Steve Fletcher wins Football League's Sir Tom Finney award

At first glance there seems to be very little in common between Sir Tom Finney and Steve Fletcher.

One is recognised as the greatest player of his generation, a global star of the game, and one of the most gifted footballers to grace the field.

The other ploughed his way through the lower leagues as a bustling centre-forward for AFC Bournemouth.

But scratch a little deeper below the surface and you realise Finney, who recently passed away at the age of 91, and Fletcher have got a fair bit in common.

Both are indelibly associated with one club, are held in huge amounts of affection by supporters, have stands named in their honour and are also linked together by Fletcher's grandfather, 'Jack' Howe - a former international team-mate of Finney.

Sir Tom Finney in numbers

Sir Tom Finney
  • 76 England caps
  • 30 England goals
  • 433 league appearances
  • 187 league goals
  • Two footballer of the year awards

And on Sunday the two names will be linked forever at the Football League Awards when Fletcher becomes the first recipient of the Sir Tom Finney Award.

The accolade was previously known as the Credit to the Game Award and was won last year by Graham Alexander  - who was a pall bearer at Finney's funeral last month.

The re-named award will be presented by Preston boss Simon Grayson as a recognition of Fletcher's 24-year Football League career.

Fletcher himself grew up to stories of Finney, his grandfather Howe having played alongside him for England three times.

Howe, a defender, began his career at Hartlepool before joining Derby, where he made over 200 appearances. He also played for Huddersfield prior to spells in Scotland before his retirement.

"My grandad, my mum's dad, played for England and for Derby when they won the FA Cup and he played for England a few times with Sir Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Billy Wright," Fletcher told BBC South Today.

"They are some big names and I'm very proud of that, so it is quite fitting that I'm the first recipient of this award.

"I've watched footage of my granddad in black and white. I've collected a lot of stuff he achieved over the years that my nanna passed down to me after he passed away.

"It is fabulous to see what he achieved. For me it will be a really proud occasion when I step on that stage and mention Sir Tom Finney because, for my granddad to have been in that same line-up as him for England on three occasions, from my perspective as his grandson I couldn't be prouder."

His grandmother remained friends with Finney even after the death of her husband and Fletcher admitted Sunday will be an emotional night for him.

Steve Fletcher

"It's nice and I think it will shed a tear in my family."

Finney made more than 400 league appearances for Preston North End between 1946 and 1960 and won 76 caps for England before his retirement in 1960.

He is inextricably linked with the city, a one-club man, and although Fletcher had spells away from Bournemouth, he is held in the same type of affinity on the south coast.

Fletcher, who began his career at Hartlepool, joined the Cherries in 1992 - signed by Tony Pulis - and went on to score 121 goals in 728 appearances split over two spells, retiring in 2013.

Steve Fletcher in numbers

Steve Fletcher
  • 728 career appearances for Bournemouth
  • 121 career goals at the Cherries
  • Bournemouth record appearance holder

"You have to have a great rapport with the supporters and people of Bournemouth," he said. "I have put a lot of effort into making sure my time here in Bournemouth has been successful and the people have rewarded me back. I wouldn't change it for the world."

Finney, despite being a star of world football, returned to plumbing following his retirement, while Fletcher has remained at the Cherries working in their recruitment department - turning down offers from other clubs to continue playing in order to remain in some capacity at the club he loves.

Like Finney, Fletcher remains an ambassador of the club that has become his life, and on Sunday will be recognised for his achievements at Dean Court that span 18 seasons.

"I'm overwhelmed, proud and honoured to receive this accolade," he said. "It's something you never expect growing up as a child in the streets of Hartlepool.

"When you start as a boy kicking the ball around, all you dream of is playing one professional game and I played for 24 years and something like 836 games. Yes it was mostly in the third tier of English football, but it was still more than I ever dreamt of.

"I get emotional over things and to get this award for is something I will treasure for the rest of my life."