“In his life and even in his death Sir Tom has united the people of Preston.”
Those were the words of the Vicar of Preston, Father Timothy Lipscomb, and it was certainly the case when young and old lined the streets of the city to say farewell to England’s finest footballer.
Lifelong Preston North End fans stood shoulder to shoulder on the very road that had been named after Sir Tom.
The funeral cortège began its journey outside Deepdale, where the footballing legend made his name and just a street from the house in which he was born.
It then made its way along Sir Tom Finney Way before heading into the city centre and arriving at the Minster.
As the funeral car passed white and purple flowers spelling out ‘Grandad’ could be seen and a Preston North End scarf lay by his coffin alongside sprays of white and pastel-coloured flowers.
Sir Tom’s family looked visibly moved as they saw just how many people had turned out to say goodbye.
The crowds, which in places were five or six deep, broke out into applause as the cortege passed by.
Many were proudly wearing their North End scarves and shirts and dozens more had tied flags to the barriers along the route.
Grown men stood with their chests out and wiped away tears and they watched Sir Tom on his final journey.
Supporters of the team from Preston and beyond, schoolchildren and workers all turned out to pay their respects and many remarked at just how great that turnout was.
Tom Coyne, from Leyland, was with his daughters Jess, 14, Georgina, 15 and his mum Irene. The 54-year-old said: “We are season ticket holders, we watch home and away, it’s part of the family.
“I lost my dad three years ago. He idolised him.
“Something they don’t teach now is respect. We can learn alot from just this turnout alone.”
Ann Kelly, 60, travelled from Ulverston in Cumbria, she said: “I wanted to come here for Sir Tom and for my dad John Fazackerley, he has known him all his life.
“I think the turnout is wonderful, it’s all that he deserved.
“He has done a lot for the town; he is a special man.”
And Joan Butler, 70, from Euxton added: “My dad was a football referee, he refereed Sir Tom’s testimonial match all those years ago.”
Explaining why she came out for the funeral, Joan said: “We were just drawn to it.
“I think it’s brilliant, the turnout is great.”
At Preston Minster, in Church Street, VIPs from the footballing world arrived in a convoy of silver coaches, while mayors, aldermen dressed in civic robes, council leaders and Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans walked from the Town Hall in Lancaster Road.
Photographers were moved away from the steps of the Minster and over the road to give the Finney family some privacy as they arrived in black hearses.
As the coffin was lifted out by the six pallbearers, the only sounds were those of the church bells tolling slowly, and of hundreds camera shutters.
Thousands of people who stood outside Preston Minster stayed long after Sir Tom’s coffin was carried in for the service.
They clapped and laughed along to the eulogies, which were broadcast outside. Some even joined in the singing of hymns.
Michelle Scott, 38, from Longton, took her seven-month-old son Bobby to Deepdale to be part of the final farewell.
She said: “I’m a lifelong North End fan. It’s part of my life.
“When I was younger I worked at North End.
“We knew him, he was a gentleman, he always had time for everybody.”
She added: “One day Bobby will be able to say ‘I was there’.”
Preston magistrate Lynn Wilson, of Ashton, was in the crowd outside the Minster. She served on the bench for 10 years with Sir Tom.
She said: “Everything you hear about him being a gentleman is true.
“He had time for everyone, and was a respected and fair magistrate.
“I had to be here today to say a final farewell.”
Josie Peters travelled from Longridge to stand in the crowd with her daughter Nicola Heathcock.
Josie said: “I remember my dad always talking about him, and apparently I sat on his knee as a little girl, though I don’t remember doing that.
“He was just a very special man and we couldn’t not be here today.”
Tom Hodgkinson, of Penwortham, said: “He was a superb person and a real gentleman.
“I used to go and see him play with my dad and I’d be sat on the top of a step on the old Kop to get a better view.”
Although some of the people who had turned out were too young to have ever seen Sir Tom play, they had something in common with the older generation standing beside them – an admiration for England’s finest footballer.
Many said they had turned out to give Sir Tom the send off he deserved.
A fitting farewell to a many who had remained loyal to Preston and its football club for his entire life.