1. TOM FINNEY
Affectionately known as the Preston plumber, his record for Preston of 187 goals in 433 games would put him at the top of most trees, for England his record was 30 goals in 76 games.
Tom Finney’s career was interrupted by the Second World War; he was a tank driver in Egypt in 1945. Preston turned down a £10,000 bid from Palermo in 1952, which was enormous in its day. Tom was voted footballer of the year in 1953/4, played only once in an FA Cup final where West Bromwich Albion beat Preston 3-2.
Tom Finney, was not an archetypal winger, he could play anywhere along the front line, as a number ten or as the main striker, very few so-called wingers have the capacity to do that.
Tom sadly died on 14th February 2014, after spending sixty years with Preston as player, president and lifelong supporter. A decent judge of a footballer, none other than Bill Shankly who had played with Tom at Preston said of him “Tom Finney would have been great in any team in any match in any age, even wearing an overcoat”.
I personally had the privilege of meeting Tom Finney on several occasions, the word gentleman hardly does him justice a nicer, more humble man you would never meet.
2. STANLEY MATTHEWS
Stanley Matthews was probably the world’s first football superstar, born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent on the 1st February 1915. An England schoolboy international, his father was a boxer and was keen on Stan following him in the sport.
Stanley grew up as a Port Vale supporter but joined Stoke City on £1 per week at fifteen years of age. Signed professional at seventeen years of age on the maximum £5 per week, how times have changed eh! Stanley scored in his first senior game in a 3-1 win against his boyhood club port Vale at the Old Recreation Ground. Stan requested a transfer in February 1938 which was denied, another who the Second World War sadly reduced his career until 1946. Stan was in the air force in the war and was based in Blackpool, where he made thirty-seven guest appearances, also played for Rangers, Arsenal, Airdrie, and Morton as a guest in the wartime. Stan did not have a good relationship with Stoke manager McGrory and the board at the time, so he put in another transfer request which was accepted.
Stan moved to Blackpool for £11,500 aged thirty-two, Joe Smith then Blackpool manager gave him free rein, Blackpool finished ninth that year and reached the FA Cup final. Stan was voted football writers player of the year, Blackpool lost 4-2 to Manchester United, in 1950/51, Blackpool were third in the first division also reaching the 1951 cup final, which they lost to a Jackie Milburn inspired Newcastle United. Stan finally gained his cup final medal in 1953, it was dubbed the Matthews final despite Stan Mortensen scoring a hat-trick, Blackpool finished 2nd to Manchester United in 1955/56, Stan was again voted football writers player of the year.
Blackpool remained strong in the 1950s, though he moved back to Stoke for £3500, doubling his Blackpool wages at Stoke to £50. His debut at Stoke on 24th of October 1961, drew 35,974 fans treble the normal gate at Stoke. Stoke gained promotion in 1962/3 and Stan was again voted footballer of the year. The last football league game of Stan’s career was on the 6 February 1965 versus Fulham at the age of fifty.
Stanley Matthews statistic stand up to anyone’s for Blackpool 697/71 and England 54/11. Stanley Matthews was a man before his time; he was doing weight training years before it became fashionable in the loft of a Leek public house owned by a long-gone friend of mine, despite Stan being a teetotaler. Stan never lost the drive for training his father had imparted into him.
I met Stanley several times at Blackpool as a young fan and later at Stoke when he had retired, a one off was our Stanley.
3. CLIFF JONES
Cliff Jones was born on the 7th February 1935 in Swansea, showed his ability at Swansea scoring 47 times, in 168 games, for a winger he always had a high goal to game ratio.
Cliff was bought by Tottenham in 1958; he broke a leg shortly after joining Tottenham and really came to the fore in the double winning side of 1960/61, played in Spurs winning cup final in 1962 and the European cup winner’s cup final in 1963. I remember him well in that Spurs side, a fluid runner with the ball at feet and capable of scoring with either foot and surprisingly good in the air considering he was 5’7” tall. His goal to game ratio at Tottenham was excellent in an era where wingers were considered fair game by very physical fullbacks of the day, who in that era were allowed to take lumps out of wingers who shared the talent given to Cliff Jones. Cliff scored 135 goals in 318 games at Tottenham, which despite being a major feat in those physical days, did not really give a fair reflection of the talent that was Cliff Jones.
