Remembering Sir Tom Finney: 1922-2014

credit: ‘sirtomfinney.com’

As the third anniversary of his death passes, we look back on the life and career of the greatest footballer to ever play for Preston North End.

On 5 April 1922, Alfred Finney and Margaret Mitchell became proud parents to Thomas Finney, little did they know he we going to go on and become one of England’s greatest ever players.

As a little five-stone, 4’ 9” 14-year old schoolboy growing up on the playing fields of Holme Slack, it was his Dad Alfred who first managed to grab Tom a trial at Preston.

Tom himself had already sent a club a written letter asking for a trial, but due to his small physical stature, it was swiftly cast aside, but not to be deterred, Alf managed to persuade coach Will Scott to have a look at him in the local pub over a pint.

From the moment that trial began, a new star was born…but things weren’t that simple.

When Finney was 17, chaos ruled around Europe as World War II erupted, during the 1941/42 season, the youngster headed to war for three years, whilst also representing the services at football.

As a side note to this football, Tom was also a plumber, something that lead him to being dubbed ‘The Preston Plumber’ throughout his career.

This came to the forefront when Sir Tom returned from hit time out at work and combined plumbing work with football training until Football League games resumed after a long seven year break.

So, in August 1946, six years after signing his first professional contract at the club, Finney made his Preston debut aged 24, it ended in a 3-2 win over Leeds United, did he get on the scoresheet? Of course he did.

He wasn’t your modern kind of footballer, a more reserved, modest and down to earth man as man were back in his day, but the local and national press continued to describe his team as a ‘one man show’ at times.

Sir Tom never managed to be part of an England side that won any major team prize internationally, but at club level he was the first ever player to win two Footballer of the Year titles and also managed to be part of the side that won the Second Division Championship.

On the other hand, he was also part of a Preston team that fell short to West Brom 3-2 in the 1954 FA Cup Final, and also narrowly missed out on league titles on two more occasions, finishing runners-up.

His international career was a successful one, boasting a record of 36 goals in 76 appearances for England, making it to three world cups in that time – Brazil 1950, Switzerland 1954 and Sweden 1958.

Another fixture which was often enjoyed by Tom was the Auld Enemy clash, he managed to avoid ever being on the losing side on visits to Glasgow.

The winger’s team and generous mentality was shown in a fixture for England against the USSR when he passed on his penalty duty to a young Bobby Charlton just after Finney himself had set a brand new England goal scoring record – which as a result, he lost later that game when Nat Lofthouse equalled it.

Unfortunately this was to be his last ever appearance for the national team, so he never had chance to regain his record, but that’s something that wouldn’t have bothered him in the slightest.

Finney managed to go through the whole of his career without picking up any sort of yellow or red card, despite ending numerous games black and blue with defenders trying to stop the winger at all costs sometimes, a stat that is totally unheard of these days, and quite astounding when you think about it.

As the end of the 1959/1960 season approached, a persistent groin injury was taking its toll on him, and he announced his retirement from the game at the end of that season.

His final, and 473rd appearance for his beloved club came in a 2-0 win over Luton Town on 30 April 1960 where he was given a heroes farewell from the 30,000 strong crowd at full-time.

But thing weren’t about to go quite for the then 38-year old, after his retirement he wrote for the News of the World paper every so often whilst continuing to build up his plumbing and electrical business alongside his brother, Joe.

The Preston Plumber soon began to receive honours that he deserved, without question, it began when he was awarded an OBE in 1961 for services to football.

Then, in 1979 he appeared on TV show ‘This Is Your Life’ before also being made a freeman of Preston in the same year.

As 1992 came, he was awarded a CBE, followed by being crowned Sir Tom Finney after he was awarded a knighthood in the 1998 New Year’s Honours List by Her Majesty the Queen.

About the same time, Preston North End decided to replicate the club legend’s face in to the seats of the newly named Sir Tom Finney stand.

Unfortunately, his wife, Lady Elsie, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Sir Tom became her full time carer until she sadly passed back in 2004 at the age of 81.

Preston paid further tribute to their greatest ever player when they unveiled a water feature statue ‘The Splash’ outside Deepdale in the same year.

The statue was inspired by an iconic photograph, which was awarded 1956 Sports Photograph of the Year, of Finney beating two defenders at a damp and wet Stamford Bridge.

Back in 2012, the club also added a large image of his face on to the main stand to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Sir Tom’s health deteriorated before his death was announced on the evening of 14 February 2014, news that brought sadness to the whole of English football with tributes flowing in from the best of the best, wide and afar.

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