I haven’t written an article for The72 in some time now due to other commitments, but events in the past month or so have inspired me. Ironically, it is a great tragedy which has reminded me just how brilliant my football club (and football in general, in this case) is.
On the evening of 14th February 2014, I was on a coach filled with students aged between 13-18 from Preston on our way to Austria for a skiing holiday. When the news broke that Sir Tom Finney, England and Preston North End legend, had passed away, a near silence fell over the coach. A good half of these kids were not Preston fans – nor football fans for that matter. But they were all Prestonians, and every Prestonian knows Sir Tom.
For the next hour, stories were exchanged of how we’d all met Sir Tom Finney. I hadn’t quite ‘met’ Sir Tom, but I’d seen him at my Primary School and many times at Deepdale. Just being in the presence of such a legend was humbling. I’d heard stories from my Grandad for years about how brilliant of a player he was. I’ve sat in the Sir Tom Finney stand since I was 3. I’ve walked past the Sir Tom Finney statue for 10 years. The Sir Tom Finney pub is a few minutes walk from where I live. You can’t go anywhere in Preston without a reminder of Sir Tom Finney, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend North End’s game against Leyton Orient the day after Sir Tom’s passing. I’d have loved to have paid my respects with the rest of the North End faithful, but I think every North End fan was at Deepdale in spirit that day. To see the tributes flooding in from some of the game’s most famous characters made me feel proud to be a Prestonian, but they didn’t come close to the messages and tributes from the fans of Preston North End. Sir Tom was one of us, and we are the Gentry. As soon as I returned from my holiday, I went to have a look at the ‘Splash’ statue outside Deepdale. It was a moving experience to see all the Preston shirts with messages on, but perhaps even more incredible to see so many shirts belonging to other clubs, particularly from Lancashire. Blackpool, Burnley, Bolton, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton.. just about every football club in the North was represented and many more from further afield. Sir Tom Finney transcended Preston – in fact, he transcended football. He wasn’t just a brilliant footballer, he was a brilliant man, respected by the entire footballing community not just for his ability but for his conduct and manner in which he played our game and went about his life.
There will never be another Sir Tom Finney. And that’s not because of how football has changed, or how life has changed. It’s just impossible. Sir Tom is, and always will be, Preston’s greatest son.