Football pays respects to Finney

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Thousands lined the streets of Preston to honour the passing of Sir Tom Finney Thousands lined the streets of Preston to honour the passing of Sir Tom Finney

Sir Bobby Charlton hailed "the perfect send-off" for his fellow footballing knight Sir Tom Finney as thousands of people turned out for the former England winger's funeral.

The city of Preston held a civic funeral for its most famous son with a funeral cortege procession from Deepdale Stadium to Preston Minster.

Inside, 600 invited mourners - many drawn from among the great and the good of British football past and present - paid their respects to honour the passing of Finney, who died two weeks ago aged 91.

Afterwards, Charlton, who made his England debut when Finney was the veteran star player, said: "It has been a very nice occasion - the perfect send-off for a sensational player.

"He would definitely be in my top group of the best there has ever been - maybe even in the top two or three."

Roads in the centre of Preston were closed for the procession, with thousands lining the streets and local schools giving children time off to attend. The service itself was transmitted outside the Minster, and shown live on a big screen at the Deepdale stadium - yards away from the street in which Finney was born in 1922.

Sir Trevor Brooking, the former England international who represented the Football Association at the funeral service, said: "He was one of the most genuine individuals you would ever be likely to meet, everyone admired and respected him.

"To come to this event today over 50 years since he played and see all these people both here in the Minster and on the streets, I can't think of many who would get the same reaction.

"As a player he was the matchwinner, the crowd-pleaser, the one who could make the difference - I was a youngster in primary school when he was playing, I would watch him on a black and white telly and then go out into the garden with my brother to try to emulate him."

The service included the hymn Jerusalem, a performance of Amazing Grace by Louisa Stirland, the BBC young chorister of the year, and finished with the singing of Abide With Me, the FA Cup final hymn.

Jimmy Armfield, England's former World Cup captain who played against Finney when he was at Blackpool, delivered an address in which he paid tribute to his attitude.

He said: "Tom didn't dive, he didn't feign injury, that wasn't part of his repertoire. He 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 winners medal - though he won something much of important: the hearts of his team-mates, the supporters, opposing players even and of the whole country."

Tommy Docherty, the former Scotland and Manchester United manager who was a team-mate of Finney's at Preston, gave the eulogy.

He said: "In my opinion he was the greatest player I have ever seen. When I see Lionel Messi on the television playing for Barcelona I think maybe you could be as good as Tom.

"He was quiet and modest but he was amazing, he had two great feet and made ordinary players on his team look good - and I should know."

The funeral cortege travelled from Deepdale with a mounted police escort from the Lancashire Constabulary to the Minster.

The Preston and District Veterans' Association also joined the cortege to mark his service as a tank driver in the Royal Armoured Corps during the Second World War.

Finney was nicknamed the 'Preston Plumber' - his father insisted he train as plumber and he continued working in the family business throughout his career: useful extra income in the days of the maximum wage for players.

He was regarded as one of the true greats of English football - and his record of caps and goals came despite having lost six years to the war.

Preston chairman Peter Ridsdale said Finney had "touched the hearts" of the community.

He said: "What I think is wonderful is that so many people not only from the game but also from the city have turned out to say farewell. This is a player that truly touched the hearts not just of football, but the whole community."

There will be a minute's applause in honour of Finney before England's friendly against Denmark at Wembley on March 5 and manager Roy Hodgson, speaking at the squad announcement on Thursday, hopes it will be a fitting tribute.

"It is a great loss, my condolences to his family," he said.

"But we will be celebrating the life of a fantastic man and a fantastic footballer on Wednesday night and hopefully he will get even more attention and a bit more credit - you can't heap enough praise on a person like Sir Tom Finney."

David Moyes, the Manchester United boss who began his managerial career at Preston, and former Everton manager Howard Kendall, who began his playing career with the Lilywhites, were also among the mourners.

Finney won 76 England caps and scored 30 international goals, and played for Preston all his career, making 569 first-class appearances.

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