Sir Tom Finney funeral: 'He was in love with the game. I adored him' - Bobby Charlton leads the tributes as thousands line the streets of Preston to pay respects to England legend

Finney won 70 caps and scored 30 goals for his country

It may be more than half a century since he last kicked a ball in anger and in that time the world and the game for which his name will for ever signify a lost golden age have changed beyond all recognition. But the legend of Sir Tom Finney showed it was undiminished on Thursday as thousands of mourners took to the streets of his home city of Preston to bid farewell to their favourite son.

More than 3,000 people watched the funeral service relayed live at Deepdale, the Preston North End ground rising above the red terraced streets in which he was raised and where his extraordinary skills dazzled the capacity crowds of a post-war generation seeking a weekly fix of excitement after a week spent toiling in the soot and dust of the Lancashire mills.

Thousands more lined the roads where, it was recalled, he would walk even at the height of his fame and patiently pass the time with fans at whose houses he later might even call as a plumber.

Meanwhile, amid the Victorian splendour of Preston Minster, the snowy-haired elder statesmen of the game with which he was for a lifetime “bewitched” packed the pews where they were told of the former England winger’s three passions – football,  family and home.

Among those who paid their respects was Sir Bobby Charlton, who described his pride at scoring on his England debut courtesy of a cross from Sir Tom, who died on Valentine’s Day, aged 91.

“He was in love with the game,” said Sir Bobby, who also served as manager at Preston. “I adored him since I was about 14 or 15 when I first realised that I might become a footballer one day. Once you knew him, he was there for you for ever.”

Also among the mourners was the Manchester United manager, David Moyes, as well as representatives of clubs from across the North-west and beyond. Sir Trevor Brooking said his fellow footballing knight was a unique figure in the history of the English game. “He was one of the most genuine individuals you would ever be likely to meet. Everyone admired and respected him,” he said.

Friend and old Blackpool rival Jimmy Armfield recalled their first encounter at an England match in Cardiff. It was a time when players had to make their way home from the match on the train. But Sir Tom, then earning the princely sum of £14 a week, offered him a lift back to Lancashire and a lifelong friendship ensued.

Describing him as “thoughtful, kind, considerate … someone who smiled easily” Armfield said that sporting talent – unlike the arts – could only be truly measured in its own generation. But using a heavy ball on muddy pitches, he was unrivalled both as a footballer and a man. “Tommy didn’t dive on the field. He didn’t feign injury – that wasn’t part of his repertoire. He cared about his profession,” he said.

Former team-mate Tommy Docherty delivered a eulogy describing Finney as the greatest player of all time. “When I see Lionel Messi on the television playing for Barcelona I think maybe you could be as good as Tom,” he said.

Sir Tom’s coffin was carried by six past and present Preston players, the club he never forsook or begrudged its decision to deny him a richly paid move to Italy. It was also the team with which he was never to win a trophy despite 569 appearances and a further 76 England caps.

David Moyes arrives at the funeral for Sir Tom Finney David Moyes arrives at the funeral for Sir Tom Finney  

Vicar of Preston, Father Timothy Luscombe reminded mourners of the winger’s military service as a tank driver in Field Marshal Montgomery’s Royal Armoured Corps. He spoke of his charity work for Alzheimer’s and disabled children, the strong love he had for his late wife Elsie, their son and daughter and four grandchildren, and also his “strong sense of duty and justice” which kept him loyal to the people and traditions of Preston.

As the funeral cortege made its way to the private burial, those who had stood in the cold for more than two hours clapped. Many were old enough to have seen him play. Others had only heard about him.

Civil servant Simon Gooch, 31, said: “He wasn’t just a footballer he represented Preston as a person. He was the greatest Prestonian ever.” Wally Foster, 72, saw Finney play more than 100 times. He like many was only too aware that his retirement in 1960 co-incided with North End’s slide for England’s top flight. “He was like a colossus. When he came out you thought you had a chance. When he wasn’t there you were not so sure.” John Taylor recalled how special buses would be laid on every Saturday to bring the crowds up to Deepdale. “When he was playing there would be 42,000 people come here. But if Finney wasn’t playing you could knock seven or eight thousand off the gate.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss