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Tom Finney: My Autobiography

Release date: 07th June, 2004
Publisher: Headline

List Price: £7.99
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Tom Finney: My Autobiography
Headline Books

4SportsBooks price: £6.39

If you believe that sport has embedded itself indelibly into the nation's fabric and become an integral part of modern society, then Sir Tom Finney's autobiography will read like a social history.

The book may be rooted in a different age, but Sir Tom's playing days were not without their commercial side: he advertised Shredded Wheat in the 1950s, endorsed boot deals and, when Preston were relegated, was offered a £2,000 bung in cash to request a transfer - this at a time when he was earning £10 a week. Tom Finney may have been a superstar, but he sees nothing odd about being a one-club footballer just like Nat Lofthouse at Bolton and Billy Wright at Wolves. In fact, I suspect he regards it as a badge of honour, and rightly so.

Of course, some people would argue that such loyalty was enforced by directors who treated their players as tradable commodities. In 1952, while still plain Tom Finney, he was offered a £10,000 signing on fee to play for Palermo in Sicily, the equivalent of £500,000 today.

Finney, then aged 30, refused to discuss the proposal with the Palermo president, Prince Roberto Lanza di Trabia, until he had spoken with Preston's chairman, a straight-talking Lancastrian named Nat Buck. The extent to which footballers were indentured vassals is perfectly highlighted by Buck's response: "If tha' doesn't play for Preston, then tha' doesn't play for anybody." Today, Finney's agent would have had a pre-contract deal secured and arranged for Palermo to compensate Preston for the remainder of his contract before whisking him off to sunnier climes and an end of career Italian sinecure.

The book is full of such anecdotes, making it an enjoyable read, almost akin to researching parish records from a bygone age. Did that really happen, did footballers really behave like that? Yes, they did.

Immediately after the war, Finney and his brother established what was to become an extremely successful plumbing and electrical business, Sir Tom having served his time as an apprentice plumber. His description of a normal day has the reader shaking his head in disbelief. Finney would arrive at the business premises each morning at 7.30 to plan the day's jobs for his workforce. He would then go to training at Preston, arriving by 9.30. After going home for lunch, he would return to the office at 2pm, finish at 6pm and could be on emergency call all night!

Sir Tom retired from the business in 1984 and its subsequent deterioration is clearly a cause of great regret.

Throughout the book, Sir Tom is keen to acknowledge his debt to others, his father and Bill Shankly in particular, but as a footballer, he was, as Shankly always introduced him, "The greatest footballer ever." Finney was the first player to twice win the Footballer of the Year award, in 1954 and 1957, he played in three World Cups and scored 30 times in 76 internationals. The ensuing memories of English victories, 10-0 away against Portugal and 4-0 against Italy in Turin, add a warm glow to the book's historic perspective.

Tom Finney's life has been no means easy - his mother died when he was 4, he lived through the Depression, he saw action in the Second World War and he witnessed the decline of a successful business he had grown from nothing. Yet the final chapter, where Sir Tom describes his role as a carer for his wife Elsie, is the most poignant of all. If you want to put talk of image rights and colossal transfer fees aside while you're on holiday this summer but still need that football fix, read about how the game used to be and ponder over whether it has all gone wrong.



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