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Chris Dunlavy: Tom Finney’s Greatness Was His Sacrifice

THERE is little more to be said about Tom Finney, who died last week, aged 91. A legend, a gentleman, a fabulous footballer who never lost touch with his roots. A thousand talking heads cannot be wrong.

He truly was a man admired from Preston to Panama, and everywhere in between. It was a privilege to be at Deepdale for his emotional send off last weekend. But driving home, listening to the tributes on the radio, I got to thinking about success, and how it is measured.

Though festooned with individual honours, Finney never won a scrap of silverware with Preston. The nearest he came was an FA Cup final defeat in 1954. Yet there he stayed, contentedly plugging away until his retirement in 1960. Can you imagine any decent player settling for that now?

A club need only finish a season empty handed before star players start grumbling about needing somewhere “that matches my ambition”. Remember Wayne Rooney demanding assurances that Man United would buy players before he would sign a new contract?

Or Samir Nasri, who flounced off to Man City in 2011 because Arsenal did not pay enough (sorry, “try hard enough”) to keep him at the Emirates?

And almost without variation, a new player will turn up at his Press conference talking of how he “came here to win things”. Win win win. It’s a results business. All that matters is three points. Etc, etc. It’s all we ever hear. You’d almost believe that victory is the only measure of success.

Yet as Finney proved, it certainly is not. In fact, I’d argue that Finney’s legend stems as much from his failure to win honours as his brilliance on the pitch. His was a talent that deserved a greater stage.

At his mesmeric peak, he could have walked into any team in the world. But he did not. He stayed in the town where he was born, sacrificing personal glory to entertain the people of Preston and give a small club licence to dream.

Think, too, of Matt Le Tissier. Blessed with technique that had a young Xavi awestruck, the midfielder spent his entire career at Southampton – a decision that saw him frequently overlooked for England.

“It really did get to me,” he said. “I knew I was better than a lot of the players getting picked ahead of me and everyone told me I had to leave Southampton.

“But why should I have to quit a club where I was happy and settled just to play for my country? And I don’t regret it. I continued to give my best for my club and knew I was a decent player.”

Again, the sacrifice. Again the adoration. Le Tissier is loved by Southampton fans in a way that few players will ever be. Like Finney, he will be remembered long beyond his passing.

And don’t forget Alan Shearer, who spent a decade at Newcastle winning nowt but player of the year trophies. Shearer was one of the world’s greatest strikers, yet more often than not his side didn’t make the Champions League.

Like those on the terraces at Preston and Southampton, Newcastle fans knew deep down that they didn’t deserve him. But he gave them his whole career and did so happily. It is why his name is still sung at St James to this day.

In fact, I would even argue that a man like Ryan Giggs, a one club stalwart who has also won everything going, will not attain the status of Finney. He simply has not made the sacrifice. His talent never transcended his team.

Giggs will be revered. He will go down as a great. But to be truly loved, you need to give up your dreams and give hope to a lost cause, to pledge your allegiance to a town and stay there through the leanest times and grimmest defeats.

To be the one man who, when star players and megabucks teams come to visit, allows fans to stand proud and say: “Don’t worry, we’ve always got a chance with Tom around”.

That, too, is success. And it is a legacy more lasting than any number of trinkets and baubles.

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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