Tom Finney (1922-2014) was also one of the most respected players of the 1940s and 1950s. The great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who played with and against him, thought Finney would have been ‘great in any team, in any match, at any time…even if he had been wearing an overcoat’.
Another team-mate, Tommy Docherty, noted in 2012: ‘To me, [Lionel] Messi is Finney reborn’.
Born in 1922, Finney signed as an amateur for his local club, Preston North End, in 1936. He had rejected the offer of a position on the club’s groundstaff to allow him to train at a local plumbing firm.
In January 1940, he signed part-time professional forms for the Deepdale club and made his debut in a regional wartime fixture against Liverpool at Anfield. He helped Preston lift the Wartime Cup in 1941 and turned out as a guest player for Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Southampton.
Shortly after this, Finney joined the Army and saw active service in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. But he was also able to improve his football in service matches and, by the end of 1945, had been selected to represent England. He scored in a 7-2 victory in his full international debut against Northern Ireland in September 1946, less than a month after his peacetime Football League debut for Preston.
So began a long and distinguished post-war international career in which Finney was capped 76 times and scored 30 goals.
Tom Finney's loyalty to Preston earned him respect and acclaim across the football world.
In Finney and Stoke City and Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews, England possessed two of the world’s very best right wingers.
Their rivalry was a feature of the post-war football scene. Matthews was generally considered more of an entertainer and an individualist whereas Finney was thought a better all-rounder and team man; or, in England manager Walter Winterbottom’s words, ‘a more efficient player’.
He was certainly more versatile, playing on the left wing and at centre forward as well as on the right for club and country. He also scored more goals: 187 in his 433 league appearances for Preston between 1946 and 1960.
Finney was a close dribbler with a lightning turn of pace. One biographer described him as ‘ephemeral and wraithlike: here and gone’. At his best he was simply unplayable. Bolton left-back Tommy Banks reportedly claimed Finney to be ‘superhuman’ after a particularly chastening display by the winger.
Blackburn’s Ronnie Clayton suggested that when Finney was missing from the line-up ‘it was as though Preston had fielded a side four men short’.
Despite a number of offers from home and abroad, Finney remained at Deepdale for his entire professional career. Even when the club was relegated to the Second Division in 1950, he stayed loyal, not being able to imagine ‘playing for any other club than the one I had watched and almost worshipped as a boy’.
He never won the league championship or FA Cup with Preston but remained closely identified with club and town decades after his career had ended.
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