Tom Finney was a great player. I have this on good authority - Stanley Matthews, Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton, Booby Moore all said so. Who am I to argue.
And it was a different age, the grounds were packed, crammed to the rafters with fans of all ages. But the players, for all that we described them as heroes, were treated like corporate chattels:
On a pre-War summer tour with England against Italy, Austria and Switzerland, he was made an astonishing offer by Prince Roberto Lanza di Trabia, millionaire president of Palermo in Sicily, a then astonishing £130 a month, a villa by the shore, a Ferrari, flights for his family whenever wished, and a £10,000 signing-on fee.
With the retain-and-transfer slavery employment of the Football League, by which a player could never leave without his club’s approval, Finney could do no more than quietly make his way home. To the end of his days, he would smile quietly about the memory.
Because Preston North End wouldn't let Tom Finney go his wages - the maximum wage - were just £20 a week. And there was nothing he, or any other player, could do about this, the clubs - private businesses - were profitable, taking the money from millions through the turnstiles but living under the football league's rules meant they could keep that money. The people who brought the fans in their thousands every Saturday afternoon - Finney, Mortenson, Matthews and so on - they didn't get to see that cash.
Today the biggest chunk of the money the fans pay to watch football goes to pay the wages of the players not the dividends of the clubs' owners. "They're not worth it", we say. "Whatever happened to the working class game" we exclaim. And we are wrong. The game is better for player power, better for so much of the money going to the men who make the product, who provide such glorious entertainment for us and who are the focus of childhood dreams and adult passion.
Football is a better game for its millionaire players.