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Old 15th February 2014, 00:34   #1
tomclare
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Default Sir Tom Finney

I was saddened to hear, just a few hours ago, of the passing of Sir Tom Finney. Without doubt he was one of the greatest players ever to grace the game. I just wish that people today could have watched him in his pomp, because believe me, he was mesmerizing. Modest to a tee, and one of life's real gentlemen... and a legend in the truest sense of the word. This is a piece that I wrote for 606 back in 2005 and I re-post as a little tribute. Enjoy.

Sir Tom Finney

When I look back over the years that I have followed football, I can honestly remember hundreds of players who have given me so much pleasure, and also, hundreds who have made me think; "how the hell did they ever get to this level of the game?" My memory takes me back to more than fifty years ago, and I was also lucky enough o have a Grandfather who nurtured into me the love, and history of the game, and he was also able to instill into me a reasonably good knowledge about football, from around the turn of the 20th Century. For me, great players, are great players, irrespective of what era they belong to. But as the years have rolled along, in the British game, (and maybe this is just my age making me a little biased) the truly great players have become scarcer, and scarcer. I have been really lucky to have watched football over the period of time that I have. It has enabled me to watch some wonderful teams, but most of all, some wonderful players. As you all know,unquestionably in my eyes, the greatest that I ever saw was Duncan Edwards; for me the greatest ALL ROUND PLAYER that ever put a football boot on. But there are two others who are also up there on my pedestal, revered to me just as Duncan was.

One was a player whom I tried to model myself on when I played the game, and surprisingly, he played for Manchester City. He was the probably the greatest goalkeeper in the game never to win an international cap. Had he been British, then I am sure, even though there were so many quality goalkeepers about in the British game at the time, that whichever national team he would have played for, over a period of eight years from 1953 - 1961, nobody would have come close to dislodging him in the team. He was of course the big blonde German, Bernhard (Bert) Karl Trautmann.
But the player that I want to write about in this "Legends" section, is a player whom I have loved, admired, respected, and got so much joy from in the years that I was able to see him play - even when he was tearing Manchester Unitedís defences apart. He was man who was born into an industrial Lancashire town of around 100,000 inhabitants. A town with a strong heritage and proud traditions. The Romans had been there, the Vikings had been there, and the town had also been ransacked by the Scots on more than one occasion. During the Civil Wars, it had been captured on three occasions by rival armies; even Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads paid it a visit! More recently, the environmental ravages of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century had left a stark legacy on the cotton mills, factories, and the town had some of the worst living conditions to be seen in the north of England. Prosperity there was, but largely in the hands of the few.
It was into this tough, but close knit environment and community that my subject was born, on April 5th, 1922. The town in the past had boasted several famous personages, some of whom acquired wide renown - the poets Francis Thompson and Robert W. Service, astronomer-cleric Jeremiah Horrocks and inventor, Richard Arkwright who patented the spinning machine known as the 'water frame'. However, in terms of international fame, one man would rise above them all, and he was a plumber. The town of course is Preston, and theman is "The Preston Plumber", Sir Tom Finney. In post war England, football was a way of life for thousands of people. Thousands of them followed the fortunes of their local teams, whichever division they were in, and marveled at the high level of play and sportsmanship. I think that it is true to say that few sports have held the attention of so many for so long. What other game could have regularly attracted out, upwards of 40,000 fans, on a wet, cold, windy, Saturday afternoon or mid-week evening, to stand (not sit down!) and watch a match? For those thousands of workers across the length and breadth of Britain, and nowhere more so than in the industrial centres of the North, Saturday afternoon WAS football!

