Could Blackpool football legend Jimmy Armfield have been a rugby star?

He is one of the great right-backs of the English game, and as the Fylde coast honours Jimmy Armfield's footballing legacy, an old school friend wonders whether they could have teamed up in the England rugby union side.

Tuesday, 23rd January 2018, 1:00 pm
Malcolm Phillips and Jimmy Armfield

While Armfield went on to represent Blackpool and England with the round ball, his fellow Arnold School pupil Malcolm Phillips played for Fylde and England with the oval ball.

Centre Phillips made his England bow in 1958 and picked up 25 caps.

Like Armfield, he went on to become a trusted elder statesman within his sport’s governing body.

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Having served as president of the Rugby Football Union, Phillips rejoined the committee of Fylde RFC in 2014.

Also born in 1935, Phillips is six months older than Armfield and was famed for his speed – and he credits talented all-round sportsman Jimmy for helping him to up his pace.

He said of his lifelong friend: “He would have been a very good rugby player, though his real love was football. It always was, so he was never going to get diverted into rugby permanently, even though that was the game we played at school.

“He was a very good rugby player. He was a very good place-kicker, a talented lad.

“They did not have professional rugby in those days – the game was amateur until the 1990s.

“Jimmy could have gone into rugby league, I suppose. He was a very good athlete, a good sprinter, a good cricketer, a good all-rounder.

“In fact he got me to speed up a bit because he beat me in the 100 yards. That did not please me a lot, so I got a pair of spikes and did a bit of running after that.

“We played together from the age of 11 and were in the same form.

“We went through school together and of course we played rugby together.

“We both played soccer up to the age of 11 but Jim had to play rugby at school.

“He’d often be in a rugby game on a Saturday morning and then dash off to play football in the afternoon.

“But he was a good rugby player as well as a good footballer, he really was.

“They are very happy memories. He was a very good athlete and he could turn his hand to most sports.

“He truly was a talented sportsman – the best in Blackpool, that is for sure.

“He had a spell later in life when he played cricket for Great Eccleston and he kept involved locally.”

And Phillips, also 82, says that Armfield will be a big loss to Blackpool as a community, not just to the football club.

He said: “We kept in touch all of these years one way or another, even when we had been living in different places.

“He was a great man and he is a big loss for Blackpool.

“When we left school, Jim of course stayed on in Blackpool.

“I went off to university and then I was working away.

“I only came back to live in Blackpool 10 years ago but I always kept in touch with Jimmy.

“Jim was very involved in the Old Arnoldians and was very committed to the old boys. It was a pleasure to know Jim. He was a gentleman.

“He was genuinely a very nice bloke and I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about him.”