GRAHAM WESTLEY – EXCLUSIVE COLUMN
A Preston North End fan called a radio phone-in on Friday night to remember the days when Preston would be forced to hide Sir Tom Finney’s potential absence from their team because of the huge detrimental effect it would have on their crowd if fans knew he would not be playing.
The pundits went as far as to compare his impact back then to that of Lionel Messi today. In other tributes, fans talked of Sir Tom as a gentleman, a sportsman and the finest of players; people loved him as much as a man as a talent.
One fan talked of the times that his brother would walk from Blackburn to Preston just to watch Sir Tom’s wizardry.
Another told a tale of Sir Tom leaving his dinner table to spend time in a restaurant with a young PNE clad fan. Sir Tom was the ultimate legendary figure.
I spent just 13 months in the hot-seat at Deepdale. One of the first things that I did was to buy and read Sir Tom’s autobiography and to hang his picture on my office wall.
His ‘splash’ statue stands outside the ground and his face looks down on you from the main stand. To come even close to understanding Preston North End, you simply had to try to understand Sir Tom and what he meant to people.
He stood for pace, attack, class. He stood for decency, honesty, hard work. Those were values that I could clearly see standing at the heart of the PNE faithful.
He had brought them up on a feast of all of those attributes. I was fortunate enough to be in charge at Preston on the occasion of Sir Tom’s 90th birthday. Unfortunately the great man wasn’t well enough to attend the game played in his honour but his family did so and the mood in the stadium that day was quite incredible.
We scored a late equaliser to draw against MK Dons and the entire crowd seemed to me to give that goal to Sir Tom as a present. You could feel that Sir Tom had given so many great moments to Deepdale and its faithful, and the huge home following just wanted to give him a moment back.
It was an incredibly special thing to feel the love of so many people for one man that day. Sir Tom’s passing is the loss of a truly exceptional person and a truly exceptional talent.
RIP Sir Tom.