Fitting tribute to Sir Tom

Crowds gathered outside Deepdale to pay their respects to Sir Tom Finney
Crowds gathered outside Deepdale to pay their respects to Sir Tom Finney
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Dave Seddon’s press view

There is only one way to start this column and that is the dignity and emotion which encompassed Sir Tom Finney’s civic funeral on Thursday.Preston was a proud city as it bid farewell to their most famous son.

Grief at his final journey and celebration of a wonderful life came together.

Even the most stoic of folk struggled to hold back a tear as the funeral cortege passed Deepdale on its journey to the city’s Minster.

It was a humbling experience being at the ground where Sir Tom made his name.

The stadium has completely changed since the Preston Plumber left opponents dazed with his wing trickery, and mesmerised fans, in equal measure.

But Deepdale is still his playground, the stand bearing his name, the Splash statue and the road which runs outside all honouring him.

What particularly touched me about the funeral was the vast array of ages of the people lining the route.

Folk from Sir Tom’s generation stood next to kids who were knee height to a grasshopper.

One teacher I spoke to outside the ground was busy doing a spot of crowd control with a group of children from his primary school.

As he put it, this was a history lesson in real time, the youngsters there to pay their respects to a man who meant so much to their parents, grandparents and indeed great-grandparents.

They did not need a textbook or a whiteboard presentation – history was happening right there in front of their eyes.

My own children watched the service on the internet at school and I am sure that was something repeated all over the city.

Youngsters visiting the Splash statue have been a regular sight in the fortnight since Sir Tom’s passing.

They will no doubt store such visits away and be able to recall their memories in the years to come.

Much credit must go to Preston City Council and to North End for setting the right tone to the funeral.

There was the pomp which accompanies a civic funeral, mixed in with football which, of course, is Sir Tom’s big legacy. Preston players, managers and chairmen, past and present, were on the guest list.

It was not a sense of duty which took them to the Minster, but a genuine desire to be there and say their farewells.

Thursday is a big day in the football week, with preparations for the weekend games really intensifying.

But training grounds were left and plans rearranged as some of football’s great and good descended on Preston.

It was not a day to chat tactics and formations, the focus being on one man and one man alone. The address from Jimmy Armfield real struck a cord with the congregation, those gathered listening on loudspeakers in Church Street and the 5,000 watching on the big screen back at Deepdale.

He took us back to the time when football was a working man’s game, before the days of six-figure-a-week wages and political gestures being made to celebrate goals.

Sir Tom was a couple of years into retirement and working for a newspaper when Armfield played for England against Wales in Cardiff.

Armfield picked up an injury and was a virtual passenger for the last half-hour of the game, shoved out to the wing in the days before substitutes.

He faced a long and uncomfortable train journey back to Lancashire from South Wales – that was until Sir Tom knocked on the dressing room door and offered him a lift home.

As Armfield recalled in his address: “There was a knock at the door and Sir Tom was there.

“He said, ‘I just thought that young Jim is going to have to get back to Blackpool. I have my car here and will drive him home’.

“We talked football from start to finish...we talked about everything except him.”

Another line from Armfield beautifully summed Sir Tom up. He said: “Sir Tom was a classic case of the local boy who made good – very good.”

The local boy was laid to rest on Thursday, reunited with his beloved wife Lady Elsie.

He stayed local all his life, save to fight for his country in the Second World War.

Preston benefited as a football team and a town, Sir Tom extending his skills beyond the pitch to also serve as a magistrate and on the public health authority board.

Football and the way we live our lives has changed to the extent that we will never see another Tom Finney – sleep peacefully Sir.