Finney was a match for Messi

The Bolton News: Sir Tom Finney died on Friday at the age of 91 Sir Tom Finney died on Friday at the age of 91

Preston's favourite son Sir Tom Finney was compared to modern-day marvel Lionel Messi as tributes flooded in following the death of the former forward.

David Beckham met Finney while on loan at Preston North End in 1995, before becoming England's best-known footballer of recent times, and added his own tribute on Saturday night.

Having been on a Unicef trip to the Philippines, Beckham was late in learning of the death of Finney, whom he called "an England great".

Beckham, who won 115 England caps, wrote on Facebook: "I just landed and heard the sad news that Sir Tom Finney had passed away.

"I was lucky enough to have met him when I was on loan at Preston and he was not just an England great but a true gentleman. My thoughts are with his family."

Finney, who died on Friday at the age of 91, enjoyed a glittering career for both club and country. He scored 210 goals in 473 games for Preston and 30 in 76 England appearances.

As a mark of respect, a minute's silence was held before Preston's home game with Leyton Orient on Saturday and Preston's players all wore black armbands and shirts bearing the name Finney above their squad numbers.

The statue of Finney outside Deepdale - known as 'The Splash' and inspired by the 1956 sports photograph of the year which features Finney beating two defenders at a waterlogged Stamford Bridge - was also covered with flowers, shirts and scarves left by fans.

Preston could not mark the occasion with a victory, being held 1-1 by their League One promotion rivals.

Finney spent his entire career at Preston after the club chairman refused to countenance a lucrative move to Palermo, and according to former North End team-mate Tommy Docherty he was as good as Barcelona superstar Messi.

Docherty, who played with Finney between 1949 and 1958, told the BBC: "He was the best player I've ever seen, alongside Lionel Messi.

"I watch a lot of Barcelona and when I watch Messi, I close my eyes and can see Tom. I'm serious when I say that Messi is the Tom Finney of today.

"Just like Finney, Messi is always getting fouled, but doesn't complain and just gets up and gets on with the game."

Docherty added: "If Gareth Bale is worth £100million, then Sir Tom would be worth far in excess of that in today's market. In fact, there is not enough money in football to buy him."

Finney was renowned as one of the game's great wingers and was famed for his double act in England colours with fellow wideman Sir Stanley Matthews.

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said: "On behalf of the FA, I would like to send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sir Tom Finney.

"He was one of English football's all-time greats and will be much missed across the game. Sir Tom was a true one-club man at Preston North End and a fantastic player for England. He will rightly be forever remembered at Deepdale and Wembley."

Finney will be forever linked with Preston, his hometown club, and Docherty recalled how gates at Deepdale would be lower if Finney was not playing.

"If Tom was injured, they wouldn't tell you the team at all," Docherty said. "If he was injured, and that was rare, there would be 20,000 at the game instead of 42,000."

Finney was never booked or sent off during his career and his sportsmanship was hailed by former England captain Jimmy Armfield.

Armfield told BBC Radio 5 Live: "He, in my opinion, is one of the really great footballers that this country has produced. As much as anything else, and it's hard to explain to many people today, but it was the way he played and the way he carried himself, his whole demeanour of life. Really, Preston will be a very sad place."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter also paid tribute, writing on Twitter: "Very sad news that Sir Tom Finney is no longer with us. Had privilege of watching @pnefc man play at 1954 WC (World Cup)."

Finney played in three World Cups in a career which, after being delayed by the Second World War, spanned from 1946-60, and he was the first player in England to win two Footballer of the Year awards.

Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager and a former Preston team-mate, 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."

Finney was nicknamed the 'Preston Plumber' during his career in reference to his first trade, to which he returned and ran a successful business after retiring from the game. He also worked in the media, was chairman of the Preston Health Authority and in 1998 was awarded a knighthood.

Preston announced the news of his death in a brief statement on Friday night.

"Sir Tom was the greatest player to ever play for Preston North End and one of the all-time greats for England," the statement read. "The thoughts of everyone at the club, and those connected with it, are with his family at this time.''

Aside from a Second Division championship title, Finney never won any of the game's major honours. In 1954 the FA Cup final was billed to be his day - a year after his friend and rival Matthews inspired a famous Blackpool win - but Preston were beaten by West Brom.

Preston also finished First Division runners-up twice during his career.

Current club captain Kevin Davies tweeted to describe Finney as "a footballing Legend", adding: "A true gent and a loyal servant to his beloved PNE. RIP Sir Tom Finney."

Finney stands joint sixth on England's all-time goalscoring list.

Gary Lineker, the second highest scorer with 48, tweeted: "Sir Tom Finney has left us. One of the greatest players this country has ever seen, and a true gentleman. #RIP."

North End owner Trevor Hemmings added his tribute on Saturday, telling the club's official website: "I not only enjoyed many hours of watching Sir Tom playing football but also many hours in his company raising money and keeping the club alive financially after his playing days had ended.

"I also enjoyed many hours socially with Sir Tom and his late wife Elsie. As a player, as a person, as an ambassador for football in general and Preston North End in particular, the world will never see the like of Sir Tom again. My thoughts are with his family at this very sad time."

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