Nat Lofthouse

Football's Pioneers: Nat Lofthouse

As part of an ongoing working partnership with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, Dr Gary James recalls the career of Nat Lofthouse, ‘The Lion of Vienna’.
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Lofthouse was a one-club centre-forward who dedicated his life to Bolton Wanderers. He signed as a 14-year-old for the club in September 1939, making wartime appearances before becoming an established league star in peacetime.

During the war, he was one of 48,000 men who were sent to work in the coal mines rather than the armed services with a typical Saturday for Lofthouse seeing him get up at 3.30am, catch the 4.30am tram, work down the mine for eight hours, before heading off to play for Wanderers.

Post-war Lofthouse became Bolton’s greatest star and a major international player with England, as he scored 30 goals in 33 internationals. Regarded as a forceful player, his physical strength was a major aspect to his play and he became famed for having a powerful shot with both feet.

He was also an excellent header of the ball. He scored both goals in Bolton’s victorious 1958 FA Cup Final against Manchester United with the second seeing him force both the ball and goalkeeper Harry Gregg over the line.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Lofthouse was renowned for an array of skills, including a fearsome heading ability.

Five years earlier, Lofthouse had been selected as the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and ended that season as the First Division’s top scorer with 30 goals. He had also scored in every round of the FA Cup, including the final, where Bolton were unfortunate to lose a memorable game 4-3 to Blackpool, whose final goal came in added time.

After an outstanding career, in which he scored 255 goals in 452 League appearances for Wanderers, he retired in 1960. Lofthouse remained at Bolton, holding several positions before becoming manager from 1968 to 1970. A few spells as caretaker manager followed with the last coming in 1985.

He was made president of the club in 1986, holding the post until his death in 2011 at the age of 85, and was regarded as an important ambassador for Bolton.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

A statue of Lofthouse remains stood outside Bolton's stadium to this day.

The nickname ‘Lion of Vienna’ came following an international against Austria which had seen him charge half the length of the pitch to score the winning goal in spite of colliding with the goalkeeper. He later admitted: ‘I would have left my leg at the halfway line rather than miss the chance.’

A painful blow on the shin should have seen him leave the field but Lofthouse stayed on for the final 10 minutes. Clearly in pain, he continued to push forward and came close to scoring on another couple of occasions.

England won 3-2 and, at the final whistle, British soldiers from the Dorsetshire Regiment raced on to the pitch and carried Lofthouse and several other players shoulder-high.

Following his death, Lofthouse’s former England team-mate Jimmy Armfield commented: "He was probably one of the best centre-forwards England ever had, very aggressive and combative with great speed. He was everything a centre-forward should be and was a great one-club man. The two words 'Lofthouse' and 'Bolton' go together.”

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