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Sports journalist and author Andrew Atkinson at the Sir Tom Finney 'Splash' statue outside Deepdale.

ANDREW Atkinson pays tribute to Preston North End and England football legend SIR TOM FINNEY who died on February 14, aged 91.

SIR Tom Finney was a legend in World football. And it was a privilege to know him personally. I had Sir Tom’s home telephone number. Indeed whenever I contacted Sir Tom he always obliged with my requests.

Sir Tom wrote the Foreword in the book I wrote: ‘David Beckham-In at The Deep End’, the story about Beckham’s loan spell at Preston in 1995. And I recall former England national manager Sir Bobby Robson personally, unexpectedly, phoning me to talk about Finney. After trials at The Lilywhites Finney was signed in 1946 – but he completed a seven years’ plumber apprenticeship – and became known as ‘The Preston Plumber’.

After serving as a desert rat under Montgomery he went on to play for England, earning 76 caps. Called up to the Royal Armoured Corps in 1942, Finney fought in Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Egypt and later in Italy in the final offensive to capture Argenta in April 1945 as a Stuart tank driver in 9th Lancers. Local leave in North Africa allowed him to play in army teams against local opposition – and on one occasion he played against the future actor Omar Sharif.

Finney’s final game for Preston was in 1960, after 433 games and 187 goals. In 1988 Finney was Knighted. England and Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton – who was player and manager at Preston in the seventies – said Finney’s contributions to football were "immeasurable". And the late Stanley Matthews compared Finney to Diego Maradona, Pelé, George Best and Alfredo Di Stéfano. Bill Shankly, who played with Finney at Preston, said Finney was the best footballer ever.

Gary Lineker said: “Sir Tom Finney has left us. One of the greatest players this country has ever seen, and a true gentleman.” Preston North End said: “Sir Tom was the greatest player to ever play for Preston North End and one of the all time greats for England.

"The thoughts of everyone at the Club, and those connected with it, are with his family at this time." The ‘Splash’ Finney statue outside Deepdale has been made a shrine, with fans placing flowers and shirts in his memory. Against Orient last weekend all the Preston players wore ‘Finney’ on their shirts.

And Preston City Council are in talks with Finney’s family to have a Civic Funeral. Finney’s wife Elsie died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2004. They had two children, Brian, 66, and Barbara, 50. Rest In Peace, Sir Tom. You will be missed by all of us.

The images show……..Sports journalist and author Andrew Atkinson, who has a home in Los Montesinos, pays his respects along with thousands of fans at the Sir Tom Finney ‘Splash’ statue outside Deepdale.

………..The Sir Tom Finney ‘Splash’ statue at Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium where thousands of fans have paid their respects with scarves, flags, shirts, photos, flowers and messages of condolence following his death of February 14, aged 91.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/42654/

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