Football Ambassador

A tribute to one of the greatest adverts of the game, here we celebrate Sir Tom’s life in a unique A to Z format to show how he has helped to shape a better city, club and game during his lifetime.

A is for Alf Finney
Tom describes his dad as: “The biggest single influence on my life and the one to whom I owe a debt of gratitude beyond words. Not just for the interest he showed in my football… but for keeping our family together when hardship and tragedy threatened to break us apart.” Alf brought the family up – Tom, brother Joe and sisters Madge, Peggy, Doris and Edith – after the death of their mum Margaret at just 32. “How Dad coped with the upset and the subsequent responsibility is still hard to contemplate”, he says in his autobiography. “He was my guard and my guide”.

B is for Bungs
What was thought to be English football’s first ‘bung’ was offered to Tom in 1949 by an agent acting for a mystery club. The Preston winger turned down a tax free £2,000 – about four years’ wages – when he was approached by the shadowy figure while out walking in a local park. “It was my first – and last – experience of an unofficial approach,” he recalled. “He asked me if I fancied moving on. If I got myself on the transfer list he had a club ready, willing and more than able to buy me and throw two grand my way as a tax-free payment. “When you are on £10 a week, £2,000 represents a small fortune.”

C is for Caps
Tom made 76 appearances for England between September 1946 and October 1958. He also turned out for the Football League on 17 occasions. Long after he retired, Tom allowed some of his cap collection to be displayed in a glass case behind the bar of a pub named after him in Penwortham. Some were also loaned to the National Football Museum while it was sited at Deepdale.

D is for Discipline
Throughout his career Tom was regarded as one of football’s true gentlemen. He was never booked nor sent off, a phenomenal record considering he was constantly targeted by defenders under orders to stop him at all costs. “You got used to defenders trying to stop you any way they could,” he recalled. “To be truthful it never really bothered me over-much. People say that I have been a placid sort of guy and I rarely lost my rag. But as a kid I had been taught that two wrongs never made a right.”

E is for Elsie
Tom met his beloved wife at a church dance in 1938 and, after the couple’s courtship was interrupted by war, they eventually wed in 1945 and had two children, Brian and Barbara. Their loving marriage lasted just short of 60 years until Elsie succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2004. Tom said of her: “She was always there for us, a true family woman who didn’t see why being married to a famous footballer should alter her way of life. Honest and straightforward, she never really understood the fuss over football, but always did her best to make things easy for me.”

F is for Footballer of the Year
Tom became the first player to win the prestigious award twice when, having lifted the trophy in 1954, he scooped it again three years later. His first one came in the year he captained Preston in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, a game they lost 3-2. The team only finished halfway in the league and Tom missed almost half the season through injury. Yet voting by the Football Writers was almost unanimous. In 1957 he won it again and described it as “the biggest single thrill of my career.” He added: “I was the darling of the media; even I couldn’t believe some of the things I read.”

G is for Goals
In his career Tom scored 210 times in 472 league and cup games for Preston. He reached double figures in ten of his 14 seasons with the club, his best being 1957/58 when he knocked in 26. At international level he put the ball in the net 30 times in his 76 England games, even though all-but three of his appearances were on the wing. He also scored seven times in 17 games for the Football League side.

H is for Holme Slack
Tom was born in St Michael’s Road near to Deepdale Stadium, but he spent most of his childhood living on the Home Slack council estate in Daisy Lane. Tom wore clogs and most of his clothes were hand-me-downs from elder brother Joe. “The kickabouts we had in the fields and on the streets were daily events, sometimes involving dozens and dozens of kids” he said. “There were so many bodies around you had to be flipping’ good to get a kick. Once you got hold of the ball you didn’t let it go too easily – that’s where I first learned about close control and dribbling.”

I is for Injury
Injuries were a cross Tom had to bear as a marked man and he never completed a season as an ever-present. Invariably he tried to soldier on for the sake of PNE, knowing his absence would be sorely felt by both team-mates and supporters. “With the benefit of hindsight I was daft to be goaded into turning out unfit and having all those pain-killing injections,” he said, revealing a back problem very nearly ended his career in 1954/55.
“Rightly or wrongly I was dogged by guilt whenever an injury flared up. I knew my value to the team and North End officials always let it be known that they would prefer it if I was able to play.”

