Comment: England legend Finney had tartan DNA

TOM Finney played the game like a Scot, writes Matt Vallance

Preston North End's Tom Finney splashes through a puddle in a match in 1956. Picture: PA
Preston North End's Tom Finney splashes through a puddle in a match in 1956. Picture: PA

PRESTON North End, “Proud Preston”, is this weekend mourning the passing, in his 92nd year, of their greatest player Sir Tom Finney.

Finney – “The Preston Plumber” – wore the club’s white shirt on more than 400 occasions, scoring almost 200 goals. He could, in those far-off days of little or no TV coverage, single-handedly put 10,000 on an attendance, when Preston played away from Deepdale. He wore England’s three lions 76 times. Ten of these games came against Scotland, six of them at Hampden, where he was never on the losing side, yet Finney played football like a classic Scot.

A tartan DNA – built into Preston from the days of George Drummond, David Russell, Johnny Graham, Jack Gordon, Jimmy Ross and Sam Thomson, the “Scotch Professors” of the 1888-89 “Invincibles”, who went unbeaten through 22 games to win the English League and FA Cup, via Alex James, Andy Beattie, Bill Shankly, Jimmy Milne, Tommie Smith, George Mutch, Bud Maxwell, Bobby Beattie and Hugh O’Donnell from the 1938 FA Cup-winning squad, to his playing contemporaries – Willie Cunningham, Albert Morrison and Tommy Docherty; on again via Archie Gemmill, Davie Moyes, Craig Brown and Billy Davies – has always had an effect on how Preston play.

Tom Finney in 1951

Finney had a Scottish football education at the hands of the 1938 squad to whom he looked up as a young North End reserve. He broke through as a 16-year-old in the 1941 War Time Cup-winning squad, where he formed a precocious right wing with another future Scottish cap, Andy McLaren, and there was a tartan tinge to how he played.

Sammy Cox, the Rangers full-back who had some of his hardest games in his long career as Finney’s direct opponent, remains a fan.

Cox went head-to-head with the Preston man three times in full internationals and insists: “Finney was a more difficult opponent than Stanley Matthews. You knew how Stanley wanted to beat you and what he would do if he did, but, with Tom, you never had that luxury, he could beat you in more ways”.

Two of North End’s Scottish legends, Shankly and Docherty, didn’t agree about much when they were rival managers, but, on the subject of Finney, they are as one, both insisting he was the greatest player they ever saw. The Tartan Army loved him, even when he was inspiring England to Hampden wins, because, then, as now, they recognised class.

We wish he had been one of us. But, those who saw him in the flesh can conjure up a mental picture, which the grainy, flickering black and white film of the time cannot adequately convey, of a genuine football thoroughbred, a plumber who played a bit of football – better than most.

We should leave the last words to Docherty, the club-mate who was not above trying to kick Finney into submission when their paths crossed on the international field. In the 1957 Wembley match, in which Finney wore the number nine shirt for England and the Saxons won 2-1, Docherty left Finney limping after one over-robust challenge. Back at Deepdale on the Monday, he was summoned to the board room, where the chairman was all set to fine him for injuring the club’s star man. However, Finney intervened, persuading the chairman that the hurt the Doc was feeling after the defeat was greater than his hurt from Docherty’s kick.

In his post-management career as an after-dinner speaker, Docherty had some great Finney quotes, not least when asked if one of Finney’s successors in the number seven Preston shirt, one David Beckham, was as good a player as Finney.

“Perhaps,” was the Docherty response. “But, you have to remember, Tom is in his 80s now and not quite the force he was”.

He was a wonderful player, we will not see his likes again.