England Caps : 76
Goals : 30
Player : 1946-1958
Tom Finney one of the greatest post-war players England saw, had an inauspicious start, initially being rejected by Preston North End, the club that he would play for, for the whole of his career, as he was too frail and sickly. But he would go on to become an international star with his England performances, out on the right wing, with Stanley Matthews on the left.
Parental ControlAfter that rejection Finney showed steel and determination, going off to build himself up, putting a slipper on his strongest foot, his left, to reinforce his skill with the right. Once accepted by North End, his father then prevented him from signing up, forcing him to finish his plumber’s apprentice training with the family firm.
War IntervenesFinally, once signed up to North End, World War II broke out, and Finney was drafted into the Royal Armoured Corps. Although much official football was suspended, enough was played for Finney to have earned himself a reputation by the time the war was over. In particular, he gave the Arsenal and England full back Eddie Hapgood a torrid time during the 1941 League Cup final, which North End won after a replay.
England Expects, Finney DeliversFinney went straight into the England side as soon as football was officially re-started, scoring on his debut against Northern Ireland and then again against the Republic two days later. In the days of stricter formations, being out on the wing meant that fewer goals as the main job would be to provide crosses, which Finney certainly did, but he would often come inside and play more as an inside forward. So Finney scored as many as he made, and in a post-war team with Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Jackie Milburn and Wilf Mannion there were plenty of willing and skilful targets for Finney’s distribution.
World CupsIn the lead up to the first World Cup that England entered, 1950, they took Portugal apart in Lisbon, winning 5-3 with Finney scoring four, but the tournament itself was not such a happy affair. With the tournament in blazing Brazil, they beat Chile but then lost to a very unfancied USA team and then again to Spain and were unable to progress past the group stage.
Finney also went to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, where England won their group but then lost to Uruguay 4-2 in the quarter-final. He was in Sweden in 1958 as well, when three draws in the group stage weren’t enough to go through, and Finney only played in the first match, scoring the equaliser form the spot in a 2-2 draw with Russia, as he was beginning to suffer from the nagging groin injuries that would eventually terminate his career.
Ravaged Defences…..But the world Cup wasn’t so important then, the most important competition was the annual Home Championship and Finney would regularly rampage through the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish defences. One of his goals against Scotland made a fans’ poll to arrive at the top 50 greatest England goals, conducted by Sky Television. The description employed was ‘a goal of individual control and skill, with a run past three players and a cool finish with just the goalkeeper left to beat.’
Finney earned respect throughout the land, being voted the Player of the Year for 1954 and 1957. For England he continued to put in masterly performances, with the Portuguese in particular suffering badly. As well as the 5-3 referred to above, he played in the sides that beat them 5-2, also in 1950, and 10-0 back in 1947. Although only scoring one goal each in those matches, it was his provision for others to score that did the damage. He also scored two memorable goals in 1948 against Italy, then World Champions, having won the World Cup earlier that year, in a 4-0 win in Turin.
…..But Defeats TooEqually though, although Finney missed the seminal 3-6 demolition of England by Hungary in 1953 at Wembley, he was there for the even more embarrassing return the following year in Budapest, the 7-1 defeat being still the worst on record for England. These matches were the wake-up call that led to the slow process of change to the structure of football in England that delivered the World Cup in 1966.
Finney's final match was a friendly against Russia late in 1958 and his run ended at 76 caps and 30 goals, an amazing tally for a winger in those days, which stood as an England scoring record until Jimmy Greaves passed it six years later.