Jimmy Armfield’s ghostwriter recalls a ‘wonderful’ man who ‘enjoyed it all’
Andrew Collomosse was Jimmy Armfield’s colleague, ghost-writer and friend – here he remembers one of English football’s greatest and nicest men.
Jimmy Armfield was a “wonderful man” who never lost his love for Blackpool Football Club but disliked talking about his own achievements, remembers his ghostwriter Andrew Collomosse.
The former England captain’s death was announced on Monday, prompting tributes from across the game.
The picture they paint – of a much-loved coach, colleague, friend and team-mate – is readily recognised by Collomosse, who met Armfield when he moved into journalism at the Daily Express in 1979.
That meeting sparked a friendship which would see them collaborate on Armfield’s 2004 autobiography ‘Right Back to the Beginning’ and still be working together in November, when Collomosse interviewed him for the last time for an article about his Blackpool debut.
Armfield was 19 that day – December 27, 1954 – and still doing his military service. He had only been told he was in the team on Christmas Day and had to get back to his base in Lancashire on December 28.
“It was an inauspicious debut, too, as Pompey scored after two minutes, before he had even touched the ball,” said Collomosse. “He used to joke about the same thing happening on his debut for England in Brazil in 1959.”
It is a testament to Armfield’s character and talent that he would go on to play 568 more league games for Blackpool and 42 more times for England, including a period between 1962 and 1964 when he was voted Europe’s best right-back, an accolade many thought applied to the whole world.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Armfield was a winger for his school rugby team until a PE teacher, nicknamed ‘Buddha’ for his shaved head, recommended him for a trial at Bloomfield Road. He scored four goals. Having been enlightened, the club offered him a choice: football or a place at Liverpool University to study economics. Football’s gain was economics’ loss.
Armfield played his last game for Blackpool in 1971 and would move into management with Bolton and then Leeds, but he had already started his third career, journalism.
Collomosse explained that the ever-modest Armfield, who would go on to become a fans’ favourite on BBC radio, had accepted an offer from the Blackpool Evening Gazette to write for the paper. If they were expecting the usual ghost-written column, they would be pleasantly surprised as he also went to local midweek games and came into the office to write them up.
It was a similar tale at the Express.
“We had to persuade him to write pieces about his own career but he was determined to learn his trade by doing Friday nights at places like Stockport, Tranmere and Bury,” said Collomosse.
“He was this England star, who had just managed Leeds United, but he never gave it the big ‘I am’.”
Writing the book together involved friendly chats over tea at the FA’s Manchester office, where Armfield was a director of coaching, teasing his choice of plain sandwiches and trips up the ladder to his loft to find photos, medals and other mementos from his career.
Nothing was ever off limits, Armfield provided meticulous notes and there were few regrets.
“I think he enjoyed it all. Even being sacked by Leeds United, he just saw it as an experience and was proud of what he achieved there,” said Collomosse.
“He was also very philosophical about losing his place in the England team to George Cohen before the 1966 World Cup. He got a bad groin injury in a game at Ipswich in 1964 – Sir Alf Ramsey was there and stayed in touch.
“Ramsey gave him a chance in the games just before the tournament but Jimmy broke his toe and knew he wouldn’t oust Cohen, then. There was no ill feeling, though, and he always talked about how close that squad was, which you can tell from their decision to split the prize money 22 ways.
“Until recently, they would hold top-secret reunions at hotels. They would play golf and have dinner and when I last saw Jimmy he showed me some of the presents they would give each other – it was very moving.”