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  • Mitre June 17

A personal tribute to Sir Tom Finney Preston and England's greatest ever player

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A day has arrived that anyone who knew Sir Tom has dreaded. England's greatest ever footballer has died aged 91.

As General manager of Preston North End between 1996 and 2004 I got to know Sir Tom well. Especially as in part of that era Sir Tom's wife Elsie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - a condition my own father died of in 2008. It was a strange bond, other than football, but on many occasions I talked to Sir Tom about his beloved Elsie and her illness perhaps in only the way someone else dealing with the same issues can.

Tom, looked after Elsie at home for a long time and quietly went about his day to day business despite being well into his 80s himself. It was the selfless nature of a great man who not only excelled for his town and country as a footballer, but spent the entire war on active service and after retirement as a footballer was a sterling servant to Preston the town.

Sir Tom was the most incredible person, and his humility despite his greatness was astounding. Given that he last kicked a ball in 1961 it was a testimony to the man that even 35 years later he was receiving a sack full of mail every week. Sir Tom used to come into his office every Wednesday and religiously reply to every single letter, post card or more recently email that he was sent.

I recall at the play off final between Bolton and Preston that an image appeared on the big screen of Sir Tom and Elsie his wife in the Directors box before the match. Despite the importance of the game, Sir Tom's focus was on Elsie who even then was not in the best of health.

I also had the honour to help publish with the Lancashire Evening Post a Pictorial Biography of Sir Tom based on an archive of previously unseen pictures found in the vaults. Sir Tom as ever was a tremendous help in identifying the photos and helping bring the book to life. Those are treasured memories for me.

On the pitch, he is the stuff of legends. Trying to explain tonight to a 20 something why he IS the best ever player England has seen was a given. Let's face it, Sir Stanley Matthews as good as he was, could not hold a candle to Sir Tom. Finney moved wings to accommodate Matthews, and played across the whole of England's forward line. His 30 goals in 76 internationals was a record at the time, and but for the war and the lack of internationals in the 50s he would surely have topped 100 caps. Finney also missed vital periods through injury, but was loyal to his home town club despite the chance to go to Italy at the height of his fame.

But if true testimony is needed, look no further than Bill Shankly - who like Finney played most of his career at Preston - and they both have stands named after them at Deepdale- who said Finney was the best player by far he had ever seen - there is no better epitaph.

John Booth

 

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