Football over the years has often been compared to religion.
And for the ‘religiously inquisitive’ Mark Lawrenson, he is hoping God shares similar characteristics to that of Sir Tom Finney.
The former PNE and Liverpool defender, who was born in Penwortham, likened his first ever meeting with the Preston North End legend as like coming face-to-face with the Almighty One.
“It was like meeting God,” the footballer-turned-pundit said.
“I’m not sure if there is a God or what he looks like, but if he came in the shape of Sir Tom Finney – I think that would probably be right.”
Lawrenson believes Finney is treasured by the people of Preston and beyond not just because of his abilities as a footballer but also because he is such a great man.
He said: “He is Mr Preston and he’s earned that title firstly for being a fantastic footballer and secondly because he is a true gent – and that probably is the most important thing.
“He had a God-given ability as a player. He was right-footed, left-footed – he had everything.
“In the olden days, there used to be five forward positions in a football team and Tom played in all five of them, not just for Preston, but for England as well.
“Also when you think in those days when Tom played, you could basically assault and batter someone, Tom managed to survive all that.
“I think the old story goes that if Tom was injured and was struggling to make a game on a Saturday, the directors used to say he was having a fitness test just before kick-off because they were worried it would take 15,000 off the gate.
“But his goalscoring record for Preston and England and his appearance record is just absolutely fantastic.”
Lawrenson, who attended Preston Catholic School, grew up holding Finney in the highest regard.
Although he is too young to have ever seen him play for Preston, he had the advantage of listening to his father Tom, who played alongside Finney for North End in the 1950s, regale him with tales about the ‘Preston Plumber’.
“I was told by my dad, who played with him at Preston, that when Tom played on the right wing, he used to dribble at the left full-back with just his left foot and the full-back had never seen anything like it. They just could not understand it,” Lawrenson said.
“And when he played on the left-wing, he would do the exact opposite. He would dribble at the right back with his right foot.
“He was just a fantastic talent.”
It is well known Finney had the opportunity to leave Preston and earn untold riches on the continent.
However, the wing wizard decided to stay loyal to his hometown club and, in any case, such was the lack of player power in those days, the board at North End rejected any offers for their star player without consultation.
And Lawro remembers talking to Sir Tom about the amount of money he could have earned in Italy. He said: “Tom could have left Preston and gone to play in Italy.
“I once did an interview with him and he said he could have not just doubled or trebled his salary, he could have earned seven-times what he was earning at Preston, plus all the other incentives the Italians were offering. It’s just amazing.”
Lawrenson also understands fully the work Sir Tom has done off the pitch especially after his retirement as a player.
He added: “Sir Tom has done endless amounts of charity work in the city.
“He was the main patron of a charity called Baby Beat, which I’m also vice patron of, and he did so much fantastic work.
“I don’t think I have met a better man – in fact, I know I haven’t.
“An absolute fantastic sportsman. He was at the very top of his profession.
“Just a world class footballer – and a world class man.
“Happy birthday to you Sir Tom”