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Tom will always be in our hearts

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A grieving city has put its thoughts into words after the death of Sir Tom Finney.

Scores of people turned out to sign books of condolence for the legendary footballer, when they were opened in Preston Town Hall and the Harris Museum and Art Gallery yesterday.

The books will be available until the day of the funeral, which is yet to be announced, and then presented to Sir Tom’s family.

Mayor of Preston, Coun Veronica Afrin, who knew the icon from his time as chairman of the Health Authority in the 1980s, was the first person to sign the book in the Town Hall.

She wrote: “A much missed friend.”

Speaking afterwards, she said: “I think he would secretly have been very pleased because people are remembering him not just as a footballer, but as a man, and for what he did for Preston.”

The book in the Town Hall was flanked by a picture of Sir Tom, a spray of blue and white flowers and two floral pedestals decorated with Preston North End scarves.

Behind the table with the book, a film showing clips of Sir Tom’s career and tributes from the likes of David Moyes and Sean Gregan played.

A Preston North End shirt with number 7 and ‘Finney’ on the back was placed alongside his blue and black civic robes from when he was made a Freeman of Preston.

In the first 10 minutes of the books being opened, messages were left at a rate of one a minute. There was a mixture of long entries about personal memories, and shorter tributes saying simply ‘Rest in Peace.”

Beth Rigby-Wharton and her 12-year-old grandaughter Molly Bordon from Preston, queued up to sign the book in the Harris Museum.

Beth said: “I wrote about a time when I was crossing Ringway and he was coming in the opposite direction. He raised his cap to me and said hello.

“It was only when I got to the other side of the road that I realised it was Tom Finney and I was blown away.

“The way he said hello to me like I was a friend goes to show what a gentleman he was.”

Coun John Swindells, deputy leader of Preston Council, entered his thoughts into the Town Hall book.

He wrote: “Thanks for the memories as a player and as the first citizen of Preston.”

He said: “When I was six or seven I used to go to Deepdale with my dad.

“I was there for Finney’s last match and the memory of that day has stayed with me.

“In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, men didn’t show emotion, but on that day I was surrounded by grown men crying. The fact that more tears will be shed for him 50 years later shows what he meant to the people of Preston.”

Bobby Cavies, 67, of Ingol, wrote in the Harris Museum book of condolence.

He said: “I was an amateur footballer for 28 years and after being sent off in one game I had to go before Tom Finney when he was on the committee of referees.

“I respected his decision and paid the fine imposed.

“I wrote about that memory and how he helped get a signed flag from the Preston North End squad out to my son Mark when he was stationed in Iraq with the RAF police.”

He added: “He was the greatest man I ever knew.”

Pauline Kerr from Hoghton wrote that Sir Tom was the best footballer she had known, and an upstanding citizen of Preston.

She said: “My father knew him and I used to watch the football when I was a teenager with two of my friends.

“Tom Finney was a better player than Stanley Matthews because he was much more versitile.

“I was on his final match, it was a very emotional day and a sad time for Preston.”

Joseph Miller, 63, from Preston, wrote his childhood memory of Sir Tom in the Harris Museum book.

He said: “I was in a children’s home when I was younger and one day we were all taken out on a bus trip to Blackpool.

“Tom Finney came on the bus as a volunteer and none of us believed it really was him until he got out his driving licence to show us.”

Molly Bordon, 12, of Preston, said: “I wrote that I’d met him at an exhibition at the Football Museum, and that he was a great man.

“I remember that day very clearly.”

Beth Rigby-Wharton of Preston said: “I wrote about what a gentleman he was.

“One day I was crossing Ringway and he was coming in the opposite direction. He raised his cap to me and said hello.

“It was only when I got to the other side of the road that I realised it was Tom Finney and I was blown away.

“The way he said hello to me like I was a friend goes to show what a gentleman he was.”

Sarah Atherton, 24, of Preston, left a message on behalf of her father Pete Heart, who used to work as a steward at Deepdale on match days.

She said: “My dad couldn’t get into town to leave his message, so I wanted to do it for him.

“I just put ‘Sadly missed, rest in peace’.”

Coun Tom Davies wrote in the condolence book. “A true gentleman. Goodnight Sir Tom.”

He said: “I was there on that Chelsea match when the famous Splash photograph was taken. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of that day.”

He added: “When I worked as a policeman in Fulwood in the 1970s, I was asked to go and check on all the houses of people who were away during Wakes week. One of them was Tom Finney’s house, and after their holiday I went round to get my checking sheet signed off. His wife answered the door and shouted up to him in the shower. He got himself out of the shower, came down still wet under his robes, and offered me his thanks and a cup of tea.”

 

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