Tom FINNEY OBE (1922-2014)

Tom Finney
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Tom Finney, footballer, was surprised by Michael Aspel and a coach full of his former England team players in central London.

Tom played his entire career for his local club, Preston North End, appearing 433 times and scoring 187 goals. He made his debut with the England national team in 1946, going on to win 76 caps and score 30 goals.

“I’m really hooked on this!”

Screenshots of Tom Finney This Is Your Life

Tom Finney's autobiography

Tom recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

I never saw red as a footballer, or even yellow. I went through my entire playing career without so much as a booking. But in 1989 I did see red – the famous red book presented to many a surprised subject on the popular television show ‘This Is Your Life’.

Up until it was my turn to stand back in open-mouthed astonishment, I must concede that I wondered if some were put-up jobs. Did the people really know and were they just pretending otherwise? Would the programme risk another Danny Blanchflower moment? That great Spurs star had declined the opportunity to take part, in full view of the nation. But I can confirm here and now that I was totally in the dark right up to the moment when Michael Aspel confronted me with that celebrated line, ‘Tom Finney, this is your life.’ Don’t ask me how but Elsie and our Brian and Barbara managed to keep quiet.

In fact, it very nearly didn’t happen at all. When the ITV researchers first approached Elsie about it, she refused, believing that it would cause more embarrassment than pleasure. It was only after the television people persuaded her to chat the matter over with the family that the kids convinced her it was a good idea.

The lengths to which the programme makers went in order to get me to the right place at the right time without suspecting anything was amazing. I received what turned out to be a spoof letter from a footballing organisation, inviting me to be a guest at a special sporting function in London linked to the making of a sports documentary. My immediate reaction was to say thanks but no thanks. “It’s a long way to go for a dinner,’ I said, delivering just the sort of reaction Elsie didn’t want to hear. She didn’t panic, though, cajoling me into accepting by saying that it would be rather rude to say no when the organisers were banking on my attendance.

I decided to travel by train and was informed by Elsie that the organisers had been on to say there would be a courtesy car and driver at Euston station to meet me. I asked Elsie if she fancied coming along and spending a little time in the capital doing a bit of shopping and sightseeing but she declined saying she had arranged to meet up with a friend, Lucy Lee, in Lytham St Annes for a day out. There was nothing suspicious in that although I was a bit bemused by the fact that Elsie seemed very keen to get off at the crack of dawn.

‘Why do you need to go so early? I asked.

‘Well, we’re hoping to get to the shops for opening time and Lucy has asked me to pop to her house first for a coffee.’

Well done, Elsie – still no reason for doubt. Off I went to Preston station, totally oblivious of the fact that my wife, children, sisters and friends were following right behind on a coach.

As promised, the car was waiting as I stepped off the train three hours later, but as I got in I noticed a coach parked close by. ‘That’s funny,’ I thought to myself. ‘I could swear that was Ronnie Clayton getting on that coach, followed by Bryan Douglas. Yes it is … and there’s Nat Lofthouse, too!’ I opened the door and called to them. They shouted hello and waved back.

‘Where are you off to?’ I inquired.

Someone, I can’t remember who, was quick enough to answer, ‘We’re going to the same place as you.’ That made sense; they must have been invited, too.

’See you there, then,’ I said and got back into the car. The driver said we would be moving off any moment. Suddenly, though, the door was opened and there was Michael Aspel – you could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather.

We were whisked off to the studio and I was guided into the make-up room where the producer ran through the overall plan of the show without giving any secrets away. Then the title music started and on to the set I walked with Michael close at hand. Elsie and co., grinning from ear to ear, were the first to be introduced followed by all the footballers I had just been chatting to so innocently. Billy Wright was there along with George Hardwick, Neil Franklin, Laurie Scott, Johnny Haynes, Wilf Mannion, Ivor Broadis, Ronnie, Bryan and Nat.

Stanley Matthews made an appearance via telephone from South Africa where he was on a coaching mission, and the other guests included Omar Sharif and Cecil Parkinson. Cecil relayed stories of his days as a schoolboy in Lancaster when he made the weekly pilgrimage to Preston to watch me play, while Omar Sharif revealed how he nearly faced me as an opponent. Apparently, he was a substitute in a game between our Eighth Army team and an Egyptian side during the war. As a full-back he said he was very concerned that the first choice player kept fit so that he didn’t need to come on and mark me.

Among all the famous faces was a chap by the name of Tommy Johnson and was I pleased to see him again. Tommy was a time-served fully fledged plumber when I was a wary 14-year-old apprentice at Pilkington’s back in the mid thirties. He was good to me, kind and considerate and always ready to show me the ropes. You don’t forget that sort of help and although we went our separate ways it was great to see him again. A smashing chap, Tommy is dead and buried now, God bless him.

After the show, we were invited to a buffet reception and then, courtesy of the television company, the family was treated to overnight accommodation in a smart London hotel.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 741
  • Subject No: 735
  • Broadcast date: Wed 9 Nov 1988
  • Recording date: Wed 2 Nov 1988
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Venue: Teddington Studios
  • Series: 29
  • Edition: 4

on the guest list...

  • Billy Wright
  • George Hardwick
  • Nat Lofthouse
  • Neil Franklin
  • Laurie Scott
  • Johnny Haynes
  • Wilf Mannion
  • Ivor Broadis
  • Ronnie Clayton
  • Dennis and wife - brother
  • Roy and wife - brother
  • Madge and husband - sister
  • Peggy and husband - sister
  • Doris and husband - sister
  • Edith and husband – sister
  • Joe and wife - nephew
  • David and wife - nephew
  • Robert and wife – nephew
  • Elsie – wife
  • Brian and Marlene – son and daughter-in-law
  • Donna - granddaughter
  • Paul - grandson
  • Barbara and Jim – daughter and son-in-law
  • Tommy Hough
  • Tommy Johnson
  • Willie Thornton
  • Joe Mercer
  • Harry Anders
  • Jim Baxter
  • Joe Dunn
  • Jimmy Gooch
  • Ken Horton
  • Angus Morrison
  • Billy Scott
  • Tommy Thompson
  • Joe Walton
  • Charlie Wayman
  • Lauren – granddaughter
  • Lee – grandson
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Omar Sharif
  • Tommy Docherty
  • Stanley Matthews - via telephone
  • John Barnes
  • Bryan Robson
  • Cecil Parkinson

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Sue Green
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Brian Klein, David Clark
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 29 subjects: Mickey Rooney > Phil Collins > Paul Daniels > Tom Finney > Esther Rantzen > Richard Todd > Engelbert Humperdinck > Barry McGuigan > Robert Maxwell > Harry Corbett > Cliff Morgan > Roy Hudd > Claire Rayner > Cyril Bertram Mills > Dora Bryan > Margaret Hayles > Denis Healey > Gillian Lynne > Nigel Mansell > Su Pollard