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Born: Thursday 27 August 1925, Bolton, England
Died: Saturday 15 January 2011, Bolton, England (aged 85)
Position: Centre Forward
Nicknamed the 'Lion of Vienna' after his courageous goalscoring efforts in an international against Austria in 1952, Bolton Wanderers striker Nat Lofthouse was one of the finest examples of the classic English centre-forward. A prolific goalscorer at domestic and international level, he was a one-club man whose association with his home-town team lasted more than 70 years and encompassed a wide variety of roles.
Lofthouse was born in Bolton on 27 August 1925, the youngest of four sons. He took an interest in football from an early age, appearing first as a goalkeeper in a school match but conceding seven goals. He quickly switched to centre-forward, where in a reversal of fortunes he scored seven himself on his debut for Bolton Schools. A devoted supporter of Bolton Wanderers, Lofthouse was known to climb up drainpipes at their Burnden Park ground in order to get in to matches free.
When he was only 14, the club signed him up as an amateur for a £10 signing-on fee, beginning an association that was to last for the rest of his life. Having signed just as the Second World War began, the teenage Lofthouse got plenty of chances to appear for Bolton in wartime matches as older players were unavailable. From 1941 he was the club's first choice at centre-forward, combining football with work down the mines from 1943 onwards when he was made a 'Bevin Boy'.
His official career with Bolton began as competitive football resumed after the war, although the club suffered great tragedy in an FA Cup tie in 1946 when 33 people were crushed to death on Burnden Park's overcrowded terraces. Over the next few years, Lofthouse developed a reputation as one of the most fearsome centre-forwards in the English game. Although not the tallest player, he was remarkably strong and an excellent header of the ball, regularly outjumping taller defenders. He also possessed considerable pace and a powerful shot with either foot.
Through the late 1940s Bolton often struggled in the First Division, finishing no higher than 14th and needing a strong second half of the season to avoid relegation in 1948. Lofthouse however remained regularly among the goals and had long been seen as a potential international star, finally being rewarded with an England debut against Yugoslavia in November 1950. He scored twice to give England a 2-0 lead, before Yugoslavia hit back to draw. Surprisingly, it would be almost a year before his second cap.
Gradually, Bolton's fortunes improved and they finished in fifth place in 1952. That year also brought Lofthouse's most famous game in an England shirt, the match in Vienna that gave him his nickname. Having scored the opening goal, he was subjected to harsh tackling throughout the game but late on embarked on a run from the half-way line. Having been elbowed and kicked from behind, he was finally knocked out in a collision with the goalkeeper but still steered the ball home to give England a 3-2 win, unaware at the time that he had scored.
The following season, Lofthouse hit 30 goals in all competitions and helped his team through to the FA Cup final, scoring in every round. He gave Bolton an early lead in the final against Blackpool and seemed set for a winner's medal when his team led 3-1 midway through the second half, but a Stanley Matthews inspired turnaround gave Blackpool a famous 4-3 victory. Nevertheless, Lofthouse was named Footballer of the Year for 1953, aided by a famous six-goal haul for the Football League in a match against the Irish League.
After another fifth place finish in the league in 1954, Lofthouse got his chance to appear in the World Cup in Switzerland. In England's first group game against Belgium, he scored twice in a 4-4 draw including one goal in extra-time, bizarrely included in group games for the only time in World Cup history. England beat hosts Switzerland to reach a quarter-final with holders Uruguay, where after falling behind early it was Lofthouse who brought the team level. Unfortunately, goals either side of half-time put Uruguay in control and they went on to win 4-2.
Italian side Fiorentina wanted to sign him, but with clubs firmly in control of players' contracts at the time Bolton refused the offer without even consulting Lofthouse. He remained in fine goalscoring form over the next few years, finishing as the First Division's leading scorer in 1955-56 with 33 goals. However, following that season he incredibly found himself left out of the England team for more than two years, despite having drawn level with Vivian Woodward's record of 29 goals for England. His international exile would last until after the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where without him England were knocked out in the group stage.
1958 did however bring another chance to finally win a major domestic honour. Bolton won through to another FA Cup final where they would play Manchester United, who had reached the final on a wave of emotion after the Munich Air Crash earlier that year, in which eight of their players had been killed. Lofthouse opened the scoring in the third minute, before scoring a highly controversial second goal early in the second half. With a shoulder charge on opposing goalkeeper Harry Gregg, he bundled both player and ball into the net and a goal was awarded, ultimately giving Bolton a 2-0 win. Although such charges were common at the time, Lofthouse later said that a foul probably should have been given. Such was the controversy that the incident has been cited as an important moment in the moves towards greater protection for goalkeepers.
In October 1958, Lofthouse finally returned to the England team. He had been beaten to the national team goalscoring record just weeks earlier by Tom Finney, but equalled the new mark with his 30th goal. Playing just one more international, Lofthouse won just 33 caps in total, making his 30 goals all the more remarkable. He only scored a single goal for England six times, the other 24 coming as 12 'doubles'. Despite leaving the international scene, Lofthouse still scored 35 goals in all competitions in 1958-59, the highest single-season total of his career, to finish as Bolton's leading scorer for the 11th time in 13 years.
Although approaching his mid-30s, he was still in fine goalscoring form but began to suffer a series of injuries. A problem with his ankle seemed to have forced him out of the game, but he did make a brief comeback in the autumn of 1960. However, a knee injury finally led him to retire for good after 452 league appearances for Bolton. His 255 Football League goals are the most by any player who appeared for only one club and he remains Bolton's all-time leading scorer.
Lofthouse did not leave Bolton, becoming assistant trainer in 1961 where his duties included cleaning boots and toilets. He became manager in 1968, but was never really cut out for the role, disliking the tough decisions that the post required and leaving the job in 1970. He later served as the club's chief scout and on the commercial team. After a couple more short spells as caretaker-manager, was named club president in 1986, a position that he held for the rest of his life. When the club moved to its new Reebok Stadium in 1997, a stand was named after him. Nat Lofthouse died in a Bolton nursing home on 15 January 2011, aged 85.
References (all accessed 14 March 2012):
- Published on Wednesday, 14 March 2012 12:47