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Remembering Sir Tom Finney

17 February 2014

Sir Tom Finney, who died on Friday 14th February at the age of 91, is rightly regarded as one of the all-time greats of English football.

Born in Preston, just streets from Deepdale, Sir Tom spent his entire career in England with Preston North End, where he became arguably the Lancashire club's greatest ever player, going on to also become a stellar international performer for the national side.

It is not hard to understand why Sir Tom is respected and loved across the world, so here we take a look at his great career and some of the tributes that have been paid to him.

- Sir Tom signed for Preston North End as a teenager shortly before the start of the Second World War but didn't make his debut until August 1946, though during the war he made a guest appearance for Southampton against Arsenal at The Dell.

- Nicknamed the 'Preston Plumber' on account of still working as a plumber after the war, Sir Tom soon progressed to international football and, at the age of 24, made his England debut just 28 days after first lining up for Preston.

- His first three seasons with Preston were spent in the First Division, during which time he scored 27 goals, but the club were relegated in 1949.

- Two seasons and 23 league goals later, Sir Tom was back in the top flight - where he was to spend the rest of his career - with Preston having won the Second Division title.

- In 1952, Preston rejected an offer of £10,000 from Italian side Palermo for Sir Tom's services and it proved a good move as in 1952/53 he scored 17 goals while leading them to the runners-up spot in the First Division.

- The 1953/54 season saw him named FWA Footballer of the Year and he went on to become the first player to win the award twice in 1956/57, when he broke the 20-goal barrier for the first time as Preston finished third.

- A year later they were runners-up again and Sir Tom set a personal best for league goals in a season with 26.

- Internationally, having scored on his debut against Northern Ireland in 1946, Sir Tom netted his 29th goal in 1958 to become his country's joint highest scorer at the time - before taking the record outright the same year with his 30th and final goal, also against Northern Ireland, having made 76 appearances overall and played in the World Cups of 1950, 1954 and 1958.

- Sir Tom's final couple of seasons at Preston were hit by a persistent groin injury that eventually saw him retire in 1960 having scored 187 Football League goals in 433 games for the club, and 210 in 473 overall, plus his England record.

It wasn't just as a footballer that Sir Tom stood out. He was described by many as a perfect gentleman, and one tale from Dave Whelan, now chairman of Wigan Athletic, sums that up.

Whelan broke his leg playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup Final and on his first game back two years later, a pre-season friendly against a Preston side that included Sir Tom, was down to mark the great man but was told: "You've had some bad luck son, and I'm not going to take you on, I want you to get through today's game and get back into the first team."

Sir Tom's list of accolades on the field speaks for itself but so does his recognition off it:

- In 1961, a year after retirement, Sir Tom received the OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List.

- In 1979, Sir Tom was made a Freeman of Preston, and nine years later he was the subject of the TV programme This Is Your Life.

- For 20 years Sir Tom worked as a magistrate, giving him the experience of sitting on the Preston bench.

- A CBE followed in 1992 but the pinnacle arrived in 1998 when Tom Finney became Sir Tom after being knighted by the Queen in her New Year Honours List.

- He was also involved in various charitable organisations, sat on the Football Grounds Improvements Trust and was appointed as the chairman of the Preston Health Authority.

- Deepdale itself is located on Sir Tom Finney Way and in 1995 a stand was re-named in his honour, bearing his image on its seats.

- Sir Tom was the subject of the 1956 Sports Photograph of the Year, depicting him beating two Chelsea defenders at a waterlogged Stamford Bridge, and in 2004 that iconic image was immortalised when he unveiled a sculpture - The Splash - sitting outside Deepdale, where it remains today and became a shrine for tributes on his death.

- Deepdale was also the site of the National Football Museum, a cause that Sir Tom had championed, and in 2006 - to mark 60 years since his debut for the club - the museum presented him with a specially-commissioned flag that had been signed by fans in tribute to his career.

Sir Tom was so loved by his colleagues and observers that a book could be made just from comments made about him. Here are a select few:

- Bill Shankly: "Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age? even if he had been wearing an overcoat."

- Sir Bobby Moore: "If you're as good as Tom Finney was, you don't have to tell anybody."

- Henry Winter: "Finney will forever be associated with fair play, for showing respect to an opponent, for dignity. The true sporting greats are blessed with grace. Modesty should be Tom Finney's middle name."

- Tommy Docherty: "To me, Messi is Finney re-born."

Upon his death, tributes flooded in from the world of football for Sir Tom, one of the true giants of the game.

Deepdale became a mass of tributes and flowers left in his honour and Preston held an impeccably-observed minute's silence the following day prior to their home match with Leyton Orient, which attracted a crowd of more than 13,000. Each of Preston's players wore a shirt bearing the name 'Finney' on the back in what was a moving tribute.

Clubs across the country held periods of silence or applause to mark Sir Tom's passing and the list of tributes received grows by the hour. Again, here are a select few of the comments made following the death of a true football icon:

- David Beckham: "I was lucky enough to have met him when I was on loan at Preston and he was not just an England great but a true gentleman."

- Sir Bobby Charlton: "He was the type of player that people would travel a long way to see."

- Gary Lineker: "Sir Tom Finney has left us. One of the greatest players this country has ever seen, and a true gentleman."

- Stan Collymore: "Rest In Peace Sir Tom. The Lion of Lions. A more talented English player of Association you'll not find. An English icon. Thank you."

- Jimmy Armfield: "He, in my opinion, is one of the really great footballers that this country has produced. As much as anything else, and it's hard to explain to many people today, but it was the way he played and the way he carried himself - his whole demeanour of life."

- Football League Chairman, Greg Clarke said: "The Football League is deeply saddened to learn of Sir Tom's death and I offer my condolences, on behalf of all our clubs, to his family and friends, including all those at Preston North End.

"He was quite possibly the finest player to have ever played in The Football League and was a true gentleman. He was also the epitome of the one club man with few people ever having contributed as much to a single team, their city or our competition.

"He will be greatly missed by the English game."

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