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Nat Lofthouse: Bolton and England's Greatest

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Rob looks back at a true club legend and namesake of our site, five years to the day since he passed away

Nat Lofthouse remains a true Bolton Wanderers legend
Nat Lofthouse remains a true Bolton Wanderers legend
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Bolton Wanderers fans' lack of affinity to their current players is in stark contrast to the feeling towards Nat Lofthouse, whose legend status has been forever immortalised at the club.

Five years on from losing Bolton and England's greatest - or at least, most prolific - striker, we take a look back at the great man's career, and explore why he was held in such high regard.

Nat Lofthouse is the epitome of the 'one man club' adage that is so rarely seen in the modern game. The Bolton-born forward joined Wanderers as a 13-year-old in September 1939, the year that World War II started, and made his unofficial debut as a 15-year-old in a wartime friendly on 22 March 1941. He went on to make 503 appearances for his hometown club, the ninth most in the club's history, and remains Bolton's all-time leading scorer with 285 goals.

That unofficial debut suggested Lofthouse was destined for greatness. Taking on local rivals Bury, the forward scored twice in a 4-3 defeat and then repeated that personal feat with two goals on his league debut against Chelsea on 31 August 1946, the first season after the end of the war. That season he finished as Bolton's top scorer with 21 goals in all competitions and set the path for a career in which he never stopped scoring.

Indeed, Lofthouse was Bolton's top scorer in ten out of eleven seasons between 1946/47 and 1958/59, and won the English Football of the Year award in 1952/53.

Lofthouse's form for Bolton eventually earned him an England call-up in 1950 at the ripe age of 25, and he again repeated the feat of scoring twice on debut in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia. That earned him his prolonged place in the national side and he started the next 18 England matches.

In 1952 he earned his 'Lion of Vienna' nickname as he - you guessed it - scored two goals to lead England to a 3-2 win over Austria. But it was his second goal, and the match winner, that epitomised Lofthouse's playing style and commitment to scoring goals, and earned him the famous name.

Lofthouse received the ball on half-way from Tom Finney, burst forward, brushing off an elbow to the face and a tackle from behind, and somehow got a shot off before being knocked out cold by the advancing goalkeeper. When he came to he was lauded as the Lion of Vienna, a name that stuck with him for the rest of his life and continues to live on with this website. Speaking of the goal after the match, Lofthouse said: "I'd sooner have left my leg on the halfway line than miss the chance," which perfectly sums up his mentality. You can watch the highlights from that match below:

Bolton hadn't been enjoying the best of times in Lofthouse's early years with the club, despite his goalscoring heroics. But all that changed in the years after that infamous match in Austria.

In 1953 he was on the scoresheet and scored in every round en route to the final as Bolton lost to Blackpool in the famous 'Matthews Final' - in which Stanley Matthews inspired a comeback from 3-1 down and Stan Mortensen scored the only FA Cup Final hat-trick in a 4-3 win for his side. Lofthouse was also the top scorer in the First Division that season, racking up 30 goals. The next year he played for England at the World Cup, scoring twice against Belgium and once against Uruguay.

Four years later came one of his finest, and probably the most famous, moment of his career. Five years on from that defeat to Blackpool, Lofthouse captained the Bolton side that defeated Manchester United in the 1958 FA Cup Final. Wanderers won the game 2-0 with, surprise surprise, Lofthouse scoring both. But the match will always be remembered for his infamous second goal, when he barged goalkeeper Harry Gregg into his own net. Both those goals are in the video below:

His goalscoring record for Bolton led to him becoming the seventh top goalscorer in the history of the English top division. That, combined with his scoring exploits for England - 30 goals in 33 games - make him one of the finest talents our country has ever produced. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, along with the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Stanley Matthews - confirming him as a true footballing great.

Lofthouse's affinity with Bolton continued long beyond his playing days, becoming assistant trainer on his retirement and then having two spells as manager between 1967-70 and in 1971, as well as a stint as caretaker manager in 1985. However, his managerial skills didn't quite match his superb playing ability, as he told ITV show This Is Your Life (which you can watch here) in 1993:

"I think the worst thing Bolton Wanderers' directors ever did was ask me to be manager. The only thing worse was when I said 'yes.' I wasn't cut out to be a manager."

Moving on from the management career he became a chief scout at the club, before becoming administrative manager and then the club's executive manager in 1978. He was named club President for life in 1986, and then made a freeman of Bolton three years later. His services to football were honoured by an OBE in 1994 and he had the East Stand of the Reebok Stadium named after him upon its opening in 1997. Fittingly, Lofthouse will remain forever synonymous with the club having had a statue erected outside the Reebok Stadium on 24 August 2013, three days before what would have been his 88th birthday.

To sum up the great man I'll leave it to someone more knowledgable than myself, the great Jimmy Armfield, who said outside the church at Lofthouse's funeral:

"It's the fact that he was a one-club man. It happened a lot in our day as it were, of course. People like Tom Finney and myself, but you always associate Nat with Bolton. That's the two words that go together and the thing about Nat was, as well, that you'd dont need to put his surname there, do you? You just say Nat.

"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."

You said it, Jimmy. Nat Lofthouse epitomises an age where football was truly a working class game. He grew up a Bolton supporter and worked in the mines during the war before achieving his dream of playing for his hometown club and playing for his country. The love Bolton fans hold for him was shown by thousands of people turning up for his funeral and he will always remain a club legend, the likes of which we will never see again.

If you want to read more about Nat, his life and his career then I encourage you to read this superb article by Lion of Vienna Suite founders Mark Yesilevsky and Matlida Hankinson from 2013.