A tribute to the greatest footballer to ever play for Preston North End.
Born Thomas Finney on the 5th April 1922 to the proud parents of Alfred Finney and Margaret Mitchell, as a schoolboy growing up on the Holme Slack playing fields of Preston, it was hard to imagine that Tom Finney would ever go on to become a professional footballer, never mind an English footballing icon.
At a mere 4’ 9” and weighing only five stone as a 14-year-old schoolboy, the bright lights of Deepdale seemed a very distant dream to Tom at that time, but things changed when his dad Alf managed to wangle a trial for his son over a beer with trainer Will Scott in his local pub – this after Tom sending the Club a letter asking for a trial, which was cast aside due to his lack of physical stature.
And here begun the fairytale of all fairytales for not only Tom and his family, but for anyone who ever saw him pull on the lilywhite shirt of his beloved Preston North End.
Over the course of the next 24 years, Finney made jaws drop, as everything from his brilliant trickery, goalscoring prowess and ability to get straight back up, crunching tackle after crunching tackle shocked, dazzled and amazed footballing fans week in week out.
From North End to international honours with England, Finney could make the most special of defenders look ruffled and dazed in mesmeric fashion and equal measures.
Over his career, he played in all five forward line positions and became in many people’s eyes, the greatest footballer to ever be born on these shores.
But it wasn’t a straightforward case of signing for PNE, then lacing up his boots and going out to amaze the world.
Finney did not get the chance to don the lilywhite of his home town team until the age of 24 due to World War II, six years after signing his first professional contract with the Club.
At the tender age of 17 and whilst training to be a plumber – an occupation choice which led to him being tagged the ‘Preston plumber’, Europe was plunged into chaos as German ruler Adolf Hitler tried to change the face of the world for ever.
During this time, Finney kept ticking over by playing regional football for PNE and helping the Club to beat Arsenal in the War Time Cup.
During the 1941/42 season, the time came for Finney to head to war, fighting for his country for three years in battle tanks while representing the services at football.
When his time was up on the frontline, Sir Tom Finney returned home to combine his plumbing work with football training until the Football League resumed after a seven year forced hiatus.
The date of 31st August 1946 could not come quick enough for Finney and on this day he made the first of his 473 appearances for his beloved Preston North End in a 3-2 win over Leeds United at Deepdale – naturally he got on the scoresheet.
Despite being a modest man, the press would not allow him to get off the hook that easy, with the local press describing North End as a ‘one man show’.
Without being disrespectful to Sir Tom’s team-mates, the press were not too far wrong in that respect.
Despite his incredible ability and talent, Sir Tom never won any of England’s major team prizes during his playing career.
But on a personal note, he became the first ever player to win two Footballer of the Year titles – and he also won a second division championship medal.
During his 14 years at Deepdale, he was part of sides that lost the 1954 FA Cup Final – 3-2 to West Brom and finished as league runners-up on two occasions.
His Club career seemed to be the blue print for his international one, as he made 76 appearances for an England side which made it to three World Cups with Finney in the squad; Brazil 1950, Switzerland 1954 and Sweden 1958.
Finney was exemplary, scoring 30 goals for England.
With North End a hotbed for Scottish footballers, another fixture keenly anticipated by Sir Tom Finney was the Auld Enemy clash, a fixture he excelled in – particularly on visits to Hampden Park, never appearing on the losing side in Glasgow.
His kind and generous side was also as undoubted as his footballing talent, exemplified when he let a young Bobby Charlton to take a penalty against the USSR just days after he had set a new England goalscoring record – a record Nat Lofthouse equalled later that night in the win over the Russians.
That was to be Sir Tom’s last cap for England and it would have been easy for him to take that penalty himself to extend his record setting goal haul to fend off Lofthouse for a bit longer, but that wasn’t his style.
Another stat to back up that argument is the one which says that he was never booked or sent off in his entire career, despite being kicked black and blue repeatedly by defenders eager to stop the magician at all costs.
With a persistent groin injury trying to hold Sir Tom back – and being unsuccessful in doing so, he retired at the end of the 1959/60 season to acclaim from peers and fans alike.
His last match for the Lilywhites was on the 30th April 1960 in a 2-0 victory over Luton Town where we was given a rousing reception from the 30,000 strong crowd which had packed into Deepdale.
If football thought it had seen the last of Tom Finney following his boots being hung up, it was wrong, as he sporadically wrote for the News of the World as well as developing his plumbing and electrical business alongside his brother Joe.
The honours that he so richly deserved began to flow following his retirement and in 1961 he was awarded an OBE for services to football.
Sir Tom also became one of the selected few to have the big red book placed in his hands when he appeared on television show ‘This Is Your Life’, and he was also made a Freeman of Preston in 1979.
In 1992 a CBE was bestowed upon him, before a born and bred Prestonian humbly named Tom Finney was crowned Sir Tom Finney, after he was awarded a knighthood in the 1998 New Year’s Honours List by Her Majesty the Queen.
With Sir Tom gathering the recognition he deserved throughout society, the natural progression was for Deepdale to follow suit, with his face being replicated into the seats of the newly named Tom Finney Stand (changed to the Sir Tom Finney Stand in due course) at Deepdale in 1996.
Sadly for the Finney family, Sir Tom’s loving wife Lady Elsie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
He became her full-time carer, until her death in 2004, aged 81.
The Club paid further tribute to the great man when Sir Tom himself unveiled the water feature sculpture ‘The Splash’ outside Deepdale in 2004.
The statue positioned in front of the main stand at Deepdale was inspired by the 1956 Sports Photograph of the Year which shows Tom Finney beating two defenders at a waterlogged Stamford Bridge.
To celebrate his 90th birthday, an image of his face was added to the front of the stand named after him in 2012, when the great and good of football joined forces to pay tribute to him and to celebrate his life.
Sir Tom Finney was a true ambassador for Preston North End, the City of Preston and the sport of football and his like will never be seen again.
RIP Sir Tom Finney