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Finney, 'the Preston Plumber,' remembered
by Paul Kennedy, February 15th, 2014 5:36PM

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TAGS:  england, obituary

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[OBITUARY] Tom Finney, the oldest-living English international and one of the legendary players of the post-World War II heyday of English soccer, died Friday at the age of 91.

A plumber by trade in his native Preston -- hence his nickname "the Preston Plumber" -- Finney did not debut for Preston North End until the age of 24 because of his service in World War II, where he was a tank driver, but within four weeks he was playing internationally for England.



Finney starred for England along with Stanley Matthews to give England one of the most feared attacks in the world as it beat Italy, the reigning World Cup champion, 4-0, in 1948 in Turin and Portugal, 10-0, in Lisbon, but he was also part of the England team that crashed to a 1-0 defeat to the USA in Belo Horizonte at the 1950 World Cup, the first of three World Cups in which he played.

Never one to make excuses or bemoan his misfortune of having played in an era when players were poorly paid, Finney told American Walter Bahr after the shocking loss that England could have played all day and it would have probably not scored and years later said the English were beaten by their own complacency.

Finney spent his entire career in England for his hometown Preston North End, finishing with 210 goals in 473 games. He also scored 30 goals in 76 games for England in a career that saw him become the first player to win two Footballer of the Year awards (1954 and 1957).

He earned a salary of 14 pounds ($23) a week in an era when players were subjected to maximum wage regulations -- finally scrapped in 1961 -- and continued to play for Preston North End despite offers to move to Italy at a salary of seven times what he was making in England.

Early in his career, the Preston team bus would pick him up at his plumbing business on Saturdays on the way to away games, and he'd walk to the Deepdale stadium for home games from his nearby home with his shoes under his arm in a brown bag.

The late Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool manager, played with Finney at Preston North End.

"Tommy was the best I ever saw," he once said. "He would have beaten the finest defenders in the world, in any age, while wearing an overcoat."

Matthews, who died in 2000, said Finney's ability to dictate the pace of a game separated him from other players.

"Those who have accomplished it on a regular basis," he said, "can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- Pele, [Diego] Maradona, [George] Best, [Alfredo] Di Stefano, and Tom Finney."

Tommy Docherty, who also played with Finney at Preston, compared Finney to Lionel Messi, telling the BBC on Friday he was the best player he ever saw along with the Argentine.

"I watch a lot of Barcelona," Docherty said, "and when I watch Messi, I close my eyes and can see Tom. I'm serious when I say that Messi is the Tom Finney of today. Just like Finney, Messi is always getting fouled, but doesn't complain and just gets up and gets on with the game."



Finney is immortalized in a statue The Splash (inspired by an iconic photograph of Finney splashing in a puddle against beaten Chelsea players at Stamford Bridge) outside Deepdale, where the National Football Museum is located.

The statue was filled with flowers and scarves from fans who paid their respects before Preston North End's game on Saturday. Preston players wore jerseys adorned with the name "Finney."


1 comment
  1. Brian Threlkeld
    commented on: February 18, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
    I'm glad to see this fitting tribute. Sir Tom was, by all accounts, one of the game's greatest players, and one of sport's great gentlemen. Soccer is immeasurably richer for all that he did for the game, and it's a shame that his pay (and that of other greats in his era) never even remotely approached his worth. But, it's also clear that even if he could have chosen to do so, he wouldn't have played in any other time. By the way, it really must be noted that the U.S.-made 2005 film, "The Game of Their Lives" (released on video as "The Miracle Match"), which is based on the U.S.'s legendary 1-0 upset of England in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, takes a lot of liberties with historical fact — but perhaps none so deplorable as its depiction of England's players as arrogant upper-class snobs ("sneering toffs," as the BBC has put it), scarcely bothering to conceal their contempt for their American opponents. That depiction is just mind-boggling. First, many if not most of England's players were of working-class origin. Second, the Americans who were actually on our team at the time, such as the defender Harry Keough, have always said that the English players were obviously gutted, but showed exemplary sportsmanship. America's great midfielder, Walter Bahr, says that he shook hands with Finney after the final whistle, and apologized for the unlucky outcome, but FInney responded, "No, no — you deserved it." Finney told him they could have played till the next week and not scored. Finney later said of that game, "Not a lot went right. It was one of those games where we were destined to lose." No excuses; he understood that England was by far the better team — but not that day. We should hope that today's players will continue to remember his quality and his class.


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