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Legend in his own time, royalty among footballers

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They ran out of superlatives as a grieving city said a final farewell to its greatest son.

The man who put the proud into Preston departed on his last journey with the great and good of the game standing outside in emotional applause for a working class hero.

Legend in his own time, royalty among footballers, incomparable talent and simply the best. The tributes poured out with the tears during a deeply moving civic funeral service in the city’s Minster.

And as the cortege departed for a private family goodbye, an iconic piece of Preston history left with them.

“Let us pray for his family and for all those who respected, admired and loved him,” said the Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscomb. “Sir Tom was, both on and off the football pitch, the essence of the name ‘Gentry’ given to Preston North End.”

The city had never before laid on a funeral service of this magnitude.

But, then, it had never before had a citizen worthy of such a send-off.

Fr Timothy urged more than 600 invited guests inside the Minster and many more lining the streets outside to “give thanks for the life of Sir Tom Finney and pray for his family and all those who respected, admired and loved him.

“We remember Tom’s strong sense of duty and justice, his loyalty to friends and his respect for local traditions. We recall with affection his humility, his self-effacing nature, his fairness and his dignified and engaging manner.

“We remember Sir Tom for his love for the city of Preston and its people. We remember his charm, his love of good conversation and his respect for local people from all walks of life.

“He was a legend in his own time and royalty among footballers. Let us give thanks for his noble attitude to the game of football, his sense of fair play and his incomparable talent as a national hero. “In his life – and even in his death – Sir Tom has united the people of Preston.”

Jimmy Armfield, an opponent on the field with Blackpool and a good friend off it, said Sir Tom was “thoughtful, kind, considerate.”

“He was world famous, but he never won a championship and he never won a cup winner’s medal.

“He won something much more important than that – he won the hearts of his team-mates, quite often his opponents, the supporters and the nation.

“He served his country during the war and he served his country just the same on the football field.

“But with that he had total humility, that’s what endeared him to all of us.

“He didn’t feign injury, he cared about his profession. He was a footballers’ footballer.

“In his heyday the Italians wanted him. That might have been good for his beloved Elsie and his children, but in hindsight it wouldn’t have been right for the rest of us. The nation couldn’t afford to lose him.

“Tom Finney and Preston – the words seem welded together.

“I think they will talk about him for many years to come. I’m just pleased to have been on the planet at the same time as him.”

Sir Tom’s former North End team-mate Tommy Docherty, giving the eulogy, said: “He was a quiet, modest, yet probably one of the best football players the world has ever seen.

“He was amazing, he could play on either side, had two great feet, he could make ordinary players look good – and I should know!

“We will never see the likes of him again. He is simply the best. In my opinion he was the greatest player I have ever seen.”

At the end of a tearful service, Rev Chris Nelson, the Preston North End chaplain said: “We give thanks for ‘Our Tom,’ a football genius, a son of Preston, our soft-spoken, modest, loyal hero. The Preston Plumber.”

 

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