[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."