BST column: Time to honour perhaps Blackpool's greatest player
It has been a very sad week for the whole of Blackpool, with the death of Jimmy Armfield after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
If there is a silver lining to our loss, it has been the outpouring of praise from all quarters for the man who made Blackpool his town and did so much over six decades to elevate and enrich our football club, this community and the lives of all he touched.
Hours of TV and radio time and thousands of newspaper column inches have been devoted to ‘Gentleman Jim’ and rightly so. The focus all week and at the weekend is on Blackpool for the right reasons.
Jimmy Armfield CBE will always be a Blackpool legend, epitomising all that is very best in a man – honest endeavour, integrity, kindness, loyalty, humility and humour. He always strove to do the very best he could.
Probably the best right-back in the world in the early 1960s, Jimmy was also an innovator. Attacking full-backs didn’t really exist before Jim pioneered the ‘overlap’. He became quite adept at bombing forward and crossing on the run. Fans who stood on the Kop can still remember the thrill of watching him power along the touchline.
He was a one-club player, turning out 627 times for the Seasiders, a record that might never be broken. That he was only booked once and never sent off is a remarkable testament to his discipline and sense of fair play. For us, his 43 appearances for England (15 as captain) were just additional kudos.
Not many footballers have statues erected to them in their lifetime or stands named after them – all the proof that’s needed of the love and respect Jimmy commanded.
And now he’s gone. That is such a hard thing to come to terms with. So Saturday will be a very emotional occasion. Jimmy’s statue and stand will be the focal points at which fans will pay their tributes, celebrate a great man’s life and grieve his passing.
Many will be visiting Bloomfield Road for the first time in years, for these are not good days at Blackpool FC – a situation that caused Jim much distress, although he never talked about it publicly. However, Saturday is not about present woes – it is about honouring perhaps the greatest player Blackpool has ever known and a man whose love for football and the club shone through in every conversation.
There will be a laying of floral tributes by BST and BSA on behalf of all supporters at his statue at 2.30 on Saturday, followed by a few words and a minute’s applause. It is hoped that many fans and members of the community will come and pay their respects.
The Trust has liaised with David Houston, CEO of Trinity Hospice, and the BST committee will be joined by volunteers from Trinity in collecting donations in aid of the work of the Hospice, of which Jimmy was president.
BST has also managed to source a number of Jimmy Armfield memorial scarves, which will be available for purchase on Saturday outside the ground. Every penny of profit from these will also go to Trinity Hospice.
Blackpool FC has indicated that the proceeds from any tickets sold this week for Saturday’s home game against Charlton will also be donated to Trinity Hospice, so ‘not a penny more’ is effectively suspended for one game only. Anyone who wishes to take a seat in the Armfield Stand on Saturday to show their respects should be able to do so.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust requests that no-one pressurises anyone else into a particular course of action. It is possible to pay your respects outside or inside the club or wherever you are in the world. All options are equally valid.
It is not a day to squabble over how it should be done. Jimmy was a humble man and would be horrified if he thought his death might be the cause of more division between supporters.
Saturday is all about honouring ‘Gentleman Jim’. We must not let him down.