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Blackpool pay tribute to Armfield despite Oyston angst

  • Blackpool v Charlton Athletic was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch
  • However fans at Bloomfield Road still paid tribute to their hero, Jimmy Armfield
  • Among some fans at Blackpool the anger toward owner Owen Oyston remains
  • ‘It’s about Jimmy, nothing else,’ said one supporter, who abandoned his boycott

By Ian Herbert For The Daily Mail

Published: 17:31 EST, 28 January 2018 | Updated: 18:08 EST, 28 January 2018

Even the cordial commemoration of an individual who served Blackpool with such dignity and class proved a challenge for those who have taken the club to the brink of administration.

The game against Charlton Athletic which marked Jimmy Armfield’s life was postponed because of reservoirs of water around the pitch — appropriate for a club who have been sinking for almost five years.

Visiting manager Karl Robinson felt he was being accused of not wanting the game to be played and was so indignant that he issued a statement expressing his fury with ‘certain idiots’ at Blackpool who’d suggested this.

Blackpool v Charlton, the game which marked Jimmy Armfield's life, was postponed
Blackpool v Charlton, the game which marked Jimmy Armfield's life, was postponed

Blackpool v Charlton, the game which marked Jimmy Armfield's life, was postponed

Nevertheless, tributes were made to Armfield, who served Blackpool with dignity and class
Nevertheless, tributes were made to Armfield, who served Blackpool with dignity and class

Nevertheless, tributes were made to Armfield, who served Blackpool with dignity and class

Armfield, who spent his career at Blackpool and captained England, was widely respected
Armfield, who spent his career at Blackpool and captained England, was widely respected

Armfield, who spent his career at Blackpool and captained England, was widely respected

Robinson insisted he had asked for a kick-off later on Saturday, or even on Sunday. Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston said in response he expected an apology from Robinson at the rearranged fixture.

The row encapsulated what has become of the club Armfield loved since the day he was invited in for a Friday-evening trial game in 1950, intersecting two of Blackpool’s FA Cup final appearances. ‘They were just about the most famous club in the land,’ Armfield said, recalling that time in his autobiography.

On Wednesday the second £10million instalment of the £31m the High Court has ordered the Oyston family to pay minority shareholder Valeri Belokon, for their asset-stripping of the club, is due. Their capacity to pay it is in serious doubt.

Armfield’s grandaughter Hannah cannot hide her grief as she and brother Tom laid a wreath
Armfield’s grandaughter Hannah cannot hide her grief as she and brother Tom laid a wreath

Armfield’s grandaughter Hannah cannot hide her grief as she and brother Tom laid a wreath

Amid the tributes to the late Armfield, anger at Blackpool owner Owen Oyston remains
Amid the tributes to the late Armfield, anger at Blackpool owner Owen Oyston remains

Amid the tributes to the late Armfield, anger at Blackpool owner Owen Oyston remains

Supporters feel that financial administration would have its compensations if the Oystons were forced to sell to Belokon, but the accompanying 12-point deduction would put the club second bottom of League One. It was the Supporters Trust which had the presence of mind to commission commemorative scarves for Saturday and for once the Oystons indirectly came in useful.

The same German company which produced ‘Oyston out’ scarves made them,  though the consignment was stuck at East Midlands Airport on Saturday morning and did not make it in time. How that would have amused the self-effacing Armfield.

Nothing could get in the way of the acts of quiet remembrance which mattered most, though. Fans of many clubs — Leeds to Arsenal, Bolton to West Ham — had tied their own scarves to the Armfield statue outside the ground in Bloomfield Road.

The tribute laid by Stoke City’s Charlie Adam spoke for so many. ‘Jimmy,’ Adam had written in black ink on a Blackpool shirt he once wore, ‘thank you for your support and kind words over the years. It was a pleasure to have known you.’

A special commemorative programme to former Blackpool player Armfield was commissioned
A special commemorative programme to former Blackpool player Armfield was commissioned

A special commemorative programme to former Blackpool player Armfield was commissioned

The question was whether those thousands who have boycotted this place out of contempt for the Oystons would make an exception.

The club had announced they would donate revenue from all ticket sales to the Trinity Hospice which nursed Armfield. There was nothing to pay to step inside, as things turned out, yet perhaps 800 people still maintained their act of remembrance on the street outside.

Most of them had a story. Denis Miles, who’d travelled from Worcestershire with his wife Chris, remembered ending up in Armfield’s kitchen one day in the early 1960s. Manager Stan Mortensen got wind he was travelling to home games from London and saw to it that there was hospitality.

Local BBC staff remembered Armfield’s last substantial contribution for them, to a programme marking Graham Taylor’s life. He seemed frail and the plan was for a 10-minute interview. Half-an-hour later Armfield was still discussing another football man he loved.

Some fans preferred to pay tribute outside the ground, amid a boycott due to the Oystons 
Some fans preferred to pay tribute outside the ground, amid a boycott due to the Oystons 

Some fans preferred to pay tribute outside the ground, amid a boycott due to the Oystons 

Such were the qualities which meant Armfield’s grandaughter Hannah was unable to disguise her grief as she and her brother, Tom, laid a wreath at pitchside. Neither was stadium announcer Tony Parr, whose voice cracked as he concluded his valediction before 2,000 fans. 

‘When sport is dominated by superstars, one name will always be synonymous with those great and different times,’ Parr said. A brief and slightly awkward rendition of ‘One Jimmy Armfield’ ensued and though the distinctive figure of Owen Oyston lingered in the stand, no chants were directed at him.

‘It’s about Jimmy, nothing else,’ said supporter Alan Ferry, 38, who had abandoned his boycott for the occasion.

‘Everything our wonderful club needs but is so sadly lacking,' one tribute said of Armfield
‘Everything our wonderful club needs but is so sadly lacking,' one tribute said of Armfield

‘Everything our wonderful club needs but is so sadly lacking,' one tribute said of Armfield

The disputes lie ahead this week. Oyston has already antagonised the judge who ordered the £31m pay-out to Belokon, by using the club’s assets as collateral to raise cash to make the December payment. Those assets are supposed to be frozen.

Oyston’s last hope of keeping hold of the club comes through the appeal he has lodged against Judge Marcus Smith’s ruling. If forced to sell, it is feared he will seek to retain ownership of the stadium.

A message at the Armfield statue from ‘Dave, Sheffield Seasider’ spoke most to the occasion. ‘Loyalty, dignity, honesty, integrity, ambition, leadership, responsibility,’ it stated. ‘Everything our wonderful club needs but is so sadly lacking. A privilege to have seen you play. Thanks Jim.’

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