He didn’t realise how famous he was

Sir Tom Finney with author Paul Agnew at his home in Fulwood, Preston, in 2002
Sir Tom Finney with author Paul Agnew at his home in Fulwood, Preston, in 2002
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Sir Tom’s official biographer Paul Agnew recalls the great man’s modesty – and his sense of loyalty.

As his official biographer, Paul Agnew got to know Sir Tom Finney better than most.

And as Preston was mourning the passing of its best-known son, the former LEP sports writer paid his own tribute with an intriguing insight into the modesty of the great man.

The pair travelled the country to book signings and Paul confessed: “He really didn’t understand how famous he was.

“We were in the Bull Ring in Birmingham and, as we arrived in the limo they were putting cones out,” recalled Paul.

“There was a long snake of people and Tom said, ‘It looks like something else is going on’.

“He couldn’t believe that, more than 40 years after he retired from playing, people would still queue up to get his book.

“Another time we went to Lord Street in Southport and Tom was signing for about two or three hours.

“There were two blokes in the queue that he talked to for a bit longer than the rest and afterwards he said to me, ‘Do you know who they were Paul?’

“It only turned out they were two of his former England team-mates.

“They had actually queued up to get a signed copy from him.

“Can you imagine Wayne Rooney queueing up to get David Beckham’s autograph?”

Paul covered the day-to-day happenings at Deepdale between 1983 and 1991 and it was during this time he started writing a regular column with Sir Tom.

The idea for the book came from that highly popular series. I don’t think he ever quite grasped his own fame,” said Paul.

“He thought it was just fuss.

“Whether that was a product of his own upbringing in Preston I don’t know.

“But he was so humble he could be in a room full of people and no-one would know he was there - yet he would be the chief guest.

“He tried his hardest to attend every function he was invited to.

“I remember one day he got a call from a bloke organising a special dinner in his honour attended by 300 people.

“Tom said, ‘I’ll have to look in my diary’.

“When he realised he had already agreed to attend a scout group in Penwortham that same night he turned down the dinner.

“He said he was sorry, but the scouts had asked first and he’d said yes.

“So the chap had to reschedule the dinner for another night.

“All the stories I’ve heard from other people talk about the same humility.

“He never got carried away with his own importance.

“He never lived more than five miles from Deepdale all his life.

“I once told him I could pick him up and we could pass the Phantom Winger, drive down Sir To Finney Way, pass the Splash statue and go into the Sir Tom Finney Stand to watch a game.

“I said, ‘Most people have to wait until they die for tributes like that’.

“But Tom was special. He got them while he was still alive.”