Ah, Sir Tom Finney, one of the finest exponents of footballing skill ever to wear the shirt of England is a living legend. A gentleman and a true star of the post war game, Finney epitomises everything that was great about those halcyon days of English football. Born in Preston, in 1922, Finney is a rare breed of footballers that saw active service in the Second World War and continued playing up to 1960.
Finney has become somewhat of a national treasure, which of course he should be, for both his performances for England and Preston North End. Signing for his hometown club, Finney’s career was stopped in his tracks by the outbreak of World War II but his father had made him complete his plumping apprenticeship before he could sign professional terms with the club.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Finney wasn’t too old to be called up to serve his country and found himself in the Royal Armoured Corps, serving in Africa under General Montgomery. He saw action with the 8th Army in Egypt, but still managed to find the time to play football in Army matches. Returning to the UK in 1946, Finney’s footballing career finally took off aged 24, making his debut in August and was picked for England within a month.
From that point on, Finney carved his name in to the history of both Preston North End and England. Looking back, perhaps it’s hard to understand why he never left Preston to join a more successful side, but Finney loved Preston and the fans loved him even more. Preston North End famously turned down a move to Palermo in 1952, which would have seen his weekly wage dramatically increased from £14 a week to £120 as well as a signing on fee of £10,000!
“Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age … even if he had been wearing an overcoat.” Bill Shankly
Throughout the 1950’s he continued to excel for England, playing right wing, left wing and as a centre forward. Being naturally two footed and as good on either foot, Finney was a nightmare for defenders to mark as he tended to drift along the front line, losing his markers.
An accomplished header of the ball and with a shot like a rocket, the only thing that surprises people is his relative lack of goals in his career when his abilities are taken in account. Yet, Preston were not a powerhouse of English football, they were relegated in his 3rd season at the club down to the Second Division and they took two seasons to return as Champions. Ironically, this would turn out to be the only winners medal that Finney would ever claim in his career.
“Aye, he’s as good as Tommy – but then Tommy’s nearly 60 now.” Bill Shankly after being asked to compare Trevor Francis with Finney
The 1950’s were a time of almost equality in English football, with 6 different sides winning the league title that decade. With Wolves claiming 3 and Manchester United 2, Preston did finish runners up twice but simply couldn’t mount the consistency that they needed to snatch a title. They finished runners up in 1953 and 1958, 3rd in 1957 but almost got relegated again in 1956, yet Finney kept plugging away.
Finney’s talents were recognised by all around him though and he won the Footballer of the Year award in1954 and 1957, becoming the first player to win it twice and his continued selection in the England side merited his continuing contribution to Preston’s First Division survival. There is no doubt that without Finney, Preston North End would not have been a top Division side.
Amazingly Finney’s two best seasons for goalscoring came back to back towards the end of his career, hitting 54 goals in 75 appearances between 1956 and 1958. The following and ultimately his penultimate season for Preston saw him pick up a groin injury that began to effect his ability. He managed only 16 games in the 1958-59 season, but roared back for the last time the following season. Even at 38 and with a damaged groin, Finney was a class apart. He played 41 games and scored 21 goals, his third highest total in his career and decided to call it a day.
Football wise, Finney only came back once, turning out for Irish side, Distillery in the European Cup but never went in to management. As his Father had advised him before he joined Preston, Finney had completed his plumbing apprenticeship. He’d actually continued to work throughout his football career and continued plumbing after his retirement.
Finney has been a towering figure since his retirement and is feted as one of England’s greatest players from any age. The Life president of Preston North End, he still replies to his fan mail and is staunch supporter of the Alzheimer’s Society, after losing his wife, Lady Elsie to the disease in 2004. That same year, in July, a statue celebrating the photograph that leads this article was unvieled outside the National Football Museum in Preston. Known as “The Splash” it’s a fitting testament to his legacy.
- 473 games and 210 goals for Preston North End
- 76 games and 30 goals for England
- Played in the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cup Finals
- Twice Footballer of the Year, 1954 and 1957
“I’d never played with a winger like that and I never would. I was amazed by Tom Finney” Bobby Moore