Football remembers loyalty, integrity of Finney

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Never winning a major honor has not prevented Tom Finney going down as one of football’s greats.

A player of integrity from a bygone era of the maximum wage in English football, Finney was never booked or sent off, and resisted riches abroad to display loyalty almost unprecedented in the modern game.

Finney, who died aged 91 on Friday, spent his entire club career at Preston, and made his name outside England by exhibiting his immense power and flair at three World Cups from 1950.

“He was not just an England great but a true gentleman,” said former Manchester United and England star David Beckham, who met Finney while on loan at Preston early in his career.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who saw Finney score at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, described the winger’s life-long devotion to Preston as setting “an example to young players today.”

And football fans, most not old enough to remember seeing Finney on a football field, descended on Preston’s Deepdale stadium on a cold Saturday to pay tribute to their greatest player. Scarves and flowers were left next to a statue depicting a famous image of Finney splashing through a puddle during a game against Chelsea.

Finney scored 30 times in 76 appearances for England, putting him joint sixth on the all-time scoring list with Alan Shearer and Nat Lofthouse.

“He was a gentleman on the field yet he was tough,” former England teammate Jimmy Armfield told the BBC. “A fabulous man and a fabulous player.”

Born next to Deepdale and known as the “Preston Plumber” after completing an apprenticeship within the family business, Finney scored 210 goals in 473 appearances for the northwest English club from 1946 to 1960. After making his league debut at the age of 24 due to World War II, Finney became the first player to win footballer of the year twice, in 1954 and ‘57.

“He was the best player I’ve ever seen, alongside Lionel Messi,” former Preston teammate and ex-Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty said.

“Just like Finney, Messi is always getting fouled, but doesn’t complain and just gets up and gets on with the game.”

For all the personal accolades, team honors eluded Finney, having opted never to defect to a major power in search of glory. Instead he had to settle for Preston finishing runner-up twice in the topflight and being the losing FA Cup finalist in 1954. The only winners’ medal he collected was from the second-tier, with Preston relegated after he missed much of the 1948-49 season through injury.

“If he was injured … there would be 20,000 at the game instead of 42,000,” Docherty told Talk Sport radio.

Finney was having a similar impact in death, with thousands queuing at Deepdale on Saturday to see Preston play Leyton Orient in the third tier, and join the tributes to their hero. Finney’s name replaced those of the current team on the back of their jerseys on Saturday, while there was a minute’s silence held before other matches in England, too.

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