ‘a football legend as player for Blackpool FC, a manager, England captain and a hugely influential football commentator and journalist’.
He said the tribute should commend Mr Armfield ‘as an embodiment of all that is best about Blackpool and the football world; recognises the tireless work and support he did for charities and organisations across Blackpool, done with huge personal modesty and decorum’.
Mr Marsden said: “I thought it would be an appropriate act of respect to table it [the early day motion] for the day of his funeral.”
After attending the service, he tweeted to say it was a ‘huge privilege, adding: “Wonderful service – full justice to all his virtues & achievements – touching family tributes & from Gordon Taylor @PFA.
“Crowds outside & at Bloomfield Rd in the rain told it all.”