Today, Sir Tom Finney celebrates his 90th birthday. Finney can easily be described as one of the greatest players to have been capped for the English national side. He was well known for his extraordinary dribbling ability and being equally adept with either foot.
In an age in which the words 'legend' and 'superstar' are used too freely, Finney was both of those things, if not more. Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, a former team-mate of the man known as the 'Phantom Winger', once said: "Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age - even if he had been wearing an overcoat. He had the opposition so frightened that they'd have a man marking him when warming up!"
Shankly's predilection for exaggeration should not distract from the fact that Finney was a true great. He was twice named English Footballer of the Year, scored 30 goals in 76 appearances for his country and showcased his skills on the biggest stage of all, playing in three successive FIFA World Cups™. Not bad for a player who, minutes before debut, was told by his coach: "Don't worry, son, we're not expecting too much from you."
“I do consider myself lucky to have played in three World Cups,” he told FIFA.com during an exclusive interview four years ago. “It’s always wonderful to be selected for your country, I think it’s the biggest honour a footballer can have, so to play for your country on such a big stage is something incredibly special.”
He played for just one club side in his 14-year career, Preston North End and a statue of him stands outside the team’s ground.
Finney was voted English Footballer of the Year twice, the first player to receive the honour more than once. He was knighted in 1998 and is currently the club president of Preston North End. He remains fifth in the list of all-time goalscorers for the England national team.
FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter sent Sir Tom a special message on his birthday in which he recalled with fondness seeing his skills at the 1954 FIFA World Cup finals.
"It is often said that the true footballing greats would be capable of playing in any era - you belong to that group and I am sure you would have excelled in testing your skills against the best players in today’s game," he said. "Indeed, your brilliance is something I was able to witness in person, having seen you play at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, scoring against Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
"Not only were you one of the greats of your era, entertaining the entire country during the golden era of post-war English football, but you were also – and still are – one of the game’s true gentlemen. You are an example to young players today through your loyalty to just one club – Preston North End – and the consideration you show to your fans and admirers.
"I wish you health and happiness for this new year in your life, as well as further enjoyment of your beloved game, football. May you continue to honour your club and country and share your knowledge and experience with the players of tomorrow for many years to come!"