Sir Tom Finney - the man who made Preston proud
PUBLISHED: 14:12 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:45 21 October 2015
One of the last media interviews Sir Tom Finney gave was to Lancashire Life in late 2007
‘Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age... even if he had been wearing an overcoat. He had the opposition so frightened that they’d have a man marking him when warming up before the kick-off.’ Bill Shankly’s admiration of Tom Finney was borne out of playing in the same Preston North End team, but not all his fans played alongside him, or even saw him play.
Even at 85, Sir Tom commands the respect of players and fans and every week when he visits the club where is now president he finds a pile of post to be answered.
‘Most of it is from young fans who want an autograph,’ he said. ‘It’s nice that people remember me. It’s a compliment really that people go to that trouble just to ask for an autograph, especially when the letters are from young people who can’t have seen me play.’
Tom spent 14 years in the North End first team and is still joint sixth on the list of England’s all time top scorers but in more recent years his goal was fundraising for charity.
He was born at home just a couple of streets away from the stadium where he made his name. Despite being a small and frail youngster, North End scouts spotted his ability and asked him to sign a professional contract but his father insisted he complete his apprenticeship in the family’s plumbing business before he did.
World War Two broke out soon after he joined the club and regular club football was suspended. Tom was called up to the Royal Armoured Corps in 1942, he fought in Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Egypt where he was also able to play for Army teams against local opposition.
Once hostilities ended he made his North End debut in August 1946 and just a month later he made the first of 76 England appearances. He spent all his career with Preston, despite a 1952 offer from Italian club Palermo which would have netted him a personal fortune and made sure he never needed to fix a faulty u-bend or replace another washer as long as he lived.
‘The club rejected them straight away,’ Tom said. ‘That’s just the way things were then. The players didn’t really get to hear about these things. It’s completely different now.
‘It’s impossible to compare football then and now. The game has changed so much. The style of play is different and the financial side of the game is completely different. Most of players of my generation have struggled since they retired.’
But Tom’s training as a plumber ensured he could supplement his £14 a week wage with a second income during his career and gave him a business to fall back on when he finally hung up his boots in 1960.
He played in all five forward positions of the day for Preston and appeared for England at right-wing, left-wing and centre-forward. He was a genuine two-footed player, packing an explosive shot in either his right or his left. He had speed, balance, was a pin-point passer and, for a man of no great height, could head with awesome power.
‘Being capped for England was always an ambition and I was thrilled to bits when that came along but it was wonderful to be able to play for North End for so long as well.’
And although North End are yet to come close to the sort of success they had during Tom’s career, major trophies eluded him – his only club honour was the Second Division championship although in 1953 and 1958 North End came close to the First Division title, they had to settle for runner-up spot each time and in 1954 they lost 3-2 to West Brom in the FA Cup final.
His contribution to club and country were recognised by the Football Writers’ Association who named him Footballer of the Year in 1954 and 1957. Not bad for a player who, on his debut, was told by the North End trainer: “Don’t worry son, we’re not expecting too much from you.”
Tom was also given an OBE in 1961, a CBE in 1992, and was knighted (although he had been known as Sir Tom for decades in Preston) in 1998.
The knighthood was given in recognition of his services to football but could equally have been awarded for his charity work. ‘I am surprised at the number of charities that ask me to help, but it’s nice to be remembered,’ he said.
‘I accept pretty much everything that comes along because as personalities I don’t think we should turn people down. They take the time to come and ask for our help and it’s no problem to me to do it. I do as much as I can, particularly for Alzheimer’s charities. I lost my wife to the disease in 2004 and that was a very difficult time.
‘It’s such an awful disease, a shocking illness which affects so many people. I feel so sorry for the people who have the disease and the people close to them who are concerned for them.’
A centre for sufferers is now named after Lady Elsie in Fulwood, close to the home she shared with Sir Tom for more than 30 years. ‘I was thrilled when they named the centre after Elsie,’ Tom said. ‘It is the kind of legacy she would have wanted.’
Finney for Preston North End: 473 games, 210 goals
Scored on his debut in a 3-2 win over Leeds at Deepdale on August 31, 1946
North End’s all-time top scorer with 187 league goals
He guested for Newcastle, Southampton and Bolton during the war and helped North End to win the wartime FA Cup in 1941
His final league game was at Deepdale against Luton when fans sang Auld Lang Syne as he left the pitch for the last time
Finney’s last ever match was in the European Cup. He acame out of retirement to play for Irish side Distillery in the home leg of their tie with Portuguese giants Benfica. They drew 3-3. Without him in the second leg Distillery lost 5-0.
Finney for England: 76 games, 30 goals.
He scored on his international debut in a 7-2 win over Northern Ireland at Belfast
In his first 24 England matches he scored 18 goals, including four in a 5-3 win over Portugal – the only time he scored more than two in a game
He only tasted international defeat in his 50th England game, against Scotland
His three World Cups, in 1950, 54 and 58, all ended in disappointment, and in 1950 it ended in embarrassment with defeat at the hands of America
His last England match was a 5-0 win over Russia at Wembley in 1958