Blue plaques unveiled to two of Blackpool's favourite sons, Jimmy Armfield and Frank Swift

To most football fans, Revoe is simply an area of Blackpool they pass through on the way from the town centre to the Bloomfield Road ground.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 7th September 2018, 12:04 am
Updated Friday, 7th September 2018, 12:21 pm
Jimmy Armfield and Frank Swift
Jimmy Armfield and Frank Swift

But its lasting place in the game’s history is assured, as the area in which two of the game’s legends, Frank Swift and Jimmy Armfield were brought up.

Now that legacy has been acknowledged with a notable hat-trick of tributes.

Along with twin murals which will take price of place in the playground of Revoe Learning Academy, which they both attended, a pair of blue plaques have been unveiled – for Jimmy at the school’s Lune Grove entrance and for Frank at Revoe Library.

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Jimmy Armfield and Frank Swift

The Professional Footballers’ Association, Blackpool Civic Trust, the school and the two men’s families all worked together to bring to fruition an idea first mooted by Frank’s late daughter Iris to author Mark Metcalf when Mark was working on a biography of Frank.

Widely acknowledged as one of England’s greatest goalkeepers, he was born just round the corner from the library in Ibbison Street and attended what was then Revoe School before going on to play with distinction for Manchester City.

After retiring from the game in 1949, he became a sports journalist and died, aged 44, in the Munich air disaster while travelling back from Manchester United’s fateful European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade in 1958.

Jimmy wasn’t born in Blackpool but went on to become probably Blackpool’s greatest-ever hero.

Munich survivor Harry Gregg

He was as a one-club full-back with the Seasiders, a member of the World Cup-winning England squad in 1966 who captained his country and after retirement from the game, a manager who, like Swift, then went into sports journalism and played a key role in many organisations in Blackpool for many years.

“Dad was immensely proud of Blackpool and of his days at Revoe School,” said Jimmy’s son John, who was joined at yesterday’s unveiling of the tributes by his brother Duncan and their respective wives.

“He often said those early schooldays and growing up in that area moulded him.

“He fondly recalled walking to Revoe School kicking along a tennis ball and his playground kickabouts with school pals.”

Gordon Taylor from the PFA with Duncan and John Armfield

Duncan said: “School is one of the rocks on which you base your life and hopefully this will inspire present and future generations to believe what my dad always did - that you can be whatever you want to be.”

The mural, featuring the legends in shadow with features from Blackpool and the two men’s lives, was painted in acrylics by Thornton artist Jo Harvey-Rainford based on ideas she gathered from the school’s pupils.

Deputy headteacher Stephanie Swinson said: “The children loved being part of creating this wonderful mural.

“It was a delight to be involved with celebrating the achievements of these local heroes who through the murals will be inspiring the next generation of children to achieve their dreams.”

The Armfield family joined Blackpool Civic Trust chairman Joan Humble in unveiling the plaque in Jimmy’s honour at the school entrance, while the plaque to Frank at the library was unveiled by fellow goalkeeper, Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg.

He and Frank were aboard the Manchester United party return flight from Belgrade when it crashed at Munich airport.

A total of 23 people including players, crew, coaching staff and journalists, including Frank, were killed.

Survivor Harry was one of the heroes of the tragedy, returning to the plane wreckage and rescuing four people.

Now aged 86, Harry recalled how the mention of Frank’s name in hospital had given him the first hint of just how bad the tragedy was.

“I was sitting in the hospital and heard a German voice say ‘Swift - kaputt’, which I took to mean he had died.

“Before the crash, I remembered Frank joking around and being the life and soul of the party.

“I was shocked to hear he had gone, went to find out more and heard the extent of the casualty list.

“Frank was a wonderful character.

“It is easy to be a character and not have the ability, but Big Swiftie had the ability and character.”

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “It is so important to remember the history of the game and the people who shaped it.

“It’s wonderful to be able to acknowledge the contribution to the game and to the communities in which they grew up of two men who were absolute legends.”

Joan Humble, chairman of The Blackpool Civic Trust, said: “We are very pleased to commemorate two footballers who were so inspirational.

“Jimmy Armfield was patron of Blackpool Civic Trust and was very supportive of us.

“He was very proud of Blackpool and all the many things that are good about the town.

“It is important we celebrate that good.”

Blackpool FC was represented at the Revoe ceremony by chairman Natalie Christopher, while Tony Collier, chairman of the former players’ association at Fleetwood Town, where Frank played 19 reserve games, was at the library unveiling.