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Jimmy ArmfieldMost of 2012’s England Euro football squad are already set up for life, but it wasn’t always like that for our top players. Leo Moynihan talks to former England captain Jimmy Armfield, who led the team at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and explains how things have changed.

I should never have really been a footballer - I passed my 11-plus, went to a rugby-playing school, got my A-levels and was accepted to study economics at Liverpool University.

But then along came Blackpool Football Club. I was a local boy and had grown up playing the game on the beach. Today they say Wayne Rooney is a street footballer, someone who would play the same way with his mates on the pavement as he does for England. Well, I was very much the same.

I played in the street and on the beach. I always carried a tennis ball around with me and would kick that against walls on my own but I had never shot at a proper net. Before my first trial game for Blackpool I had never even played on a proper pitch.

It all happened so quickly. My PE teacher was into football and said there was a game for junior players at the ground. I went along, we won 4-1 and I scored all four goals (a feat I never again managed in my career). That’s how it started and I went on to captain my country.

Nothing for granted

I loved every single minute of my playing career and didn’t take one day of it for granted. I think my generation was programmed not to. I was a war baby, I didn’t taste chocolate until I was 11, and grew up with rationing. We grew up in the dark, holidays were very rare and so any sort of perk was a bonus and we were grateful for it.

That’s how I viewed my playing days. Even when I was voted the best right-back in the world after the 1962 World Cup in Chile – by the way FIFA, I still haven’t received my trophy! – I didn’t think I was suddenly big time. It was just back to Blackpool to prepare for another season.

Life after playing

But like everything the playing had to end. I had been struggling with a knee injury and decided to retire myself, as I didn’t feel I was able to truly compete. While I was making that decision, I had been offered some coaching jobs, but also the manager’s job at Bolton Wanderers. The great Sir Matt Busby had become a friend of mine and I sought his advice. He told me to take the managers job, 'Be your own man,' he said and just hours later I was the Bolton boss.

I enjoyed management but it's much harder than playing. I’d say only lion taming might be a trickier job but I had success at Bolton and then was at Leeds for four years where I made it to the 1975 European Cup final.

After Leeds I was offered other positions but none ever felt right but I have stayed in the game I love so much, be it in administration positions or in the media. I remain a part of the BBC radio team and love chatting about the game. I’m still a huge fan, and despite all the changes and big money involved I try not to take it too seriously.

Cancer shock

That mentality stood me in good stead when, in 2007 I was diagnosed with cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma). It was a massive blow but I took on the illness and am today in remission. It was harrowing but I tried to be positive all the time. The two chaps who had treatment with me didn’t make it and I do wonder why I beat the disease.

Was it because I played sport every day of my young life? I think it might be. I was physically strong and that may well have saved me.

Today though I am as busy as ever. I stepped into community life and have filled various roles including being the High-Sheriff of Lancashire, the president of Age UK Blackpool, a governor at my old school and a church organist; and that’s to name just a few. Am I a pillar of the community? Some might say pillock, but I do my best.

World Cup memories

I like to keep busy. We’re better when we’re busy I think but I, like the rest of the country, will find time to sit down and watch the football this summer.

Unlike the modern player though we didn’t have the perks. In 1962 we did our altitude training in the Andes in a mining camp for two weeks. There we were 8,000 feet up in a tiny place called Rancagua and we had to entertain ourselves without phones, computers or T.V.

Further information

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081