Club loyalty

Floral tributes at a statue of the late Sir Tom Finney at Preston North End's Deepdale Stadium. The former England and Preston North End winger, who died on February 14th aged 91, was famous for his loyalty to the club.-AP

On the day that Wayne Rooney agreed to a five-year contract worth £80m, Tom Finney died in the town he made famous during a long football career in which he probably never earned £50 a week. By Ted Corbett.

By an irony so strange that it barely seems credible, on the day that Wayne Rooney agreed to a five-year contract worth £80m, Tom Finney died in the town he made famous during a long football career in which he probably never earned £50 a week.

In his days, either side of World War II, footballers were treated no better than serfs; indeed their contracts like cricketers’ contracts, referred to them repeatedly as “servants of the club.”

They were tied to the club that first signed them and transfers were granted when the club thought that losing their player was an advantage — to the club of course — and in particular when the fee was high enough.

Finney not only stayed with Preston North End throughout the career that proved him to be the greatest England footballer but continued to work as a plumber when he could fit the work round his football duties. He carried his tools to training so that he need not waste time before fitting a bath, or a washstand.

Life was different in those days. His football wages were around £15 a week in the winter, with a few pounds as a winning bonus and £7 in the summer. All contracts were the same although most clubs had a way of slipping their men a few extra pounds.

I knew one club that had a spectators’ entrance they did not mention to the tax authorities — Entertainment Tax was imposed on every ticket — and which enabled them to find the secret payments and bribe players during transfer talks.

In addition all life was cheaper. Rooney may have the spending power to buy three small apartments every week, but Finney certainly had enough money to live comfortably and it was not until after his retirement that inflation kicked in and wages rose sharply.

My first house, in 1959, cost £1,700 and 10 years later I could still buy one near the centre of Manchester for £4,000. The last time I saw that home it was being sold at £300,000. My guess is that Finney and his wife of nearly 50 years never paid much for a home in work-a-day Preston.

My first new car cost only £450 in 1966; you can multiply that figure by 20 now. The average wage in Britain today is £25,000, the average house £260,000, a loaf of bread that was four and a half old pence for years is now 20 times that price.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, told us recently that we are a rich nation but I guess that people of Tom Finney’s 90-plus years must have thought we need to be rich in this rich man’s era.

Eventually after a long press campaign players were better paid, given more generous terms and much more freedom until today you are no one in British football unless you are earning millions.

Oddly too, there is a similarity between Finney and Rooney; both working class lads, brought up in industrial areas in Lancashire. Neither had the personalities to be celebrities yet both played football as if they had been born to dribble, pass and shoot.

Finney was mainly a right-footed attacker who had to add a workable left foot when he discovered that he was often required to play on the left, particularly for England where Stan Matthews reigned supreme on the right flank.

Matthews could deceive the best left back with his trickery, his pinpoint passes and his knowledge. When either of the two had the ball the England inside trio of Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Stan Mortensen stormed into the penalty area knowing that the opposing defence would soon be at sixes and sevens.

England have never had a pair like them since but after the 1966 World Cup, football changed too. Rather than five men in attack there was often only one man up front, with four men across the middle ready to make the goals and the tackles. Full backs gradually changed until they had attacking duties as well as being defenders and two giant central defenders were given the task of erecting the final barricade.

There was little room for wingers of the Finney and Matthews type as busy wing halves and midfield men stole the show.

Of course, as a sportsman like Finney will have noted, all games have changed. Cricket has bigger bats and faster bowlers, tennis has responded to more powerful racquets with heavier shots and in all games there is evidence that the gym culture, better training methods and cleverer coaching have produced fitter players.

Not that there was anything slow or dainty about Finney any more than there is about Rooney. While Matthews was — just as effectively — beating three men around the corner flag, Finney was heading into the penalty area, ball apparently tied to his boot and gliding past defenders effortlessly. You would love to see the pair of them again now. I am sure they would be just as worthwhile, make as many openings — Matthews played into his fifties — and win as many matches, besides drawing crowds as big as they did in the years after the war when joy and entertainment were almost unknown.

I’d love to be able to turn the clock back but then I also admire beyond words the feats of Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney who may be richer, more pampered and certainly able to live the celebrity life but who show no signs that they are less dedicated to their art or to entertaining the rest of us.