'I wish I could have been more like him': BBC 5Live commentator Alan Green recalls friendship with Jimmy Armfield

BBC 5Live commentator Alan Green with Jimmy Armfield
BBC 5Live commentator Alan Green with Jimmy Armfield
Share this article

“It seems just like yesterday”, recalls an emotional Alan Green, the legendary football commentator.

READ MORE: How much would Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield be worth in today's transfer market?

Mike Ingham, Jimmy and Alan Green working at the World Cup in the USA in 1994

Mike Ingham, Jimmy and Alan Green working at the World Cup in the USA in 1994

At the time, Green had been attempting, to no success, to arrange a meet-up with his trusty summariser and loyal companion.

That wasn’t like Jimmy.

Green, who had worked alongside Armfield in football commentary for more than 30 years, knew instantly that something wasn’t quite right.

“It was weird because, I’m not saying I expected it, but I knew there was something wrong because I had been trying to arrange to go up to see Jimmy,” Green told The Gazette.

“A couple of times he sort of put me off, saying things like ‘I’ve got a bad cold, I don’t want to give it to you’, that type of thing.

“I just felt it was odd, but on reflection it was probably knowing that I would be looking at Jimmy thinking ‘goodness, my dear friend, you’re not looking good’.

“I think he was trying to avoid that and trying to make sure I didn’t feel any hurt because we had been very close over the years.

“It was a terrible blow to everybody a year ago, I could barely hold myself together.”

Green and Armfield were BBC Radio 5Live’s most recognisable commentary duo, often working together on the biggest matches.

It saw them travel across the world together, leaving Green will a wealth of vivid memories.

“Me and Jim were together at the 1994 World Cup in the United States”, Green remembers. “We spent most of that tournament together on the West Coast.

“We did the final together and Mike Ingham and I were the two commentators, it was Brazil against Italy.

“It finished 0-0 and it was won on penalties and I remember we were driving away from the stadium and back to the hotel we were staying at in Santa Monica.

“Mike was driving, he’s a better driver than me, and I’m in the front passenger seat and Jimmy was in the back seat.

“Jimmy was saying ‘why are you two so quiet? What’s up with you? You’ve just been working on a World Cup final!’.

“I don’t know if it was Mike or me, or both of us together, but we said ‘it was such a miserable bloody game, Jimmy’. He just laughed and said ‘you’ve just got to enjoy it.’

“That reflects his positive way of thinking, I never heard Jimmy be miserable - never – not about anything.”

Anyone common with Green’s commentaries will know exactly what he means when he describes his own narrations as “vociferous”.

That, Green says, is just how he is. But he’s often wondered why he couldn’t take a page out of Jimmy’s book.

He said: “Over the years I’ve thought to myself: why I can’t be more like Jimmy? Why do I have to be so abrasive at times? Must I really get involved in things that aren’t my business? I should have properly followed the example he so superbly set for me.

“I’ve always been known as a vociferous commentator, and I’m a bit vociferous about all aspects of my life. But I always felt that Jimmy could rest a hand on my hand or something similar to indicate to me ‘calm down, Alan’. He was just that way.

“I can be so abrasive and I’m a bit black and white. I will really go for a player if he’s committed a bad tackle or praise someone if they’ve scored a goal, I’ll go slightly over the top. Hopefully it’s not too over the top, but that’s just my personality.

“Whereas Jim was more measured and therefore when we worked together, I think the balance was right.

“If I genuinely didn’t have a notion of what was going on and why a game was going a certain way, I could lean on Jim and he’d have the answer.

“Jim understood the game and he didn’t get too emotional or too worked up.

“On the radio it’s so important to get the right balance because you’re the eyes of the listeners, they can’t see what’s going on, they’re relying on you.

“That’s why Jimmy worked so hard to get his measurements right and I can’t remember it ever failing.”

Green’s relationship with Armfield extended well beyond the mic, the Northern Ireland native going as far to say the Blackpool legend was like a father to him.

“I said it to Duncan, and it’s not meant to take anything away from his relationship with his boys, but he was like a second dad to me,” he said.

“He would be there when we worked together and I always felt as though I could ask for his advice - knowing what he said would make sense and I should listen to it.

“That didn’t detract from my relationship with my dad, but I mean it when I say Jim was like a second dad to me, particularly when my father died.

“He was just a big part of my professional and personal life and I miss him greatly, I really do.

“I cannot think of anyone more fitting to be called a gentleman.

“Not just because of how he treated people, but because his whole manner was gentle.”

A moment where Armfield chose to express that gentle nature of his was during a press conference, where he was taken to task by a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.

“I remember when he was working for the Daily Express and we went to Elland Road doing the Leeds United v Manchester United game,” Green said.

“This would have been late 1980s and Alex Ferguson was doing a post-match press conference and whatever Jimmy had written in the paper, Ferguson really went for him.

“That was typical of Ferguson who frankly I despised for his manner towards people, and I don’t mean just towards me.

“He launched this verbal attack on Jimmy and there were people standing at Elland Road witnessing this thinking, ‘This can’t be right’, because how can you take such offence at Jimmy Armfield?

“But Jim didn’t respond, he just took it on board.

“He could have gone right back at Fergie, and for all I know he did privately later, but he wouldn’t do that sort of thing in public.

“That reflects so well on him and so poorly, as it should do, on Ferguson.

“I will never forget that night.”