English football mourned the loss of one of its greatest player, Sir Tom Finney who sadly passed away last Friday aged 91. The iconic English front man was born on April 5 1922, just a few miles away from Preseton North End’s Deepale stadium so it seems appropriate that Finney would one day play there. Despite a difficult childhood that saw Finney survive through poverty and the death of his mother when he was just 4 years old, Finney spent his younger days trying to emulate his hero’s like Preston’s inside forward Alex James and dreamt of a day when he could become a professional footballer. His small size almost prevented that dream from ever happening but after surgery to move a troublesome Tubercular gland, Finney started to sprout and within time gained recognition for his talents, eventually getting his dram by signing for Preston.
Despite the war which called up Finney to serve, his Preston career started with great pace and before long he became a core component of how they played. As either a centre forward or a pacey winger, Finney’s trickery on the ball made him a difficult opponent to mark and alongside Tommy Thompson, he became one half of an unstoppable duo that tore apart England top flight. Winner of Football of the Year in 1953 and in 1957, Finney was already attracting interest and turned down moves to Palermo and Torino to stay with Preston. His love affair with the club and his strong Preston roots made it difficult for Finney to imagine ever leaving the club, unlike his idol James who had left for Arsenal years earlier much to Finney’s disappointment. Finney would remain a one club man, playing his entire career with Preston North End. Over a 14 year period, between 1946 and 1960, Finney pulled on the white shirt of PNE a total of 473 times and found the net on 210 occasions firmly etching himself into the clubs history books.
Capped 76 times for England, including turning out for the Three lions in three separate World Cups (1950, 1954, 1958), Finney is recognized as one of the greatest players to pull on the England shirt. He lead the all time scorers chart for England for several years with a tally of 30 goals, eventually surpassed by the likes of Bobby Charlton, Greaves, Owen, Linekar and Rooney. Charlton described him as a genius in football, claiming his contribution to the English game was immeasurable and few would argue with him. On his retirements from the game in 1960 due to a persistent groin injury, Finney returned to the plumbing and heating firm that he had set up with his brother just shortly after the war but his love affair with the game never faded. A gentleman off the field, Finney maintained strong links with Preston all the way up to his death, acting as the club’s chairman. He was touched when in 1995 Preston named one of the stands at Deepdale after him, making him a permanent fixture at the club. On Saturday, Preston North End paid their final tribute to their fallen legend with a one minutes silence before their League One match against Leyton Orient. The current batch of players linked arms and bowed their heads to show their solidarity with every single player featuring Finney’s name on the back of their shirts in place of their own.
Finney was to the 50’s what Messi is today, quite simply a magician. Former Liverpool boss Bill Shankly called him a great who could have played in any era and in any team in an overcoat. A fitting tribute to a man who on his day was unstoppable. Finney was 91 years old and leaves two children behind, Brain and Barbara.