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90 years-old... legend Finney of Preston, England (and Distillery)

By Malcolm Brodie

If anyone epitomised the Olympic spirit of sport, it is the England winger or striker Tom Finney, who yesterday celebrated his 90th birthday.

Now a Knight of the Realm, Sir Thomas is revered throughout the world, particularly by football lovers of his generation who never tire relating to their offspring the stories of fantastic skill and crowd appeal inspired by the Preston plumber.

He scored 187 goals in 433 matches for the club and, in fact, was born in a street a short distance from Deepdale Stadium in the Lancashire mill town.

He arrived there as a boy, signed when he turned 14, but his father insisted that, despite his passion for the game, he must first serve his apprenticeship as a plumber.

It was a means of a steady income compared with the ever recurring doubts over football with its £2.50 weekly salary and no summer wages at all.

It was evident then that here was a genius with the ball, although his football career was to be interrupted, like so many others, by the outbreak of World War Two. He became a tank commander with the Royal Armoured Corps in the Middle East with the Eighth Army.

He played for several Service teams, occupying any of the then five orthodox forward positions and was always targetted by bigger clubs who knew he had top-drawer qualities.

Loyalty was also part of his make-up, though, refusing all offers of glamour transfers, including one to the Italian side Palermo, who offered him a £10,000 signing on bonus which would have put him in the top bracket of earners.

George Eastham junior, then manager of Distillery, enticed him to play for the Whites in their European Cup match against Benfica in the 1963-64 season at Windsor Park. His name added thousands to the financial returns, but the grand old man of English football could not be persuaded to travel for the return at the Stadium of Light, Lisbon where Distillery, without their superstar, lost 5-0.

A gentleman who was never cautioned by referees and a wonderful ambassador for his sport, he also served as a member of the English Sports Council.

Study for a moment this England attack — Matthews, Carter, Lawton, Mannion, Finney. How current managers would love that array of talent available to them.

Football — no, all sport — will salute Sir Tom Finney on Saturday when he attends the Deepdale match with M K Dons with the celebrations headed by that other icon, David Beckham, Preston being his only other English club during a teenage loan spell from Manchester United.

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