By Pete Sanderson
He may not have had many trophies to show from his long playing career, but in England - and at Preston North End FC, where he spent his entire career - Sir Tom Finney remains a massive figure.
One of the most sumptuously gifted players of the 1940s and 1950s, Sir Tom is still regarded by many British football purists as the greatest winger ever to play for England and the debate as to whether he was better than the late Sir Stanley Matthews still rages on in pubs and bars across the north of England.
"We were different players," Finney, who scored 30 goals in his 76 appearances for his country, told uefa.com. "Stan was a wonderful footballer and a wonderful person and it is an honour that some people speak of me in the same breath as him."
One man who stood firmly in the Finney camp for this debate was former Liverpool FC and Preston legend Sir Bill Shankly, who regarded the 'Preston Plumber' as one of the finest forwards to pull on a football shirt.
"Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age - even if he had been wearing an overcoat," Shankly once famously said. "He can play in all the orthodox five forward positions of the day for Preston and appeared for England at right-wing, left-wing and centre-forward. I challenge any modern day player to do that."
Both Finney and Shankly were legends at Deepdale, and it is no coincidence that the two stands bearing their names sit side-by-side at Preston's Deepdale stadium, divided only by England's National Football Museum, where UEFA's Jubilee exhibition is currently housed. There may have been little gulf in terms of talent between football heroes past and present but, financially, the chasm was huge with Finney never earning more than £20 a week.
"Football was a very different business back then," said Finney, who stayed with Preston throughout his entire career. "I worked as a plumber in the week and played for Preston at the weekend - I guess it was a good reality check for me. But even if I'd been playing in today's climate I think I would have turned down a move to one of the bigger clubs - it just wasn't my style."
Now the President at Preston, Finney's passion for the game has never waned and he believes the emergence of talents such as Wayne Rooney shows the English game is on the rise.
Pace and power
"Rooney is a revelation," said Finney. "He's quick, he's strong and nothing seems to faze him. You almost think if there was another level he could step up to beyond the international stage, he could do it."
Like Rooney at UEFA EURO 2004™, many expected Finney to fire England to international glory in the 1950s. Huge things were expected of a young Finney when he made his international debut before he had even made his first full League appearance for his club.
Tough as old boots
"Nothing beats playing for your country," said Finney, whose boots can be viewed in the UEFA Jubilee exhibition in Brussels. "If I had two wishes it would be to see Preston back in the top flight and England winning the [FIFA] World Cup again in my lifetime." If Shankly was still alive no doubt he would to do his utmost to coax Sir Tom out of retirement - even at the ripe old age of 82.
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