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BST Gazette Column 26/01/2018

BST26/01/2018

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 who 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 remembrances of ‘Gentleman Jim’ and rightly so. The focus all week and at the week-end is on Blackpool for the right reasons.

Jimmy Armfield CBE was and 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 in whatever capacity he served.

That he happened to be better at football than most was Blackpool’s great fortune. (Probably) the best right-back in the world in the early 1960s, Jimmy was also something of an innovator. Attacking full-backs didn’t really exist before Jim pioneered the ‘overlap’. He became quite adept at bombing forward and crossing the ball on the run. Fans who stood on the Kop in those days can still remember the thrill of watching him powering along the touchline towards the South!

He was a one-club player, turning out 627 times for the Seasiders in all competitions, a record that might never be broken; (George Farm and Hugh Kelly didn’t even come close). That he was only ever booked once and never sent off in his entire career 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. That Jimmy was recognised in both ways is all the proof that’s needed of the love and respect that he 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 his stand will become the focal points at which fans will pay their tributes, will join to 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 football club – 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 beyond that a man whose love for football and for the club he was proud to be vice-president of shone through in every conversation.

There will be a laying of floral tributes by BST and BSA on behalf of all supporters in remembrance of Jim at his statue outside the ground 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 to Jimmy Armfield in that way. 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 for those whose conscience permits, ‘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 respect to a Blackpool legend should be able to do so with impunity.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust requests that no one pressurises anyone else into a particular course of action. Whether you go in to Bloomfield Road or not has to be a matter of individual conscience. That is entirely consistent with the values of the Trust. It is possible to pay your respects to Jimmy Armfield outside the club and/or inside the club or wherever you are in the world on Saturday. All options are equally valid. It is not a day to be squabbling over how it should be done. Jimmy was a humble man and would be horrified if he thought that his death might be the cause of more division between supporters. It is incumbent on every one of us to behave appropriately and with restraint. Saturday is all about honouring our own ‘Gentleman Jim’. We must not let him down.

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