J is for Joe Finney
Tom’s older brother was also a promising player, but never made the grade as a professional. Instead he went into business with Tom outside football and the two of them founded the plumbing and electrical firm which was to bear the Finney name for decades.
Joe played for Netherfield in the Lancashire Combination and trained with Blackburn Rovers’ juniors two nights a week. It was his presence at Blackburn which almost cost Preston their most famous player. Dad Alf suggested both brothers train with the same club. Just as Rovers were about to snap up the younger sibling, North End jumped in with a contract.

K is for Knighthood
Tom Finney became Sir Tom Finney in the 1998 New Year’s Honours List and not before time according to his legion of adoring fans. He joined Stan Matthews (1965), Alf Ramsey (1967), Matt Busby (1968) and Bobby Charlton (1994) in an exclusive club of footballing knights. It was Prime Minister Tony Blair who included Tom in his first Honours List, prompted by a petition by two 15-year-old Penwortham schoolgirls to ‘Make Him Sir Tom’ which also had the backing of the LEP. The investiture was at Buckingham Palace on 18th February 1998.

L is for Loyalty
Tom was a one club man, playing all his professional career for Preston. He stayed loyal to his home town team even though there were some lucrative offers to go elsewhere. The most publicised came from Italian club Palermo which Tom described as ‘an offer of a lifetime’. The deal was £130 a month with win bonuses up to £100, villa, sports car, free family travel between Preston and Sicily and a £10,000 signing on fee. When he put the offer to the PNE board he was told: “We’re not interested in selling you and that’s that. If tha’ doesn’t play for Preston then tha’ doesn’t play for anybody.”

M is for Matthews
Wing wizards Stan Matthews and Tom Finney were portrayed by the media as bitter rivals and were always being compared. In reality they were good mates, even rooming together on England trips. “Imagine how we both felt, continually reading in the newspapers of a so-called feud between us,” said Tom. “Time and again we tried to put the record straight, but it was almost as if the media didn’t want to know. Stan and I shared a mutual respect and a close friendship and I categorically refute all rumours of bad blood or friction. Stan found it all rather distasteful and unnecessary and so did I.”

N is for Northern Ireland
Tom made his England debut at Windsor Park, Belfast in 1946 and scored in a 7-2 win. He also scored his last international goal at the same stadium in 1958, in total playing there four times for England and twice for the Football League – never finishing on the losing side. Just as memorable was the night he came out of retirement in 1963 to ‘guest’ for minnows Distillery in a European Cup tie against giants Benfica. He helped the Northern Ireland side to an heroic 3-3 draw against Eusebio and Co. He couldn’t play in the second leg in Lisbon and Distillery went down 5-0.

O is for Outside Right
Tom was renowned as a right-winger and that was the position he preferred for both club and country. But in fact he played almost as many games on the left for England (33) as he did on the right (40), with his other three coming as centre forward. The Preston magician always had to surrender the No.7 shirt to Stan Matthews whenever the two played in the same team. It was no problem for Tom, being naturally left-footed. In fact he scored 17 goals while at outside left – including four against Portugal in Lisbon – compared with 12 on the other flank.

P is for Preston Plumber
Despite all his fame and talent, football was not highly paid. So as a young man he served his time with local plumbing firm Pilkington’s – his first wage was six shillings (30p) a week. And when he burst on to the scene as a player the media tagged him the Preston Plumber. “I never found it the slightest bit offensive or derogatory,” said Tom, who later founded the family plumbing and electrical business with brother Joe. “I am most definitely from Preston and most certainly a plumber. I was never frightened of getting my hands dirty and I remained actively involved in plumbing long after my football career had become established.”

Q is for the Queen
Preston’s favourite son was showered with honours both during and after his playing career. But the three biggest came from Buckingham Palace and each time it was Her Majesty the Queen who made the presentation. In 1961, the year after he hung up his boots, Tom was invited to the Palace to receive the OBE for services to football. More than 30 years later in 1992 he was called back to pick up the CBE. But the crowning glory came in 1998 when, following a campaign started by two schoolgirls in Penwortham, he was kneeling before Her Majesty to be told: “Arise Sir Tom.”

R is for Retirement
Tom retired in April 1960 after a career spanning 14 league seasons. He played 472 times for North End in league and cup and scored 210 goals. It would have been more had the war not delayed his debut by six years. Tom considered calling it a day five years earlier because of a nagging back injury, but soldiered on beyond his 38th birthday. Deepdale was packed with almost 30,000 fans for his final game against Luton. Preston won 2-0 and the star of the show told his adoring public: “It’s such a sad, sad day for me. I would like to thank you all for the wonderful support I have enjoyed during my time here.”

