Thousands of people lined the streets as leading figures from British soccer came to Preston on Friday for the funeral of England great Tom Finney.
Finney, who died two weeks ago aged 91, spent his entire professional career with hometown club Preston North End, making 569 appearances, while for England he scored 30 goals in just 76 matches – a superb strike rate for a player who was primarily a winger.
He was never booked or sent off. Finney’s nickname of the “Preston Plumber” reflected the fact his father insisted he go into the family business and learn a trade alongside his football career.
Former England midfielder Trevor Brooking, representing the Football Association, was among the packed congregation in Preston Minster church in northwest England to pay tribute to a boyhood hero.
“He was one of the most genuine individuals you would ever be likely to meet,” Brooking said. “Everyone admired and respected him.
“To come to this event, over 50 years since he played, and see all these people both here in the minster and on the streets, I can’t think of many who would get the same reaction.
“As a player, he was the match-winner, the crowd-pleaser, the one who could make the difference – I was a youngster in primary school when he was playing, I would watch him on a black and white telly and then go out into the garden with my brother to try to emulate him.”
David Moyes, the Manchester United manager who started his coaching career at Preston, attended the service, as did England’s record goalscorer Bobby Charlton.
Earlier, the funeral cortege travelled from Preston’s Deepdale ground – Finney was born on a street next to the stadium – with a local armed forces veterans association in attendance to mark Finney’s service as a tank driver during the second world war.
Jimmy Armfield, England’s former World Cup captain who played against Finney when he was at Blackpool, gave an address which paid tribute to his friend’s sportsmanship as well as his skill.
“Tom didn’t dive, he didn’t feign injury, that wasn’t part of his repertoire. He was the footballers’ footballer,” Armfield said.
“He was a real all-round athlete and in my opinion one of the real sporting icons that has ever come out of these isles.
“He was world famous but he never won a championship medal or an FA Cup winner’s medal – though he won something much more important: the hearts of his teammates, the supporters, opposing players even and of the whole country.”
Tommy Docherty, the former Scotland and Manchester United manager who played alongside Finney at Preston, gave a eulogy in which he said: “In my opinion he was the greatest player I have ever seen.
“When I see Lionel Messi on the television playing for Barcelona I think maybe you could be as good as Tom.
“He was quiet and modest but he was amazing. He had two great feet and made ordinary players on his team look good – and I should know.”