Tom Finney remembered

The bell presented to Sir Tom Finney on the 30th Anniversary of the Distillery v Benfica match.The bell presented to Sir Tom Finney on the 30th Anniversary of the Distillery v Benfica match.
The bell presented to Sir Tom Finney on the 30th Anniversary of the Distillery v Benfica match.
Tributes have been paid to football legend Sir Tom Finney across the country throughout the week, after the 91-year-old passed away last Friday.

However, his loss was felt deeply here in Lisburn, as memories of the famous night he donned the White of Distillery, rather than Preston North End, sprang to mind.

Finney came out of retirement for one famous night in Belfast in September 1963, when the Whites met Benfica.

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Lisburn Distillery paid tribute last weekend by holding a pre-match minute’s silence for Sir Tom, one of the all time greats of British football and quite possibly the best player ever to don a Distillery shirt.

A true legend of the game, Sir Tom played for the Whites in their historic European Cup game against Benfica which saw Distillery hold the then giants of European football 3-3. His friendship with then Distillery manager George Eastham was the key to unlocking this star signing for the Whites, a signing which if given a modern context would be akin to convincing David Beckham to play for your local club.

One person who recalls Sir Tom’s appearance in a Distillery shirt well is current Club Director Terry Thompson who said his memories of Tom Finney were how he seemed to glide through the game with ease.

“I remember well the crowd reaction when Tom took to the field, my vivid memory is how he made things look so simple and in particular his stance. He seemed to stand so upright compared to the other players and the torrential rain that fell that night didn’t seem to make a bit of difference to him as he glided through the game showing his undoubted class on many occasions.”

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Terry then went on to recall another memory of Sir Tom that he holds dearly.

He commented: “It was 1993, the 30th anniversary of the Distillery v Benfica game and the club were holding a special dinner to commemorate the event.

“I personally had spoken to Sir Tom on the telephone to invite him over and he was hoping to make the journey but sadly around the time his wife took ill so he was unable to attend.

“At the dinner all of the players received a memento of an engraved cut glass crystal bell and as Sir Tom had been unable to attend I posted his across to his home in Preston.

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“Well lo and behold a couple of weeks later a parcel arrived at my house and it was the crystal bell being returned with a lovely note from Sir Tom which thanked us for such a generous gift but requesting that club held onto it in the hope that when people looked at it they would recall the night when Tom Finney was given the chance to make his dream of playing European football come true by his being allowed to play for Distillery Football Club, that was such a nice touch by one of the games true gentlemen.”

Lisburn Distillery have extended their sympathy to Sir Tom’s family and friends in Preston by writing a letter of condolence to his former club Preston North End.