It was a very sad day for Bolton Wanderers and English football fans with the announcement of the passing away of the great Nat Lofthouse, one of the greatest centre forwards England ever produce. He was 85 years old when he died on January 15th.
Lofthouse spent his entire playing career at Bolton Wanderers and by the time he had played his last game for them in 1960, he had turned made 452 appearances scoring 255 goals. He made his debut in fact for Bolton as a 21 year old in August 1946 and scored twice despite being on the losing side against Chelsea.
These days Nat would be described as an old fashioned Centre Forward who in his day would have the ability to terrify defenders with his physical presence, his shooting instincts and his incredible ability to attack the ball with his head. In those days of course, a football was a far cry from what they are today and players risked head injury and head lacerations when heading the ball. Nat Lofthouse was one of the great headers of the ball however, scoring many of his goals with his and becoming easily one of the best ball attackers in the world.
Whilst a Bolton player, Lofthouse played in two FA Cup finals, losing the first one in the famous 1953 ‘Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool final where he still managed to score the Bolton goal and created a record that year by scoring in every round of the competition. He was also named 1953 footballer of the year.
Fortunately he was to be luckier next time Bolton made the final in 1958, although defeating a Manchester United team who were still recovering from their appalling losses in the Munich Air disaster some three months earlier, was probably not the best time to win an FA Cup. Lofthouse in fact scored both Bolton goals in the 2-0 win, but the second of those goals which was scored after he barged the United keeper, Harry Gregg into the net, became one of the most controversial ever to be scored at Wembley, which he later admitted was a foul and still gets regular airplay to this day.
International football was not played in those days at the same scale as it is today, but Nat won a total of 33 England caps, between 1950 and 1958, scoring 30 times which gives him one of the greatest goals per game ratio’s in the history of football.
He made his England debut when aged 25 in 1950 and scored twice in the 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia. A couple of years later he earned the title of the ‘Lion of Vienna’ after scoring England’s second goal in the 3-2 victory. In the process of scoring, Nat received an elbow in the face, a tackle from behind and was finally brought crashing down by the goalkeeper, before the goal was awarded.
He played his last England game in 1958 against Wales and retired from the game two years later in 1960. He never lost his long standing association with his club however, and took up various appointments with Bolton Wanderers in the ensuing years, including team manager, chief coach, and head scout. In later years he became the club’s executive manager in 1978 and in 1985 at the ripe old age of 60, he was asked to take over the reins again as caretaker team manager. In 1986 he was appointed club president. Nat Lofthouse was awarded the OBE by HM the Queen in 1994 and has the East Stand of Bolton’s Reebok Stadium named after him. Lofthouse was a true soccer legend and one that will not be forgotten.