S is for the Splash
One of the most iconic photographs ever taken in football featured Tom and inspired a statue which now stands outside Deepdale. The Splash was snapped by Press Association photographer John Horton during Preston’s match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 1956. It shows Tom generating a huge curtain of spray as he glides past defender Wally Bellett on a waterlogged pitch. “I have never seen rain like it before or since,” he said years later. “It left spectators soaked to the skin and the pitch so waterlogged you struggled to see the grass. Conditions were farcical and the game would never have gone ahead today.”

T is for This Is Your Life
Tom saw red in 1989 in the form of Michael Aspel’s big red book when he was the unwitting subject of television’s This Is Your Life programme. But it almost didn’t happen when wife Elsie initially refused permission for the show fearing it might be too embarrassing. She was talked round by family and Tom was lured to London thinking he was attending a football dinner. “I was totally in the dark right up to the moment when Michael Aspel confronted me with that celebrity line: ‘Tom Finney this is your life.’ Don’t ask me how, but Elsie and our Brian and Barbara managed to keep quiet.”

U is for USA
England’s shock defeat by the United States in the 1950 World Cup was a shattering low in Tom’s career. It was probably the most infamous and humiliating defeat for our national side and Preston’s finest was on the right wing that dismal day in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. England peppered the American goal but just couldn’t score. A rare excursion upfield resulted in a freak USA goal – a 25-yard shot deflecting off the head of Larry Gaetjens – and that’s how it finished. Tom said: “I still cringe when I look back on that game and I take absolutely no satisfaction whatsoever in being able to say I took part in the soccer sensation of the century.”

V is for Value
What price would Tom Finney at his best fetch in today’s crazy world of spiralling transfer fees? When a striker with only three England caps can command £35m, how much for a real world class performer? When Tom started out the British record was just £14,500. When he retired in 1960 it had risen to £65,000 – less than some Premier League players pick up for a week’s work. His wages never topped £20 a week at Preston and yet he insists: “Even though today’s players can earn in a couple of hours what I earned annually, I don’t hold it against them.”

W is for World Cup
Tom played in three World Cups – Brazil 1950, Switzerland 1954 and Sweden 1958 – but England failed to make an impression in any of them. In 1950 Tom played in the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to the USA and, coupled with a 1-0 reverse against Spain, England were eliminated at the group stage.
In 1954 the side reached the quarter-finals after drawing with Belgium and beating hosts Switzerland, but they were beaten 4-2 by Uruguay.
In Sweden, Tom scored a penalty in the opening 2-2 draw with the Soviet Union, but did not play in the remaining two group games against Brazil and Austria, or the group play-off against the Soviets.

X is for X-rated Tackles
Throughout his career Tom was a target for brutal defenders desperate to stop him at all costs. He made mugs of so many full backs with his dazzling footwork that the only way they could get even was to kick him. Tom bravely battled on, often playing when he really should have rested his battered and bruised legs. He lost count of the pain-killing injections he had to turn out on a Saturday afternoon. When he couldn’t make it North End used to delay announcing the team until minutes before kick-off, thus ensuring fans had paid and were already inside Deepdale before his absence was revealed.

Y is for the Year
On paper 1954 should have been Tom’s finest in football, yet in reality it fell well short. He was named Footballer of the Year, captained North End to the FA Cup Final, went to the World Cup in Switzerland, starred in a famous win over Scotland in front of 134,000 at Hampden Park and won his 50th England cap. Yet he said: “It would be churlish to moan and groan after all that happened to me in that momentous year, but some of the events that promised so much failed to deliver.” Preston lost at Wembley, Tom had a stinker, England under-achieved in the World Cup and he struggled all season with injuries.

Z is for Zodiac
Tom was born on April 5th, 1922, under the star sign Aries the ram. Many famous sports people are born under this sign. Aries is regarded as the most physical sign and it is also one of the most highly charged masculine energy signs in astrology, full of boundless vitality. Interestingly Arians are very compatible with people born under the sign Aquarius. And in Tom’s case that meant he was a perfect fit with that other wizard of dribble, Stan Matthews. According to astrologers, Stan, born on February 1st, had a great degree of compatibility with Tom, sharing many of the same personality traits.