THE deaths of three great men put last week’s defeat at home to Cardiff City in sharp perspective.

They were all in their early eighties, in the public eye, had brilliant career CVs and brought a lot of pleasure to many people.

But the great thing about them all was that they never sought the limelight or coveted the adulation.

They are the brilliant film star Albert Finney, England’s greatest goalkeeper Gordon Banks, and the man who brought through English football’s best group of young players since the Busby Babes - Eric Harrison.

I met Albert many years ago when my wife Anne and I were invited to the Ageas Bowl for an England international. We were sat next to each other and got on extremely well. A good friendship built from there.

Albert and his wife Pene had moved down from London and were living in a village on the Hampshire coast, where we often stayed.

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Albert Finney in 2001

I timed Albert’s first visit to our home when Saints were playing Manchester United at St Mary’s.

Patrick Trant and Leon Crouch kindly gave Anne and I seats in their box to accommodate Albert and Pene.

Alex Ferguson, as he usually does, came up looking for me and was also pleased to meet Albert, who was born in Salford. They developed a strong friendship too.

A few days later I organised a trip to Mike Channon’s stables. He and Albert had a lot in common. Albert’s father had been a bookmaker and Albert himself had owned horses so was very much at home and totally impressed with Mike.

Albert always remembered Anne saying to him ‘you were with us on our honeymoon’. What she meant was we had spent a few days in London after our wedding and visited the cinema where one of Albert’s famous films was on.

It was 1960 and the film was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. It was pouring with rain as we left to get back on our scooter - while a doorman was announcing when people’s carriages were turning up.

We hadn’t realised it was the film’s premiere!

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Albert Finney (left) in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Albert made many successful films and was nominated multiple times for Oscars and many other awards.

The coverage his death has received has reminded people how successful he was. But it was typical of the man that he turned down an OBE and a knighthood, believing they were a form of snobbery. His wonderful career means he will never be forgotten.

Nor of course will Gordon Banks.

I didn’t realise how ill he had been but his death will hit home in a few weeks’ time, when Sir Geoff Hurst appears at the Concorde Club in Eastleigh.

Until recently, it was always Gordon and Sir Geoff who did evenings together around the country.

Those two were typical of the 1966 World Cup-winning team.

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Gordon Banks in action for England against Hungary at Wembley in 1965

As well as being a fantastic goalkeeper, Gordon was a great man. Alan Ball, an England team-mate of his in 1966 said he was one of the nicest people you could wish to meet. I had the pleasure of being in his company over the years and couldn’t agree more.

There was a double blow for the football community this week, with Eric Harrison passing away the next day. Eric played his football at lower levels before making a name for himself as a coach. He went to Manchester United when Ron Atkinson took over in 1981. When Sir Alex took over five years later he and Eric built up a great partnership.

I remember Eric telling me how unhappy Sir Alex was with the system when he arrived as not enough young players were coming through. Eric stood up for himself, they shook hands and agreed to get on with it and have another chat at a later date.

The result is there in history for everyone to see. Eric brought through United’s Class of 92; David Beckham, the Nevilles, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

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Eric Harrison with Manchester United's Class of 92

Apart from winning the FA Youth Cup more than once, he did what all managers want from their youth-team coaches – produce a regular supply of first-team regulars.

Eric did that on a regular basis and completed about 27 years before retiring. He was also Wales’ assistant manager alongside Mark Hughes.

Like Gordon, Eric was awarded the MBE for services to football.

Sadly he was suffering from a form of dementia when he received his award at The Shay, Halifax - a ground that would have taken him back to his early playing days.

It’s fantastic to think these three wonderful men can all now get together. I’m sure many will be waiting for them, not least our own Alan Ball. God bless them all.