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Football has lost a special person

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There was no game to watch, no one treading the green Deepdale turf yesterday afternoon.

Instead 5,000 pairs of eyes were fixed on the big screen hanging from the roof of the Bill Shankly Kop as Sir Tom Finney’s civic funeral was relayed live to the home of Preston North End.

Earlier, the funeral procession had driven past Deepdale, the crowds six- deep on the pavements of Sir Tom Finney Way as the city turned out to pay tribute to its favourite son.

Supporters sat in Sir Tom Finney Stand and Alan Kelly Town End to watch the funeral broadcast, all of them given a white order of service sheet in line with the congregation at Preston Minster.

As the ground began to fill up, the screen showed a series of black and white photographs of Sir Tom from his playing days.

Live pictures started to be beamed back as the cortege arrived outside the Minster, a respectful round of applause ringing out as the six pallbearers – Simon Grayson, Alan Kelly, John Welsh, Joe Garner, Graham Alexander and Ian Bryson – stood waiting to carry out their duty.

A hushed silence then fell over Deepdale as Father Timothy Lipscomb began the service by welcoming the congregation to Preston and giving thanks for the life of Sir Tom.

All age groups were inside the ground, Sir Tom and the game he played uniting generations.

There were parties of schoolchildren, older folk too, who were from the same generation of the man they were there to honour.

Some wore football shirts, others collar and tie, the dress code a personal issue.

Everyone complied with the order of service, standing for the hymns – singing them proudly – and bowing their heads when the prayers were said.

People wiped away tears as they remembered the man who gave so much pleasure to so many people on the Deepdale pitch between 1946 and 1960.

There were nods of agreement as Fr Timothy said: “We have come here to this holy place in the sight of Almighty God 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 Sir Tom for his sense of duty, loyalty and respect.”

Jimmy Armfield’s moving address was superbly received at Deepdale, his words so poignant on a sad day.

The former Blackpool player recalled how Sir Tom – by then retired from the game and working for a newspaper – had driven him home from an England match against Wales in Cardiff.

Armfield had been injured in the game and forced to limp through the final half hour in the days before substitutes.

Players back then had to make their own way home from games – even for England – and Armfield faced a long train journey.

Sir Tom offered to drive him home to Lancashire, an invitation gratefully accepted.

“We talked about football from start to finish,” Armfield recalled.

“He talked about everyone except himself.”

Tommy Docherty’s eulogy drew laughter, his story about asking for the same wage as Sir Tom, even in the summer, an old favourite but still one to get people smiling.

On a more serious note, the Doc said: “Tom was quiet, modest and probably one of the best footballers the world has ever seen.” Deepdale agreed with him.

The crowd were spellbound by the solo of Amazing Grace from Louisa Stirland, the BBC Young Chorister of the Year.

And you could hear a pin drop as Fr Timothy conducted prayers and read extracts from Sir Tom’s scrapbook.

The stadium rose as one as the service drew to a close, another round of applause echoing around as Sir Tom’s coffin was carried slowly out of church.

There was talk of only one man as people filed out of the ground, people chatting with family and friends of their memories of a player who turned out 472 times for Preston and won 76 England caps.

Many paused for a few moments at the Splash statue to pay their last respects and wipe away one last tear.

Football – and Preston in particular – has lost a special person.

It was a privilege to be able to say goodbye to Sir Tom at a ground where he thrilled so many supporters and tormented opponents for so many years.

 

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