Review – Pantomime Hero Jimmy Armfield: Memories of the man who lifted Leeds after Brian Clough by Ian Ridley

Pantomime hero is the first book in the Football Shorts series, which is a new collaboration between Pitch Publishing and Ian Ridley’s Floodlit Dreams Company.

Journalist and author Ridley provides us with some charming, nostalgic, and heart-warming stories about Jimmy Armfield the former Blackpool and England full back who became an acclaimed broadcaster.

Ridley states, “In all my time around the sport, whenever Jimmy’s name came up, I never heard a single bad word spoken about him by anyone. Some achievement in a sport of politics and personalities, intrigue, and insecurity.”

Ridley was a close friend of Armfield, and he tells us of the time when he took over as manager at Leeds United after Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44 days and came up with a unique idea to restore the morale of a club tearing itself apart.

Somewhat bizarrely to get the team back on its feet and restore morale he decided to write a pantomime for the players based around Cinderella. Surprisingly the players chucked themselves into it with enthusiasm.

Paul Reaney said, “Jimmy was a clever man. He told me when he arrived that I was the best right-back in the country and I could get back into the England side. And he told me I was going to be the best Prince Charming.”

The pantomime was a big success and Ridley writes “…it also serves the purpose of distilling the essence of Jimmy. Benign and affable, yes, but shrewd and strategic too. All carried off with aplomb and with none resenting him. He took people with him by engaging them rather than bullying them.”

Armfield restored success to Leeds on the field and took them to the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich in 1975. Unfortunately, Leeds were beaten 2-0 in Paris against a backdrop of crowd trouble. But they had been denied by some very dubious refereeing decisions.

Armfield then had to gradually dismantle the side and after three seasons he heard Leeds were looking at other managers, so he resigned.

He was then able to create a successful career in the media. His work for BBC radio was so well liked that he became something of a national treasure. Ridley describes his radio work, “He was Lowryesque in painting pictures, with his honeyed, authoritative voice his brush: by contrast, many now are merely performing the equivalent of carving initials in trees with a kitchen knife.”

In his later life Armfield struggled with cancer and he died in 2018 at the age of 82. But his legacy lives on and the impact he had on those that knew him is profound. Armfield’s beacon values of respect and decency will ever endure. This book is a fitting tribute to a wonderful man.

Pantomime Hero Jimmy Armfield: Memories of the man who lifted Leeds after Brian Clough by Ian Ridley. Published by Football Shorts. Price £9.99.

This review first appeared in the May/June 2023 edition of Late Tackle magazine.


About ianhaspinall

Communications specialist, Wigan Athletic fan & blogger, interested in music, arts & culture.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Football Book Reviews, Ian Ridley, Late Tackle magazine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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