The term legend is thrown around so readily, but Nathaniel Lofthouse typified the word not just within the football community, but as an ambassador to the town of Bolton.
Born in Bolton on August 27th 1925, Nat joined his home-town club in 1939 as a 14-year old amateur and finished his playing career with the club 21-years later. From there he stepped into every role imaginable to stay with his beloved Bolton before finally taking up the position as Club President in 1986.
But whilst Lofthouse’s career ended in glory, lifting the cup in 1958, the road towards it was not so smooth.
Infact Lofthouse had to wait years for his debut due to the Second World War. Whilst then Bolton Wanderers captain Harry Goslin led the ‘Wartime Wanderers’ onto the front-line, young Nat served in the coal-mines as a Bevin Boy.
The harsh realities of the war toughened Nat, still a schoolboy and made him the man, and leader he later became on the pitch.
His robust, powerful approach may have been typical of strikers in his era, but Lofthouse was like no other.
The gentle giant always remained humble off the pitch, modestly describing himself as a “battering ram” and in 1995, in an interview with Jimmy Armfield, he described his talents simply as; being able to “run, shoot and head”.
But how many strikers would have given their left foot to be able to shoot, run or head half as good as Lofthouse?
Lofthouse’s consistent goalscoring exploits soon caught the attention of England manager Walter Winterbottom, and in what spanned a glorious eight year period, Nat took his talents away from Bolton and stamped his name into football history forever.
Perhaps his finest hour was in 1952 when Lofthouse single-handily shredded Austria apart, scoring two goals as England won 3-2, earning him the moniker, ‘The Lion Of Vienna’, a badge Nat wore with pride throughout his career.
One of the greatest strikers to ever grace English football, Nat’s record speaks for itself.
A one-club man, Lofthouse scored 255 senior goals for his home-town team, and to this day, remains the record scorer. His England record is equally impressive, 33 caps and 30 goals, a return that will seal his name forever amongst the elite of football.
With Bolton, Lofthouse’s career had two major turning points.
First, the FA Cup final heartbreak in what became known as the ‘Matthews Final’, it was fellow football legend, Stanley Matthews who stole the show away from Lofthouse and Bolton, who had led the game 3-1. Later in the year, winning the Football Writers Player of the Year was a small consolation for Lofthouse, as he was rightly recognized as one of the greatest English players of his generation.
But Lofthouse eyed FA Cup retribution. And in 1958, he earned it. A 2-0 win against a post-Munich Manchester United was not without controversy. Whilst captain Nat put away both goals, it was his second, in which he barged (borderline assaulted) United keeper Harry Gregg and bundled the ball over the line. In modern football the goal would have probably earned Lofthouse a lengthy ban from football, never mind the FA Cup trophy!
But controversy aside, it would be hard to deny that Lofthouse did not deserve to lift the famous cup.
His stints as manager were less distinguised, but Nat's pure enthusiasm and love for his home-town, and his club, were unrivaled.
For modern Bolton Wanderers fans, Lofthouse’s name remains a legend, his genius imprinted in scratchy black-and-white films and photos.
To this day, Nat Lofthouse remains the measuring stick for any striker to wear the Bolton Wanderers shirt, especially those lucky enough to wear his famous #9, even in the eyes of those who've never watched Lofthouse in action.
Many have tried, more recently Bolton have been lucky to have the likes of John McGinlay and Kevin Davies. Two strikers who perhaps most closely resemble the passion and playing style that made Nat so revered. But even still, neither can touch the Lion.
In his later years, maybe the most iconic image of Lofthouse was his celebration and gleeful smile, as Ricardo Gardner put Bolton Wanderers 3-0 up in the 2001 Playoff Final against Preston North End and sent them into the Premier League.
Lofthouse was awarded with an OBE and the club’s east-stand was re-named in his honour in 1997. There have been numerous calls for his knighthood in recent years, and a statue to capture his legend has been mentioned. With a very much Bolton based board- Eddie Davies and Phil Gartside both Wanderers fans themselves- it should be assumed that Lofthouse’s passing will be dealt with in a memorable and fitting way.
Before he passed, Nat became very ill, and the news that broke on the Wanderers official website that he died peacefully in his sleep is a small crumb of comfort.
A giant of football, the greatest number nine, a working class hero, the Lion of Vienna, can now rest at peace, and be remembered forever, as he is, THE Bolton Wanderers legend.
With deepest condolences to the Lofthouse family.
R.I.P Nat. A Wanderer. Bolton Till I Die.
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