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Tom Finney spent his entire footballing career with his home town club Preston North End for whom he played 433 league games, scoring 187 goals. He played 76 times for England and scored 30 goals, making him his country’s leading scorer up to that time. Although he won no medals as a player, he was voted the Footballer of the Year in both 1954 and 1957.
He had made a name for himself as a scrawny teenager when, during the Second World War, he had helped Preston beat Arsenal in the 1941 League Cup Final. Finney demonstrated great versatility, playing in all the orthodox positions of the day for Preston and appearing for England at right-wing, left-wing and centre-forward. Naturally left footed Finney practiced with his right and could boast an explosive shot with either. He had speed, great balance, incisive passer and, despite his lack of height, an awesome header of a ball.
Finney was born in 1922 and lived just across the road from Preston’s Deepdale ground. He was a delicate child and was initially rejected by Preston on the grounds of size. He had always wanted to be a footballer, his father insisted that he learned a trade and he became an apprentice plumber – and in the days of the maximum wage he would earn his living as a plumber despite his international reputation as one of the world’s greatest players. Ironically, in 1952 the Italian club Palermo offered Finney a £10,000 signing fee, £130 a month wages, bonuses of up to £100 a game, a Mediterranean villa and a luxury car but Finney turned them down.
Finney remained at Preston and played in the 1954 FA Cup Final. Those hoping for that he could repeat Stanley Matthew’s feat of the previous year were disappointed. Finney admitted ‘I let them down.’
Throughout his career, Finney had taken more than his fair share of punishment and had often played when he was not fully fit. By the late 1950s he was facing increasing problems with his fitness. Nevertheless, at the age of 34, he was made centre-forward at Preston, and his career revived as the club finished third in the First Division.
In 1960 Finney accepted medical advice and retired. His last game against Luton was an emotional affair, as the crowd sang Auld Lang Syne. Finney’s importance to Preston was underlined by the fact that they were relegated the following season and have never reached the top flight since. Never booked, and never sent off, his contribution to the game was acknowledged with a knighthood in 1998. ‘Tom Finney would have been great in any team. in any match and in any age’, Bill Shankly once declared ‘..even if he had been wearing an overcoat’.
See Tom in action for England against Ireland: http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=Oj8LgRq-QkE