Tribute to Sir Tom Finney Preston’s icon

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February 14, 2014 was a date quite like no other in Preston, or indeed the football world as a whole.

That evening, Sir Tom Finney passed away at the age of 91.

Fans pay tribute to Sir Tom Finney after the Preston North End v Leyton Orient Sky Bet League One match at Deepdale

Fans pay tribute to Sir Tom Finney after the Preston North End v Leyton Orient Sky Bet League One match at Deepdale

A modest man, a family man, a football legend, all rolled into one.

He was a war hero, a knight of the realm, a justice of the peace, heavily involved in the community in his home town of Preston,

More importantly, Sir Tom was a much loved dad and grandad – while we mourned the public side of him, his family mourned someone so close to them.

Sir Tom was royalty in Preston, 472 appearances wearing the North End shirt giving him such a status – not to mention 76 England caps.

He was arguably the greatest player of his era, at a time when footballers were working men earning the same wage as the man in the street.

The boots they wore were cumbersome things, the footballs made of tough leather and done up with lace, weighing a ton as they gathered water.

Yet Sir Tom dazzled on mud-bath pitches the length and breath of the country.

He was the star attraction wherever he played, any absences through injury kept quiet until the last possible moment to prevent people walking out of the ground.

Deepdale was his playground, a stadium situated within sight of Holme Slack, where he grew up.

No wonder that the grief of his passing hit so many hearts in Preston and why the city effectively came to a standstill on the day he was laid to rest with full civic honours.

In today’s special Lancashire Evening Post supplement, we look back on the events of a year ago and the days that followed as Preston mourned.

We examine Sir Tom’s legacy on the first anniversary of his death and what becomes perfectly clear is that Preston has remembered the great man in so many different ways, from the naming of sports grounds and events, to the charity work which was so close to his heart.

How fitting that North End have battled their way through to the fifth round of the FA Cup and on Monday night host Manchester United in front of a full house at Deepdale.

It is the type of game which Sir Tom would have loved to have played in his prime.

His son Brian will conduct the quarter-final draw, together with England manager Roy Hodgson beforehand, a lovely touch you must agree.

Many Preston folk will remember where they were when news of Sir Tom’s death began to filter out.

With it being Valentine’s Day, some will have been having a night out, others a romantic evening in.

An outpouring of love and grief for the Preston Plumber quickly became apparent.

The Splash statue, 
sculpted in his honour in 2004, became a focal point of the mourning.

Scarves, football shirts and flowers were soon being laid there, with many a tear being shed by young and old.

By lunchtime the next day as North End prepared to play Leyton Orient, the statue was almost invisible under all the tributes. One legacy from that tribute is that some of the numerous PNE shirts left by fans are now being worn in a different parts of the world thanks to the Kit Aid charity.

The great and the good of the football world came forward to pay their tributes through the media.

That was not because they felt it was something they had to do – the tributes came from the heart.

Former team-mates, former opponents, managers, players and supporters all had a word for Sir Tom.

The Preston North End fans did themselves and the club proud with their love for the great man.

They bowed their heads and fell silent ahead of the Orient match.

Then the faithful chanted his name and at every game since there has been a song sung in his honour.

Opposition clubs allowed the giant Sir Tom flag to be brought into their grounds, some of them paid their own tributes in matchday programmes, recounting their memories of a day he dazzled on their pitch.

Preston effectively staged its own version of a state funeral on February 27.

The guest list for St John’s Minster was a Who’s Who of football.

It was invitation-only in the church but outside were many thousands of people who turned up to pay their respects. The route which the funeral cortege took was lined from Deepdale through to the city centre.

People took time off work, schoolchildren got an hour out of the classroom to have a history lesson in real time.

Outside North End’s ground, the pavements were lined five or six deep, that number thickening the closer you got to town.

A quiet air of dignity and respect accompanied the occasion – church had effectively moved outside.

Twelve months on from Sir Tom’s passing, it is only right we remember him and admire his legacy. Rest in peace.

For a copy of today’s special supplement, see today’s Lancashire Evening Post or alternatively download our tablet app.

LOOKING BACK: Revisit last year’s coverage of the sad passing of Sir Tom Finney.

Preston North End legend Sir Tom Finney dies aged 91

Sir Tom Finney to be given full civic funeral

Date set for Sir Tom Finney’s funeral

Sir Tom Finney ‘one of England’s finest’

Sir Tom Finney - a life in pictures

Sir Tom Finney - a fans’ view

Applause for Sir Tom Finney’s cortege

Tommy Docherty: Sir Tom Finney ‘Lionel Messi’ of his day

National tributes for Sir Tom Finney