Fin­ney’s great­e­ness was his sac­ri­fice to just one club

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

THERE is lit­tle more to be said about Tom Fin­ney, who died last week, aged 91. A leg­end, a gen­tle­man, a fab­u­lous foot­baller who never lost touch with his roots. A thou­sand talk­ing heads can­not be wrong.

He truly was a man ad­mired from Pre­ston to Panama, and every­where in be­tween. It was a priv­i­lege to be at Deep­dale for his emo­tional send off last weekend.

But driv­ing home, lis­ten­ing to the trib­utes on the ra­dio, I got to think­ing about suc­cess, and how it is mea­sured.

Though fes­tooned with in­di­vid­ual honours, Fin­ney never won a scrap of sil­ver­ware with Pre­ston. The near­est he came was an FA Cup fi­nal de­feat in 1954.Yet there he stayed, con­tent­edly plug­ging away un­til his re­tire­ment in 1960.

Can you imag­ine any de­cent player set­tling for that now? A club need only fin­ish a sea­son empty handed be­fore star play­ers start grum­bling about need­ing some­where “that matches my am­bi­tion”.

Re­mem­ber Wayne Rooney de­mand­ing as­sur­ances that Man United would buy play­ers be­fore he would sign a new con­tract? Or Samir Nasri, who flounced off to Man City in 2011 be­cause Ar­se­nal did not pay enough (sorry, “try hard enough”) to keep him at the Emi­rates?

And al­most with­out vari­a­tion, a new player will turn up at his Press con­fer­ence talk­ing of how he “came here to win things”.

Win win win. It’s a re­sults busi­ness. All that mat­ters is three points. Etc, etc. It’s all we ever hear. You’d al­most be­lieve that vic­tory is the only mea­sure of suc­cess.Yet as Fin­ney proved, it cer­tainly is not. In fact, I’d ar­gue that Fin­ney’s leg­end stems as much from his fail­ure to win honours as his bril­liance on the pitch.

His was a talent that de­served a greater stage. At his mes­meric peak, he could have walked into any team in the world. But he did not. He stayed in the town where he was born, sac­ri­fic­ing per­sonal glory to en­ter­tain the people of Pre­ston and give a small club li­cence to dream. Think, too, of Matt Le Tissier. Blessed with tech­nique that had a young Xavi awestruck, the mid­fielder spent his en­tire ca­reer at Southamp­ton – a de­ci­sion that saw him fre­quently over­looked for Eng­land.

“It re­ally did get to me,” he said. “I knew I was bet­ter than a lot of the play­ers get­ting picked ahead of me and ev­ery­one told me I had to leave Southamp­ton.

“But why should I have to quit a club where I was happy and set­tled just to play for my coun­try? And I don’t re­gret it. I con­tin­ued to give my best for my club and knew I was a de­cent player.”

Again, the sac­ri­fice. Again the ado­ra­tion. Le Tissier is loved by Southamp­ton fans in a way that few play­ers will ever be. Like Fin­ney, he will be re­mem­bered long be­yond his pass­ing.

And don’t for­get Alan Shearer, who spent a decade at New­cas­tle win­ning nowt but player of the year tro­phies. Shearer was one of the world’s great­est strik­ers, yet more of­ten than not his side didn’t make the Cham­pi­ons League.

Like those on the ter­races at Pre­ston and Southamp­ton, New­cas­tle fans knew deep down that they didn’t de­serve him. But he gave them his whole ca­reer and did so hap­pily. It is why his name is still sung at St James to this day.

In fact, I would even ar­gue that a man like Ryan Giggs, a one club stal­wart who has also won ev­ery­thing go­ing, will not at­tain the sta­tus of Fin­ney.

He sim­ply has not made the sac­ri­fice. His talent never tran­scended his team. Giggs will be revered. He will go down as a great.

But to be truly loved, you need to give up your dreams and give hope to a lost cause, to pledge your al­le­giance to a town and stay there through the lean­est times and grimmest de­feats.

To be the one man who, when star play­ers and me­gabucks teams come to visit, al­lows fans to stand proud and say: “Don’t worry, we’ve al­ways got a chance with Tom around”.

That, too, is suc­cess. And it is a legacy more last­ing than any num­ber of trin­kets and baubles.

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