‘I carried on working on the day of the Munich Air Disaster’

The football world will never forget the terrible events of February 6 1958.
The football world will never forget the terrible events of February 6 1958.
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The football world will never forget the terrible events of February 6 1958.

The Munich Air Disaster sent shock waves around the world and claimed some of the game’s brightest talents.

Sir Tom Finney learned of the tragedy while working at a foundry in Radcliffe with his team of plumbers.

At the time he was still one of world football’s biggest stars, an England international looking forward to that summer’s World Cup in Sweden.

It seems unthinkable in this day of millionaire footballers whose only sideline off the pitch is to top up their bank accounts with lucrative endorsements.

But Sir Tom was the working class hero who earned his nickname the Preston Plumber the hard way.

As a teenager he carried out his apprenticeship with Pilkington’s and while serving during the Second World War in Egypt made plans with brother Joe to set up in business at the end of hostilities.

What might have been seen as sensible planning for a man yet to play a professional match could easily have been sidelined once his footballing star started to rise.

But he wa committed to life at Finney Bros and loved his second career.

And it was a career which flourished with the help of Preston North End.

Club director Ewart Bradshaw provided Sir Tom and Joe with a van to get their enterprise off the ground.

As the company grew club officials would even help find work for their star winger at a time when plumbers were in great demand as Britain rebuilt after the war, while one or two former players even signed up when their playing days ended.

Even during his heyday Sir Tom would work up to eight hours a day on company business, with evenings also spent on call.

In time the outfit would take advantage of the hero within its midst rebranding as Tom Finney Ltd.

Despite employing a workforce of 20 men, Sir Tom refused to hang up his wrench and devote all of his time to football, giving birth to many a local legend.

As Sir Tom would later recall: “Many myths sprung up about me, stories that belonged in story books but were recounted as fact simply because people wanted to believe them to be true.

“Sorry to disappoint but I can never remember being up a ladder clearing someone’s blocked drain in Fulwood just minutes before shooting Preston into the lead at home to Manchester United!”

But being a footballer-plumber did pose some difficulties as Sir Tom noted in his autobiography.

“Many a time I would go out on pricing, inspecting or plumbing duties only to spend the first hour deep in conversation with the customer on how North End were faring or whether England stood any chance against so-and-so.”

After retiring from football in 1960 Sir Tom remained at the helm of the family business which continued to grow over the following 20 years - at one point employing 100 people. He eventually called it a day in 1984 to concentrate on his role as chairman of Preston Health Authority.

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