Jimmy: I’m glad to have been on Tom’s planet

The funeral of Sir Tom Finney,  Jimmy Armfield
The funeral of Sir Tom Finney, Jimmy Armfield
Share this article
Have your say

Jimmy Armfield is as good at public speaking as he was on the football pitch.

He ended his six-minute eulogy to his pal, the late, great Sir Tom Finney, with the words ‘I am just pleased to have been on the planet as the same time as him’.

Both inside the Preston Minster church - where luminaries like Trevor Brooking and David Moyes sat - and thousands more outside listening to the service courtesy of a loudspeaker, burst into spontaneous applause.

Armfield had summed it up perfectly. Finney hadn’t just been a great player, he had been a great man.

His loss, of course, is felt most keenly in Preston, where he played his whole career and lived all his life.

But Finney was such a legendary figure that in the end he transcends any one club. It isn’t just Preston’s loss, it is football’s loss.

And it is on occasions like this when the game is at its best. Forget the money, the celebrity and the sometimes tawdry behaviour of today’s generation.

Finney came from an altogether different world, playing with the heavy laced-up leather balls on pitches that resembled quagmires, earning a miserly £14 a week at the height of his fame.

He was one of the greatest footballers the world has ever produced and yet - and this is perhaps why the strength of feeling and respect for him is so strong - he remained an ordinary man of the people.

Never boastful or big-headed, he would have happily played football for free such was his love of the game.

It is for that reason he is universally admired, no scrub that, loved, and why it wasn’t just fans of Preston who lined the streets yesterday outside Deepdale and the church.

I daresay all 92 clubs were represented, including Blackpool.

In amongst the throng, and applauding as the hearse carrying Finney’s coffin passed by, was 80-year-old Ken Cliffe.

He had worked with Finney’s father Alf at the North West Electricity Board in the 1940s.

“In those days we had to work every other Saturday morning and I used to wangle it so I was working when Preston were at home and off when Blackpool played at home - it meant I could watch both teams and, although I was a Blackpool lad, Finney was so good it almost made me want to support North End,” said Mr Cliffe.

“He was a skilful, fast winger and he scored goals as well as providing them.

“To me Tom is the last of the great legends. There was Finney, Matthews, Lofthouse, Mannion, Mortensen .. we’ll never see their likes again.”

Martyn and Alison Jones are in their 40s, too young to have seen Finney grace a pitch.

They are also staunch Blackpool fans but that didn’t stop them coming to say farewell to Finney.

“It’s not often you can wear a Seasiders scarf in amongst thousands of Preston fans but this is what football should be all about,” said Mr Jones.

“My wife and I came to look at the famous Finney Splash statue outside Deepdale at the weekend and there were Preston fans patting us on the back and shaking our hands.

“That doesn’t happen on a matchday but when you are all here for the same reason, to honour and pay respect to a great man, whose death is such a sad loss to the game, then who you support on a Saturday doesn’t matter.”

The hour-long funeral service included speeches from former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty - a team-mate of Finney’s at North End - and, of course, another legend from way back when, Blackpool’s Mr Armfield.

Recalling how Sir Tom - then a newspaper reporter - had once given him a lift home after an England game, Armfield said: “We talked about football from start to finish.

“We talked about Blackpool players Stanley Matthews and Harry Johnston - we talked about everything, except him.

“He never mentioned himself, but that was Tom. He was thoughtful and considerate.”

Talking about the player, Armfield added: “He didn’t dive on the field and he didn’t feign injury. That wasn’t part of his repertoire - Tom was the footballers’ footballer.

“He was a real all-round athlete and in my opinion one of the real sporting icons that has ever come out of these isles.

“He was world famous but he never won a championship medal or an FA Cup winner’s medal, though he won something much more important - the hearts of his team-mates, the supporters, opposing players even and of the whole country.”

Nodding along to those words were Blackpool fans Alan and Doreen Norton, who watched Finney in action during the 40s.

They travelled from their home in North Shore to pay their respects.

“He was one of the finest players ever to represent England and I feel proud to have seen him,” said Mr Norton.

“He was a great footballer and a great person, and so what if we are Blackpool fans - you can rise above your club allegiances for something like this and it is right and proper to come and represent Blackpool FC.”

Their son, Christopher, added: “Finney is a legend of the game and somebody who was a true gentleman in the way you don’t see quite as much now.

“He was somebody who knew not only how to play football but to play in a sportsman-like way and to promote the right ethos of the game

“It is important to respect your former players, the way in which we at Blackpool respect Jimmy Armfield.”

Former Blackpool manager Simon Grayson - now in charge at Preston - was a pall-bearer, alongside current Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander.

Alexander, who made more than 370 appearances for North End, said: “I was going to be attending the funeral anyway but it is a huge honour to be asked to carry Sir Tom’s coffin.

“He was an unbelievable person. I’ve lived in Preston for 15 years and have come to know what Sir Tom meant

“He was the talisman for the whole city, the people, the football club.

“I’m proud to have known a footballer who was so talented, humble and faithful to his club.”

Fittingly for a man who brought so much pleasure to so many, the sun shone yesterday as the town, and the nation, said goodbye to Tom Finney.

It does not matter who you support. Or even if you don’t like football at all.

Today we are without not just one of the greatest athletes England has ever produced, but one of the nicest human beings too - and the world is a poorer place for it.