For Wales Cliff scored 16 times in 59 appearances, and was very highly regarded by all who played with and like myself watched him play.
He was a player that opposing players and fans knew could change a game, running from deep or meeting crosses and climbing to head the ball into the net above far taller opponents.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Cliff, but friends and acquaintances who know him well say that he is a humble man who does not have the narcissistic edge of most modern footballers today. A pleasure to watch, top-quality in his own right.
4. JAMES CONNELLY JOHNSTONE (Jinky Jimmy)
Jinky Jim was born in Viewpark on 30th September 1944 and was very much throwback to the Matthews style of winger. He made his Celtic debut on 27th March 1963 in what would now be an unusual six nil defeat against Kilmarnock. Shortly after Jimmy scored his first senior goal in another defeat against Hearts. Despite being only 5’ 4” tall he was physically strong, had an amazing change of feet and burst of acceleration added to a low centre of gravity which made him a nightmare for fullbacks. He played 308 games for Celtic scoring 82 goals, for Scotland he amazingly only played twenty-three times scoring four goals. Far better in the air than you would think for his size, he got his share of headed goals mainly from late back post runs.
Jimmy won nine Scottish first division titles, four Scottish cups and five Scottish league cups and to cap it all was a European cup winner in 1967 when Celtic beat Inter Milan in Lisbon. Voted by the fans as the best player ever to put on a Celtic shirt, gives you some idea of the man’s ability and charisma, he was a character in all aspects of the word.
Still known as the Lord of the Wing in his Celtic heartland, Jimmy died in Uddingston on 13 March 2006 at the still young age of sixty-one, over a hundred thousand people were said to line the funeral route. For younger readers who’ve never seen Jimmy play, you should look on YouTube which has some fine footage of his abilities.
True winger and a true great.
5. GEORGE BEST
George Best was born in Belfast on the 22nd May 1946, made his debut for Manchester United at the age of seventeen, ultimately scoring 137 goals in 361 games. George Best made his first division debut on 14th September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion, United won 1-0 His last game for Manchester United was on the 1st January 1974 against QPR aged twenty-seven. Things went downhill for George though he played for several teams, eleven in all which included Fulham, Stockport County, Hibs, Los Angeles Aztecs to name but a few. George had one thing that most wingers did not possess, a nasty streak, he could compete physically and was difficult to contain without continually giving away free kicks, and he could score goals in many ways, a great change of feet and a naturally good finisher. Though George did produce some excellent performances, his international goal to game ratio of 9 goals in 37 games never really did his ability to justice. George aged nineteen scored two goals in the European quarter-final match against Benfica in Portugal, on the 9th March 1966. In 1966/67 United had another successful season winning the league title by four clear points, George contributing 10 goals in 45 games. George Best was footballer of the year and shared the first division top scorer with Ron Davies of Southampton with 28 goals. His fame ultimately led him to off the field activities, the ladies and a drink were his favourites, sadly it diminished George as a player and he started on the downhill slide.
There are many quotes attributed to George Best who I met occasionally at different times of his career and after his retirement. My favourite quote was when hotel waiter came into his room, he was lying on the bed with Miss World and a wodge of money, the waiter said, “Where did it all go wrong George”? I think most would agree there was not much wrong with his situation at the time. George had well documented problems with alcoholism which ultimately led to kidney failure and a liver transplant. Perhaps a wasted talent, idolised by many it was sad to see him die so young on the 25th November 2005 aged only fifty-nine, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure.
100,000 mourners lined the route for his funeral on the 3rd December 2005.
George was a massive character, perhaps in hindsight the talent wasted.