I was extremely sad to hear the news of footballer Sir Tom Finney’s passing on Valentines Day this year. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with him back in 2007, when I was living in his home city of Preston, in Lancashire; although I only met him on one occasion, it didn’t take long to realise that he was a kind and trusting gentleman whose heart and soul belonged in Preston. Such was the nature of the man that he accepted a phone call from me one day, out of the blue, and I asked him if it would be possible to do some portraits of him as part of a project about local sporting legends. Andrew Flintoff was also on my list, but I thought it best to steer clear of agents and PR people to begin with.
Sir Tom was happy to accept my request, and we arranged a meeting for a couple of days later, when the forecast was good and his diary was clear.
I drove to his house in Fulwood, just a couple of miles from Deepdale, the stadium he graced for so many years as a player. He answered my knock at the door dressed immaculately in a suit, complimented by a PNE tie, proud as ever to be representing the club he’d spent his life serving. He made me a cup of tea and we spoke for quite a while about his days as a player, what it was like then compared to now, and so on. Without hesitation, he went off to retrieve one of his 76 England caps…something he thoughtfully assumed might come in handy for the pictures.
I took shots of him in his living room and on the steps outside his house, before suggesting we might go down to stadium for a couple of pictures there too. The next thing I knew, he was climbing in to the passenger seat of my car, so off we went.
He was welcomed by everyone we saw at Deepdale, and they allowed us into the stadium so we could do pictures both inside and out. Of course, looking back on the pictures I took from today’s perspective, there are so many things I wish I’d done better, but as a graduate and somewhat of a rookie in the field, I’m pleased I came away with what I did.
After dropping him back off at home probably 45 minutes later, he was just as thankful towards me as I was to him, happily wondering off into his house, bidding me farewell on his way…
I travelled back to Preston at the end of February to photography Sir Tom’s funeral, on a day where thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to the city’s most famous son. Legends from the footballing world were present, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Man Utd manager David Moyes, former Blackpool player Jimmy Armfield, and Liverpool legends Mark Lawrenson and Roger Hunt. It was a day of celebration as well as remembrance. The cortege travelled past Deepdale, winding it’s way into town along a route of closed roads, and coming to a stop outside the Minster, where a large media presence recorded every moment.
Fortunately, I don’t tend to photograph many funerals. More often than not, they fall into the news photographers’ remits. This was different though. This was the final farewell to one of football’s greatest ever players, and one of the sport’s true gentlemen…