It's a month now since the death of Sir Tom Finney. It was touching to see so many people turn out for his funeral - flags, flowers and football scarves in hand - and to hear them say such positive things about him. It was heartening because he was without any doubt an extremely decent fellow and such individuals deserve to be celebrated.
I say this without my customary sense of irony because I've yet to meet anyone who didn't find the man to be unvaryingly generous and humble. As a long term resident of Preston, he touched people's lives over a period of many decades: almost half a century ago, for example, he picked out my mum and dad in a local dance competition and from that day onwards he always gave them a little wave whenever he saw them. There are countless others who tell similar stories. That willingness to immerse himself in the community is a far cry from the celebrity mindset of so many sporting heroes of today.
Personally, I can claim no real connection with the man other than to state, for the record, that when I was a child I used to played cricket on the school field close to his house and, though I say so myself, I once played a truly excellent late cut that sent the ball skipping over the boundary rope and through a little hedge into his garden. Then, as always, we got the ball back without complaint.
I record this not to extend the long roll of testimonials to his undoubted humanity of goodness of heart, though I am of course perfectly happy to do that. What struck me when I saw the broad ranks of townsfolk lining the route of his cortege was the thought that, as a people, we tend to be very good at expressing our admiration and love when the individual in question has passed away, but less so whilst they live. That seems to me to be entirely wrong.
Of Sir Tom Finney, we can at least be sure that he knew he was one of the city's best-loved sons, and that's good because to feel appreciated really matters. But I have to wonder whether he's an exception; for so many others, that doesn't often seem to be the case.
I remember going to see a stand-up gig by the American comedian Greg Proops and, as he returned to the stage after our loud and protracted cries of 'more!', he observed what a strange bunch we Britons were. During the performance, he said, we sat quite impassively, laughing at the jokes but otherwise doing nothing to show our feelings; it was only when the curtains closed that we found our voices and only then was he able to get any real sense of how his performance had gone down.
I think he was right and I think we're like that in life, too. Far too much of the time, we let the days and months go by, not doing enough to express to our friends and family just how much we love, need and appreciate them. To say these things at a funeral is to leave it too late; let's all find good things to say about the living and let's be sure to say them today.