Saturday, June 18, 2011
Legends Of The Game: Nat Lofthouse
Name: Nat Lofthouse
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Lofthouse was what they called a one-club man. He dedicated the entirety of his career to the Trotters since he joined them at the tender age of just fourteen. He made his debut at sixteen but had to wait a further five years, when the war had ceased, to make his first league appearance for Bolton in 1946 when he matched his debut with two goals against Chelsea in August of that year. Although it wasn't until the 1950's when he became known on n international scale.
Lofthouse togged out for England for the first time in the early 1950's when England entertained Yugoslavia at Wembley. Lofthouse scored, and went on to claim one of the best goals-to-game ratio in the history of the international game, boasting a sensational 30 goals from just 33 appearances for the Three Lions. He is best known for his imperious performance against a formidable Austria side when in 1952 he fearlessly ran half the pitch, enduring all kinds of horrible gamesmanship from the Austrians, before scoring and being knocked unconscious by the Austrian keeper, earning him the heroes nickname the 'Lion of Vienna'. He once described himself as a battering ram, and others, such as teammates and coaches, couldn't disagree usually showering the Englishman with praise whenever they spoke about him. Former teammate Tom Finney listed Nat's attributes as ‘speed, fearlessness, a hard shot in either foot, good heading ability, and a robust frame to stand up to all the physical stuff'.
Lofthouse plied his trade at Bolton for 14 years, between 1946 and 1960, scoring over 250 goals in the process. Idolised by Trotters fans everywhere, Lofthouse managed to score in every round of the FA Cup back in 1956 on their way to the final where they surrendered a 3-1 lead inside 50 minutes to hand England's most prestigious cup to Blackpool and Sir Stanley Matthews. However, their disappointment was short-lived when two years later they reached the final again, this time their opposition was the Manchester United side who had lost several players in the Munich Air Disaster which occurred in February of that year. Lofthouse bagged a brace as the Trotters picked up their fourth FA Cup and first piece of silverware in 31 years.
Lofthouse received many accolades in his time as a player, including footballer of the year in 1953. He officially retired from the game at just 33, partly due to an ankle injury, although continued to play until December of that year when he played his final game for Bolton against Birmingham City. Lofthouse stands seventh in the list of English football's top division goalscorers.
Tributes poured in for Bolton's record goalscorer when he sadly passed away earlier this year in January. Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside, led the praise for Lofthouse saying that "He was a one-club man and our football club meant as much to him as he did to us." Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton was also quick to praise Lofthouse's contribution to the game.
"The first time I saw a professional game was at Newcastle and Nat Lofthouse was playing," Charlton told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme. "They were talking about him as this youngster that had just burst on to the scene and he was fantastic. "He was a leader, he had fantastic ability in the air and he was strong. He was a talisman. "I played about four of five games with him with England at the end of his career and I felt that he was the one that was in charge. "I know a lot of people in the game of football will be very, very sad today about Nat Lofthouse, who was a great player without any question.
BBC Radio 5 live chief football correspondent capped off a remarkable tribute to the former England star when he said that Lofthouse was the "Alan Shearer of his day.