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Down in the Box is a one-man football powerhouse. Alarming amounts of energy and insight. Barney Ronay The Guardian
Sir Tom Finney: A loyal servant, a true gent and a footballing thoroughbred A giant of his era and beyond, Sir Tom Finney had been afforded legendary status in the game long before his retirement 54 years ago this year. He warranted that standing within football, working for it and his future away from the game. Be it as a man, a footballer or a plumber; a friend, a businessman or an ambassador for his club, he excelled. He so evidently revelled in using his ability to boost the fortunes of his hometown club, the only one he ever turned out for, bar the occasional wartime guest appearance. Behind the adulation however, Finney was an agent in loyalty, humility and generosity. One story, insignificant beyond this context, stands out for me. Brian Clough, then a young goalscoring sensation at Second Division Middlesbrough had finally been called up to the England squad. It was the autumn of 1958 and Clough had been a prolific marksman in the second tier for three years. Even in those early days, his mouthy reputation had marked him out as one to steer clear of, which Walter Winterbottom did before his resistance to the call-up was broken. When the call came though, nerves betrayed Clough’s blasé, confident exterior. His first meal with the team was breakfast. Essentially a wreck, Clough could only contrive to spill his bacon and baked beans all over his trousers. To the rescue, came Tom Finney. Thirteen years his senior, Finney was a man of the world that Clough readily admitted he was not. He lent the youngster his spare pair of trousers and took off with Clough’s only pair of flannels, splattered with breakfast remnants, to be cleaned. Within the month, Finney would win the last of his 76 caps for England but that was him to the very end, then and now, the perfect gentleman. Where others may have steered clear of the even then acerbic young upstart, there he was.
On the 25th of November 1953, England lost 6-3 to then Olympic champions Hungary at Wembley, just their second ever defeat to foreign opposition. The manner of the defeat and the deficiencies in technical and tactical approaches from both sides, is widely regarded as a watershed moment for the English national team, an early precursor to the appointment of Alf Ramsey and England eventually winning the World Cup six years after Finney’s retirement. Under Winterbottom, it had long been considered that with the likes of Finney and Stanley Matthews in the side, no great implementation of tactics was needed, such was their talents. While England ultimately needed some functionality and foundation upon which their leading lights could flourish, taken the right way, it was the ultimate compliment for
the man affectionately known throughout the country and around the world too as the Preston plumber. Finney was injured that day and took no part in the defeat. From the press box, he observed, “It was like watching cart horses playing race horses.” In sporting terms, Finney was undeniably in the latter category, a true thoroughbred. So great were his talents and his goalscoring record (almost one in two for Preston and thirty England goals), he could have become one of the world’s endearing greats at outside right, outside left or through the middle. Those technicalities mattered little to him. His position was on the Deepdale turf, further detail totally superfluous. Finney needed little instruction such was his ability. His loyalty to his only ever club and to the town he called home until the very end will be forever celebrated.