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Sir Tom Finney

Footballer

Footballer

Born: April 5, 1922; Died: February 14, 2014;

Sir Tom Finney, who has died aged 91, was a hugely respected footballer who made more than 400 league appearances for Preston North End and won 76 caps for England. Even when he was inspiring England to Hampden victory after Hampden victory over Scotland in the decade between 1948 and 1958, the Tartan Army recognised class and applauded him.

He may have been born in Preston and played all his club football there, but his career was heavily influenced by Scotsmen who have been so identified with the town. When he first went to Deepdale as ground staff, the Preston team of Bill Shankly, Tommie Smith, Andy Beattie, Frank O'Donnell, Jimmy Milne and George Mutch spoke with a distinct Scots accent and played the traditional Scottish-style passing game.

Shankly was also Finney's minder when the precocious 16-year-old first began to torture defenders during the war years, then, when age took its toll on Glenbuck's finest, the minder's role was taken-up by Gorbals boy Tommy Docherty. Shankly and Docherty had their differences about football, but not about Finney. These two iconic Scottish managers both rated him the best player they had ever seen.

He tasted early success in a war-time, cup-winning Preston side before service with the Royal Armoured Corps as part of Montgomery's Eighth Army "Desert Rats". He made such an impression in the army team that he played for England in a Victory International before he had made his official league start for North End; he played a total of 437 games for them, scoring 187 goals, up until his retirement at the end of the 1960 season.

Stanley Matthews had been an automatic choice as England's outside right before and during the war, but Finney's arrival gave the England selectors a problem: which of these two outstanding outside rights to pick for the national side? The argument as to which was the greater player continues to this day but at the time Walter Winterbottom, the England manager, found a answer when his selectors dithered - he persuaded them to pick both, with Finney switching to outside left, where he was equally lethal.

"Matthews was a wonderful winger, a real handful, but, when compared with Tom, Stanley was the easier player to play against", said Rangers' Sammy Cox.

"You knew what Stanley would do - go outside you, get to the bye-line and cross. Tom Finney gave you more problems; he could beat you on either side, and he was the greater goal threat with his ability to cut inside and score - he was one helluva player".

Matthews, after the Second World War, was content to lay-on goals for others, and Finney could score too - his 30 goals for England was a record until overtaken by Bobby Charlton, while the Preston man also played inside forward and centre forward for England.

His 76 internationals encompassed the World Cups of 1950, 1954 and 1958. Big Italian clubs offered him a fortune to sign for them, but, as a Preston boy, he was happy to play out his career at Deepdale.

He had one chance at individual Wembley glory, in 1954, just a year after Matthews had inspired Blackpool to FA Cup victory. But, on the day Finney was less than fully fit, had a rare quiet game and West Bromwich Albion came from behind to lift the trophy.

With no wall-to-wall live football on television during his career, Finney was one player who could put up to 20,000 onto a gate. He was a genuine star, but always a quiet, grounded man.

This may have owed something to the fact he was never a full-time footballer. He lost his mother Margaret when he was only four; his father Alfred re-married and insisted his son complete his apprenticeship in the nearby Pilkington's plumbing business. Even at a time when he was one of the biggest stars in the world game, after morning training at Deepdale, he would put on his overalls, pick up his tool bag and fix leaking taps or blocked toilets around Preston. After retirement from the game and an emotional farewell at his beloved Deepdale, he built the firm up to be one of the biggest plumbing and heating businesses in the north-west of England.

With business to take care of, he shied away from management, other than to be player-coach of an England touring side in the Far East in 1961.

He joined the North End board, then became chairman, before being given the honorary title of life president. He was made OBE in 1961, immediately following his retirement. This honour was upgraded to CBE, in 1992, then, in 1998, he followed Matthews into the ranks of footballing knights.

He was predeceased by Lady Elsie, his wife of nearly 60 years, and is survived by his son Brian, daughter Barbara and their families.

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