Preston North End back then was a top flight club with a very proud tradition and successful history. Each home game was regularly saw gates of 30,000 and more at the compact Deepdale ground. During the last 45 years or so, the club has been through some hard times, losing itís top flight status in 1961 andn ever being able to regain that ground since. The end of Tom Finney's career coincided with the end of that top flight football, so not surprisingly then, for those of us who saw him, we tend to look back upon his era with great nostalgia. Whatever happens to the club in the future, I doubt very much that Deepdale will ever echo again to the same level of excitement or expectancy that greeted Tom Finney whenever he stepped out onto the field of play. He was adored. Fans from all clubs alike, recognized and saluted his genius as did the popular Press.
Quite apart from his football skill, which indeed was something to behold, Finney for me must go down as one of the greatest Sportsmen of our time. Unlike many of the modern day era who sully their records with outbursts of petulance, anger, and violence, because of the physical aspects within the game, Finney never, ever, went down that road. If an opponent was good enough to close him down, he didn't try to break him down physically. He bided his time and won the day through his skill, speed, intelligence or not at all. Tom Finney was never seen to retaliate, he was never ever booked, or sent off, during his long and illustrious career. He had an outstanding temperament, but nevertheless, he also had a determination and ruthlessness which surprised many an opponent. Finney was a product of his time, and genuinely embodied much that was, and is, good about the North of England. Upon leaving school at just 14 years of age, he started an apprenticeship as a plumber. He was just a year into that apprenticeship when he was offered the princely sum of 2 pounds and ten shillings a week to join the Preston ground staff. His father encouraged him to go on serving his apprenticeship for 6 shillings a week, and got him to sign for the club initially as an amateur. Considering that his Mother had died when he was just 4 years old, leaving 6 children, and that his Dadís second marriage had produced 2more, it was a major sacrifice for the family to have to forego that extra 2pounds a week. Tom was so grateful to his Dad for making that decision, as were the other members of the close-knit Finney family who were among the 80 or so people who eventually earned a decent living from the plumbing business started by Tom and his younger brother Joe. Finney made his debut for Preston North End as an 18 year old playing on the right wing against Liverpool, at Anfield, on the opening day of the 1940-41 season in what became known as the regional war time league. Playing behind him that day was a figure who in later years was to become the biggest influence in Liverpool Football Club's history - one William Shankly! From that day on, their relationship blossomed and was warm enough to even survive Sunday tea in the Shankly's little terraced house on Deepdale Road, where Finneyís young wife Elsie, and Bill's wife Nessie, who in those days were never in the least bit passionate about football, found their sanity threatened by Bill's inevitable insistence on dissecting the previous day's action relentlessly from the moment that his young guests came through the door! Long afterwards, when Shankly had become a legend as manager of Liverpool, Finney was retired but had taken a job with the Sunday newspaper The News of the World, reporting on football matches. Now and again he would find himself at Anfield, and the hard miner's arm would be affectionately thrown around the younger man, and all within Bill's earshot would be regaled with eulogies about "Tommy Finney." He always referred to Finney as "Tommy." A saddened Sunday hack once had the temerity to ask Shankly if Finney would have been strong enough for the then modern game. Shankly spun on the spot and on the doubter with the familiar Cagneyesque style, hitching of the shoulders, 'TommyFinney, son?' he said, letting the syllables curdle in disbelief. 'Tommy Finney was grisly strong. Tommy Finney could run for a week. I'd have played Tommy Finney in his overcoat! There would have been four men marking him when we were kickin' in! When I told people in Scotland that England were coming up to Hampden with a winger who was even better than Stan Mathews, they laughed at me- nay, derided me. But they weren't bloody laughing when big Geordie Young was runnin' a' over Hampden looking for bloody Tommy Finney!"

