‘He has been part of my life for 60 years’

Close friends: Sir Tom Finney at 90 with Eric Jones, his pal of 60 years.
Close friends: Sir Tom Finney at 90 with Eric Jones, his pal of 60 years.
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Eric Jones was unfortunate to play in the same position as Sir Tom Finney.

It meant first-team appearances for Preston North End were hard to come by for the winger who joined the club straight out of national service for the RAF.

But there is no bitterness about his lack of chances –quite the opposite in fact, with Jones having known Sir Tom better than most people for the last 60 years.

He visited his good friend on a weekly basis, having long chats about the past and recalling their days together at Deepdale.

“What a remarkable man Tom was and his death means that Preston and football has lost a great person,” Jones told the Evening Post.

“Tom has been part of my life for 60 years, I came out of the RAF and joined North End.

“He was almost 10 years older than me, but we struck up a great friendship which lasted all this time.

“Unfortunately during my playing days, I couldn’t get into the side very often because I was a winger like Tom.

“If I played it was because Tom had got an injury and we used to have to keep an injury quiet otherwise the crowd would be lower.”

For much of his time at North End, Jones played for the reserves in the Central League - he actually made 116 appearances.

For the first team, he was limited to 13 games, in the main when Sir Tom was sidelined by injury.

One of the games he played was the last league game before the 1954 FA Cup Final.

Sir Tom returned from a groin injury for the Wembley final – not fully fit by his own admission – with Jones watching from the stand, there being no substitutes in those days.

Jones tells a wonderful story about an occasion when he was on the opposite side to Sir Tom in a practice game at North End.

He said: “The side which Preston had in the Central League was very strong, nearly as good as the first time –every player was of first-team standard.

“A practice game was organised one morning when the first-team played the reserves at Deepdale.

“It was a full-on game – kit, shin pads, boots, the lot.

“I got ready thinking that I would be playing on the wing as usual, but then the trainer tapped me on the shoulder and said I would have to play at left-back because Joe Walton’s leg wasn’t so good.

“I could play in every forward position, but had never played at the back in my life, and here I was being expected to mark Tom Finney!

“The trainer just said see how it goes in the first half.

“I put a right shift in and I realised how the passes used to be played out to Tom on the wing.

“With that in mind, I decided the best policy was to read a pass and try and cut it out before the ball got to Tom rather than have to tackle him.

“I must have cut out three or four passes and Tom did not see much of the ball in that first half.

“At half-time, George Barton the second-team trainer was overjoyed and told me ‘we have found your position Eric’.

“Let me say, the second half was completely different!

“Tom got the ball, dropped his shoulder and just went past me, knocking me sideways.

“Until that moment I did not realise what strength he had.

“His running in the second half left me dizzy.

“Something he was very good at was getting to the byline and coming inside along the line.

“I stuck out my left leg to stop him but still he somehow managed to keep the ball in play and go past me on the outside. How he did that, I still don’t know.

“Later in that practice match, Tom over-ran a ball which was unusual for him.

“It meant it was 50/50 between Tom and myself.

“I went in straight-legged with six studs at the ball, determined to win it.

“Tom went in and spun me round like I was pin wheel, I felt my teeth rattle because it was such a strong challenge.

“Tom was a remarkable player and man.

“He got some rough treatment in games, on a Monday morning after a Saturday match his legs were black and blue where defenders had tried to leave their mark.

“Tom was left with a broken jaw once when Dave Mackay sent him over and he hit his jaw on the ground.”

Jones tells another good story about Sir Tom’s ability from the occasions when they trained together.

He said: “On a Friday we would run on the cinder track around the pitch at Deepdale.

“We would jog the sides and sprint the ends, and Tom was fast.

“I remember being just behind him and the cinders from the track were bouncing up from Tom’s path and hitting right up to the top of my legs because of the pace he was going at.”

Pick up a copy of today’s Lancashire Evening Post for the latest tributes to Sir Tom Finney.