Every football club has a legend. A historical figure at the club that is loved and adored by fans of all ages. Even those too young to see them play. Not every football club is lucky enough to have a one-club legend though. A player who spends their entire career dedicated to just one club. Tom Finney is that one-club hero at Preston North End. He is ingrained into the club and will always be a huge and important part of the history of Preston North End.
His Iconic “The Splash” statue, taken from an image of him playing away at Stamford Bridge on a waterlogged pitch stands proudly outside the old National Football Museum & the Sir Tom Finney Stand.
His loyalty and dedication to the club was hugely adored and still is today, his story begins Pre-World War 2.
The Apprentice Plumber Takes A Trial
Sir Tom Finney was born on the 5th of April 1922 and was brought up just a couple of hundred yards from Deepdale stadium, the place where he would spend his entire footballing career. As a teenager, he got an apprenticeship as a plumber with a local firm. He played football at school and with his friends on the fields surrounding his home at Moor Park directly across from Deepdale.
When Preston North End advertised in the local paper for trials he took the opportunity and impressed the club so much he was offered a professional contract. However, before he could start his career his father insisted he finished his apprenticeship. The club was happy to allow him to do this so he played for the youth team whilst completing his plumbing apprenticeship before turning professional.
WW2, Finney’s Wartime Tournaments
Unfortunately, the beginning of World War 2 meant all football was on hold for the duration. He did, however, start to impress during wartime tournaments before he was called up to serve his country in the Royal Armoured Corps in North Africa then later Italy.
Whilst he was serving, during his leave, he would spend his time playing for Army teams and even played against future actor Omar Sharif. Finney was later involved in the final offensive in The Battle of Argenta Gap in April 1945. Only 4 months before his professional debut.
Post WW2, Kicking Off In Style
After the war, Finney got straight back to his hometown and was ready for first team success as Prestons number 7. He made an immediate impact and got an England call-up just months after his professional debut where he scored in a 7-2 victory over Northern Ireland, which he later described as one of his proudest days as a footballer.
Finney naturally played as a left winger but could also play as a forward, a striker or even on the right wing. He had an impeccable goal-scoring record at the height of his career scoring 54 goals over 2 seasons between 1956 and 1958. Even as a winger he managed double figures in the majority of seasons and scored 210 goals in 473 appearances in league and cup throughout his whole career.
Finney’s England Career
In his England career which spanned 12 years, Finney made 76 appearances, scoring 30 goals. He once led as England’s all-time top scorer before Nat Lofthouse, a one-club hero for Bolton Wanderers, equalled his tally. Both were later passed by Bobby Charlton who finished with 49 international goals. One of his most impressive performances was in a 5-3 win in a friendly over Portugal where he managed to score 4 goals in Lisbon in 1950 when he was a second division player.
Tom Finney And His 10 Drips
Preston had been relegated in the 1948-49 season, which Finney had missed a chunk off due to injury. They were relegated by just one point, finishing 2nd bottom in a season where only 25 points separated 22nd placed Sheffield United and league champions Portsmouth. In their first season in the 2nd division, North End finished 6th, back in a time way before the playoffs were introduced. However, in their 2nd year, Finney helped lead North End to becoming Division 2 champions. His goals, assists and overall performances on the pitch got Preston rather unfairly labelled “Tom Finney and his 10 drips” due to his background as a plumber as well as a professional footballer as he helped carry Preston back to the 1st division with his undoubtedly unbelievable skill and quality.
Tommy Attracts Interest From Italy
Finney played alongside many great players in his career, he formed a great partnership with Tommy Thompson and played alongside Alan Kelly Sr and Bill Shankly. Sir Tom didn’t only attract attention throughout the UK, but throughout Europe, and in 1952 Preston North End chairman Nat Buck turned down a £10,000 offer from Italian side Palermo. At the time the record signings were £34,500 for Jackie Sewell, so £10,000 may have been a lot of money for the time, but definitely still under-priced for what Finney was capable of.
All-Round Footballer, All-Round Gent
As a player, he was an all-round perfect attacking footballer. Sir Tom had class in his goal scoring ability and his assists. The Preston plumber was as much as a gentleman on the field as he was off the field. He wasn’t the sort of player to be selfish and hold onto the ball, he was always looking for options as he danced his way across muddy fields leaving defenders yards behind him as he used his short bursts of pace and trickery to leave opposition players frustrated. He could move the ball as smoothly on a swamp as most players dream they could on a modern day pitch. Former teammate and good friend Bill Shankly quoted “Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age … even if he had been wearing an overcoat”. Shankly had a lot of respect for Finney as they met towards the end of Shankly’s playing career but at the beginning of Finneys. He was quoted another time when asked about a player in the 70’s “Aye, he’s as good as Tommy, but then Tommy’s nearly 60 now”.
Hanging His Boots Up
His tackling game was also on point, he could drop deep to collect the ball and despite having the living hell kicked out off him as defenders tried to stop Sir Toms magic feet drifting through the defence, he never picked up a booking throughout his whole career. Not even a yellow card. The Preston plumber showed more of his class as a man in his final game for England. By allowing a young Bobby Charlton take a penalty instead of himself. Finney could have easily said not a chance and slotted home his 31st international goal against the USSR, but that wasn’t in his nature.
After retiring from international football in 1958, he had 2 more seasons of professional football left with Preston as he continued to grace the field up until he was 38. Still hitting double figures in his final season. Unfortunately, Finney never won any major tournaments with Preston. He was a one time runner up in the FA Cup, 2-time runner-up in the League and one-time winner of Division 2. However, he did win Player of the year and was the first in history to achieve this twice.
Post Retirement & Later Life
After his retirement Finney maintained his links with the club, he became the clubs President and was forever a fan and always coming down to Deepdale to watch his beloved Preston North End. The Splash statue was unveiled in 2004 in honour to his loyalty and hard work for the club.
It would be incredible to think how much he will be worth as a player in the modern game. He was ahead of his time in his style of play and would fit perfectly into many top teams today with his attacking versatility, his clean tackling record, his great mentality and enthusiasm towards the game. Being a footballer was a 2nd career for the majority of Tommy’s footballing life. Even in his prime, he was only paid £14 a week. However, his love of the game had him turning up every week to have his legs kicked black and blue.
Sir Tom passed away 14th February 2014, at the age of 91. This was felt not just across the fan base in Preston but the whole community. He was loved and adored by all in Preston, regardless of their interest, or none for some, in football. He wasn’t just a one-club hero, but a local hero.
The following day Preston were playing Leyton Orient at home. The crowd held a one minute’s applause before kick-off and then sang his name for the following 90 minutes. We were 1-0 down at halftime, but in the 2nd half, after a rainy morning, the rain stopped, the sun broke through the clouds and shone down on Deepdale, as lifelong fan Joey Garner stuck home a penalty to level the game up. It was almost as if Sir Tom was there, watching his favourite football club.