Player Rating (click to rate):
( 7 Votes )
Born: Wednesday 5 April 1922, Preston, England
Appearing in all five forward positions at various times during his career, versatile Preston North End winger Tom Finney was considered one of the finest players in the world during the 1950s. Remaining loyal to his hometown club despite big money offers from overseas, Finney won just a single second-tier title during his career but formed a vital part of the England team for more than a decade, appearing in three World Cups.
Finney was born in Preston on 5 April 1922, just a matter of yards away from Preston North End's Deepdale ground. As a boy he idolised Preston's great inside forward of the 1930s Alex James, sometimes sneaking in past the turnstile operator to watch games. By his teens he was playing in the Preston and District League and it was then that North End first spotted him and tried to sign him up, offering him a job on the groundstaff.
Aware of the financial uncertainties that a career in professional football could bring, Finney's father insisted that he should only join as an amateur while completing his plumbing apprenticeship. Finney duly did so, earning himself the nickname 'the Preston plumber'. By the time he signed on as a professional with Preston, the Second World War had broken out. The early years of his career were split between unofficial wartime matches and work as a plumber, with Preston performing extremely well in the wartime competitions. They won the Football League War Cup in 1941 and the North Region league title a year later, with Finney developing a reputation as one of the finest young talents in the game.
Naturally left-footed, Finney worked hard to become a two-footed player which meant he was equally at home on the right wing, where he usually played for Preston, or on the left, his most frequent position for England. Able to dribble the ball at great speed and change pace quickly when required, Finney could pass or cross the ball with great accuracy but was also capable of cutting inside onto his other foot and shooting with great power. He was a more regular goalscorer than many other wingers of the time and despite being short and slightly built, was an excellent header of the ball.
He was called up to the Army in 1942 and served in North Africa and in Italy, but when the war he ended returned to Preston to continue his career. When official competitions resumed in 1946-47, Finney finally made his official league debut in August 1946 and within a month was an England international, scoring on his debut against Northern Ireland. His first two seasons saw Preston finish seventh in the First Division, but in 1948-49 he missed half the season with injury and without him Preston struggled.
Despite beating Liverpool in their final match Preston were relegated, but Finney stuck by his home town team in the Second Division. That decision did no harm to his international prospects and he helped England to qualify for the World Cup for the first time by winning the Home International Championship. He also scored four goals in a 5-3 friendly win over Portugal in Lisbon, the only senior hat-trick of his career. In the finals in Brazil in 1950, Finney played all three of England's group games but a shock 1-0 defeat to the USA and another loss to Spain sent them out in the first round.
Finney's second season in the Second Division was a resounding success. He contributed 13 goals as Preston stormed to the title, aided by a Football League record equalling 14 game winning run. Incredibly, that would prove to be the only official trophy that he won during his career. In 1952 he was offered the chance to sign for Palermo, with the offer of a £10,000 fee, a villa and a car tempting to any player restricted by the maximum wage in Engllish football at the time. However, Finney did not really want to leave and Preston certainly did not want to sell, so he stayed.
The next two years saw Finney come agonisingly close to major honours. In 1953 Preston finished second in the First Division, losing the title only on goal average to Arsenal. The following year they reached the FA Cup final, but lost 3-2 to West Bromwich Albion. Finney had one of his poorest games of the season and was desperately disappointed following the defeat. He did however have the consolation of being named England's Footballer of the Year for 1954.
That year Finney was also named in the England squad for a second trip the the World Cup, this time in Switzerland. A draw with Belgium and a win of Switzerland saw England through to a quarter-final with Uruguay. They trailed 2-1 at half-time and slipped further back early in the second half before Finney game his country hope with his first ever World Cup goal. That hope was to prove short-lived though, as Uruguay got a late fourth goal to knock England out. Finney himself saw those years as a time when England had the players to success at international level but were handicapped by tactical deficiencies.
Preston struggled in the mid-1950s, avoiding relegation by just one point in 1956, but rebounded a year later as Finney had perhaps the finest season of his career. Moved from the wing to centre forward, he scored 23 league goals and 28 in total as Preston finished third, with Finney being named Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career. 1957-58 brought 26 league goals, the highest single-season total of his career, leading Preston to second in the league and earning the now 36-year old Finney a trip to the World Cup in Sweden.
In England's opening group game against the Soviet Union he picked up an injury early on but was never going to leave the game, as England tried to fight back from 2-0 down. After one goal had been pulled back, it was Finney who equalised from the penalty spot to earn his team a draw. Unfortunately, that was not good enough as without the injured Finney, England ended the group level with the Soviets and lost a play-off, going out in the group stage again. Finney's international career ended later that year, after 30 goals in 76 appearances.
In 1958-59 Preston were again challenging at the top end of the league when Finney suffered another injury midway through the season. Without him, the team plunged into mid-table, eventually finishing 12th. Injuries were now really starting to take their toll on him and he decided to retire at the end of the 1959-60 season, at the age of 38. Preston were relegated in the first season following Finney's retirement and have never yet returned to the top level of English football.
Finney did make one remarkable return to the game, in 1963. He was persuaded to appear for Northern Irish side Distillery in a European Cup game against Benfica, which finished in a 3-3 draw. That was only time he would play a European game. In retirement he continued to work as a plumber, as well as moving into journalism. He was named club president at Preston and received a knighthood for services to football in 2008. Finney's image is everywhere at Preston's Deepdale ground. The stadium is located in Sir Tom Finney Way, a statue of Finney stands outside the ground and one of the stands is named after him, with his face appearing in the plastic seating.
References (all accessed 4 March 2012):
- Published on Sunday, 04 March 2012 22:45