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Football loses another legend

EVERY football club in the land has its own legends, never-forgotten stalwarts whose exploits have made them terrace heroes and carried them into local folklore.

Only a very special few, however, reach the stratospheric levels where they are claimed and acclaimed by fans across a nation – or even the whole world – as having attained true greatness.

It has been a bad couple of months for lost legends: first Eusebio, the pride of Portugal and dazzling star of the 1966 World Cup, and now the incomparable Sir Tom Finney, who died last week aged 91.

Eusebio moved from his native Mozambique to Benfica of Lisbon in 1961 and embarked on a spectacular career that swept him from abject poverty to superstardom. The football world united in mourning when he died last month at 71.

The canvas for Finney’s artistry was far more down to earth, his whole club career being spent with his home-town club, Preston North End, despite the efforts of Palermo and others to lure him abroad.

For those old enough to have seen Finney in his pomp, the sharpest memories will be of him in the white shirt of England, playing alongside such contemporaries as Stanley Matthews in football’s post-war boom years.

The playing career of the man universally and affectionately known as the ‘Preston Plumber’ ended before Eusebio’s began but, genius apart, the one great quality that they shared was their humility.

Platitudes almost invariably abound when obituaries are written for famous sports stars but in the cases of both Finney and Eusebio, their modesty and sportsmanship sit alongside their football achievements in the recollections of all who knew them.

Whenever sport loses a performer of such standing, debates spring up as to their place in the pantheon of all-time greats. It’s an unanswerable question, of course, because every sport evolves with the passage of time.

Many good judges believe Finney was the finest English footballer of all time. No doubt his natural talent, coupled with the training and dietary regimes of today’s game, would have made him a star of this age, too.

You’d have to wonder, though, what this most grounded and unassuming character would have made of all the froth and superficiality that bedevils the Premier League nowadays.

Football will sorely miss Sir Tom Finney and the code by which he lived his life.

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