Blackpool hero Jimmy Armfield spoke movingly of his friendship with the late Sir Tom Finney as thousands paid tribute to a footballing great.
Former Blackpool and England skipper Jimmy Armfield paid a warm tribute in his address to the congregation assembled at Preston Minster, describing his close friend as a sporting icon who had won the hearts of a nation.
“I am just pleased to have been on the planet as the same time as him,” Armfield said in his address at the church, which was packed with the great and the good of football.
Armfield recalled how Sir Tom had once given him a lift back to Blackpool, saying: “We talked about football from start to finish.
“We talked about (Blackpool players) Stanley Matthews and Harry Johnston - we talked about everything, except him.
“He never mentioned himself, but that was Tom. He was thoughtful and considerate.”
Arnfield recalled how he saw Sir Tom destroy First Division defences and score goals for England.
“He served his country during the War and he served England on the football ground.
“He has opened up a treasure trove of football memories.”
Armfield remarked about how many things had changed in football since Finney’s hey-day, like training methods, faacilities and the pitches.
He referred to the modern-day trend of players’ names being printed on the back of their shirts, raising laughter from the congregation when he said: “We didn’t need to be reminded who we were in those days!”
He added: “The peope knew the players then - Tom Finney would walk down the street in those days.
“And if you were lucky and you wanted a plumber he would mend a leak for you!”
Armfield was referring to the fact that as well as a distinguished career on the field for Preston North End and England, Finney ran a successful plumbing business in his home city.
He praised his performances on the field, saying: “People forget that he was also an athlete - he didn’t dive on the field and he didn’t feign injury.
That wasn’t part of his repertoire - Tom 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 winner’s medal, though he won something much more important: the hearts of his team-mates, the supporters, opposing players even and of the whole country.”
Armfield spoke of how at the high point of his career Finney had been made an offer to play in Italy,
He said: “That might have been good for Tom’s wife Elsie and his family - but it wouldn’t have been right for the rest of us.
“We couldn’t afford to lose a person like Tom, he will always be one of us.
“Italy didn’t seem right - Tom Finney and Preston are words that seem welded together.”
Thousands of people lined the streets of Preston to see the funeral cortege as it travelled from Deepdale stadium to Preston Minster.
The minster itself was packed with many figures from football and the city to pay tribute to the former England winger, who died aged 91 two weeks ago.
Finney won 76 caps and scored 30 international goals, and played for Preston all his career, making 569 first-class appearances.
Fleetwood Town manager Graham Alexander was one of the pallbearers.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the former England international who represented the Football Association at the funeral service, said: “He was one of the most genuine invidividuals 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 match-winner, 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.”
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey was also among those at the service, and he said: “The great and the good of football have come out to say farewell to Sir Tom Finney - a man who was a genuine legend of our game.
“You only have to mention Preston and Preston North End... the conversation soon turns to Tom Finney and that sums up everything the man did for the club, the city and the game of football.”
David Moyes, the Manchester United boss who started his coaching career at Preston, attended the service, as did England’s record goalscorer Sir Bobby Charlton.
The funeral cortege travelled from Preston’s Deepdale home - Finney was born on a street next to the stadium in 1922 - 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.
The funeral service was shown live on a big screen inside Preston’s ground to a crowd of several thousand people.
Preston City Council had planned for tens of thousands to line the streets, with a number of schools giving children time off to attend the event.
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.
FIFA’s British vice-president Jim Boyce represented the world governing body at the funeral.
He said: “Tom Finney was one of my boyhood heroes, and played in a day where footballers were earning a fraction of the money they earn today, and became a fantastic ambassador for Preston - the city and the club.
“It has been fantastic to see so many people turn out to show their affection to one of the game’s true greats.”
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.
“The whole of Preston has almost come to a standstill in the two weeks since his death, and that is testament to what a great man he was.”
Blackpool FC chairman Karl Oyston was also at the service, along with former Blackpool manager Simon Grayson.