Finney was a one club man - he played all of his top flight football with his beloved North End, apart from one European Cup tie which I will mention a little later. He served Preston for 20 years. He was naturally left footed but made himself two footed through constant practicing with his right foot during his teenage years in those same painstaking practice sessions that developed his intricate control and sharpened his speed off the mark. One of Finney's basic strengths on the field was his first touch ? with either foot, and the economy he used in bringing the ball under control even when it was played into him at the most awkward of angles. "You didn't have to pass to Tom" Tommy Docherty was known to remark. "You could drive the ball at him and he would take it as though you had gently rolled it to him underhand! "His feinting, swerving dribbles bewildered defenders and once past them, they were mere spectators. His pace was deceptive, and he was the one winger whom I ever saw give the late Roger Byrne a tousing. Roger used to reckon that Finney had two gears and that he would lull the full back into a false sense of security. They would think that they had him in their pocket and then suddenly he was away around their outside, down to the byeline and he would screw the ball back across the goalmouth for somebody coming in. When that move was executed there was very little the opposition could do about - oh! that there were players today that could do this consistently!
Finney was unostentatiously fearless. The unfair physical challenge didnít provide a way out for the persecuted full backs. Some would try and intimidate him verbally, but it never bothered him. At Deepdale, there was a famous story told amongst the players about a confrontation that Finney had at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea's crude full back, Stan Willemse. Willemse tried to rile Finney throughout the game and at one point asked with contempt; "How the hell did you ever get all those England caps?" Quick as flash Tom replied;" By playing regularly against silly c***s like you!" It supposedly sounded so funny in Tomís broad Lancashire accent. Anybody scrutinizing Finney's remarkable talent for a weakness might have claimed that his heading wasnít up to much. But if that was supposed handicap it didnít bother him at all, and was emphasized when at the ripe old age of 35, North End switched him to centre forward. He was so devastating that season that he scored 28 League and Cup goals! I can recall during my time that there was always comparison between Finney and Stanley Mathews. The question raged for years during the 50s - for me it was a no brainer. Finney, without doubt was the more complete player. Their supposed rivalry was more than exaggerated, and they were in fact great friends, especially as Stan played just up the road from him at Blackpool. The newspaper hacks from that era used to get a lot of mileage out of comparing the two wingers, especially when there wasnít too much to write about! In all honesty though, Finney did not like playing at outside left that Mathewsí towering presence in the England team obliged him to occupy. If I am correct, Finney actually played in 3forward positions for England, something Mathews could never do. Also, as he got older, Stan became more selective as to when, and where he would play. Sir Matt used to say of Mathews; "He loves to save his best performances for The Palladium!" - meaning the London grounds. But as I said both players had a high regard for each other and were friends. That Tom Finney stayed with his home town club for so long is one of the abiding wonders in football.There are two points in his career when that link could have been broken. But two chairmen of the Club prevented a parting that might have caused civil disobedience in that little corner of Lancashire. The first brief crisis came after Preston were relegated to the 2nd Division in 1949. Finney feared that the relegation might make it too easy for the England selectors to overlook him, but he was persuaded to dismiss thoughts of a transfer. New players were brought in to strengthen the team and within two seasons, North End were back in the top flight.
The pressure for him to move was a little more intense around the 1952 time. He was at a banquet following Englandís 1-1 draw with Italy in Florence, when he was approached by the President of the Sicilian club Palermo and promised10,000 pounds sign for them, plus wages of 130 pounds a month, huge bonuses, a villa on the Mediterranean and a car. It's not hard to calculate what kind of impression that offer would have made on him when you consider that he was still earning less than 20 pounds a week during the season and 15 pounds a week during the summer months! Those figures did not increase much either during the next eight years to his retirement! It saddens me to recall that the injustices of the wage system back then hurt the players of extraordinary ability. Even his international career never earned him more than5 0 pounds for an appearance - most of his caps were won when the "international fee" was only 20 pounds. Equally significant was the rule that players traveled third class by rail or second class by air. After one international at Hampden Park in which the attendance was 134,000 - Finney and Wilf Mannion had to stand in the train corridor throughout the wearying journey back home! In the context of all this exploitation, the Sicilian proposition seemed to be an offer that he could not refuse. But the then North End Chairman, a certain Mr. Nat Buck, a local builder just simplified the issue. "Whatís 10,000 quid to thee Tom?" he asked without a smile. "Nay lad, tha'll play for us or tha'll play for no bugger!" and that was the end of it! At a quarter to five on April 30th 1960, the curtain fell on Tom Finney's professional football career .His last league game was against Luton Town at his beloved Deepdale and North End won 2-0. The feeling of loss was universal. He was drawn back into the game though for one more game some 3 years later - and this was the European cup tie that I mentioned earlier. For quiz buffs, it's actually a good quiz question -"How many times did Tom Finney play in the European Cup?"
In 1963George Eastham senior, father of the player whose court case precipitated the abolition of the maximum wage, was managing the Distillery club in Northern Ireland, and was preparing them for a preliminary round match after having been drawn against Benfica, the Portugese giants. He approached Tom to play for the club in the hope that he could integrate and inspire the Distillery young hopefuls to make some kind of a show. Finney had to be coaxed and pestered for a while before he finally agreed that he would turn out in the tie, but only in the home leg at Windsor Park, Belfast. Finneyís condition about playing in that game was that no matter what happened, there would be no question of his playing in the return fixture in Lisbon. Eastham gladly agreed. Tom did more than a good job, and his mere presence in the dressing room and out on the park seemed to lift the young Distillery team far and above their normal level of performance, and that night they earned a very creditable 3-3draw. They were taken apart by 5-0 in the return leg, but Tom Finney had made his mark upon another great competition at the age of 41.What made Tom Finney such a special player? In tangible terms his Deepdale career failed to produce a sideboard full of medals or trophies. For many seasons during his career, North End were footballís "nearly men" - always challenging but rarely coming through to the top. They finished runners-up in Division One once, and managed to reach an F.A. Cup Final but were defeated by West Bromwich Albion at Wembley. It is incredible to relate now, that despite all his skills, he never scored a hat trick during his career. Despite this, Finney's place in Football's Hall of Fame is most certainly assured. I can recall the late Roger Byrne talking to the press after a game which I had watched at Deepdale around 1956/57 time I think. Preston had beaten United 3-0 that afternoon on a day that was so wet and the pitch so heavy. Finney had had a hand in all three goals, two from a former United player named Eddie Lewis who had starred in the inaugural youth teams at Old Trafford. As the players trudged off that wet, muddy pitch, 21 of them were caked in mud and stained in sweat. But as they neared the tunnel, Roger stopped to shake hands with Finney, and as they did do, he noticed that Finney's kit hardly had a mark upon it - it was as clean as the Referee's! Finney had been the match winner, the star, the wreaker of havoc, and yet, in some indefinable way, he was detached from it all. Roger was to say to the press afterwards; "I was conscious of a feeling of awe which touches ordinary mortals in the presence of a genius."

Rest in Peace Tom - thanks for the wonderful memories.
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Old 15th February 2014, 22:04   #2
Dobbo
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Great piece again Tom. Must admit i never saw him play but my dad always told me he was the best. I am lucky enough to have a signed copy of his biography that I bought my dad a couple of years before he died, got it off the shelf this morning and had another flick through the pages. it always amazes me when you see the state of the pitches, the old footballs with laces and the 'hob nail' boots they had to wear. How good would somebody like Tom be in this day and age!

Tom Finney. True Legend.
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