Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Nat Lofthouse (37)

Goal.com are counting down the legends of the English game, and at number 37 is the 'Lion of Vienna', Nat Lofthouse...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes

Nathaniel 'Nat'

Born           27/08/1925, Bolton, Lancashire.

England      33 caps, 30 goals

Clubs          Bolton Wanderers

Nat Lofthouse was the epitome of the old-fashioned English centre-forward. Northern and working-class, a one club man and the sleeves-rolled-up - it honestly represents something fundamental about the way the English game, and its fans, still like to see themselves.

Born in Bolton at a time when the North of England was hard-hit by mounting economic depression, Lofthouse joined his hometown club on September 4, 1939, as a 14-year-old amateur, and was forced by World War Two to wait almost seven years until he made his official league debut for the club. He eventually played his first league game for the Trotters in August 1946, when he scored twice in a 4-3 win over Chelsea.


"What a legend. Where are the players like him these days? He played like Drogba but unlike him acted like a true gent" Captain Blade | Sheffield
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Lofthouse's playing style was uncomplicated - he often described himself as "a battering ram", and his strong physique, heading ability and cannonball shot made him feared by defences all over England and beyond. The great Tom Finney said of Lofthouse, that he had, "speed, fearlessness, a hard shot in either foot, good heading ability, and a robust frame to stand up to all the physical stuff".

That talent brought him to the notice of the England selectors in 1950, and he made his debut against Yugoslavia in November of that year, netting twice at Highbury in a 2-2 draw. His performance in an England shirt against Austria in May 1952 would earn him the soubriquet 'The Lion of Vienna', as he bagged another brace in a 3-2 win in agame that was billed as the unofficial championship of Europe.

He was knocked out at one stage of the contest, and returned to the action after a knee injury. "The courage Nat showed was typical of him," Alf Ramsey later insisted. "The way he insisted on coming back on lifted the heart of every Englishman in the stadium. It made us redouble our efforts to keep the Austrians out."

Nat's club career was going well, too, with Bolton reaching the FA Cup final in 1953 where they encountered another legend of the English game in Stanley Matthews, playing for Blackpool. Lofthouse had scored in every round of the competition, and netted in the final, but would collect a loser's medal from a game that went down in history as 'The Matthews Final', as the legendary winger inspired Blackpool to overturn a 3-1 deficit and win 4-3, though Stan Mortenson scored a unique FA Cup final hat-trick as well.


Bolton's FA Cup hero
Nat played his heart out in the game, tormenting his opponents with his effort and strength, and even being clattered unconscious himself at one stage. He was seen to very publicly congratulate the Blackpool players at the end, despite his disappointment, and his place in the affections of the nation was confirmed when he was voted Footballer of the Year in 1953 - his sporting conduct being highlighted as much as his playing ability.

Five years later he was to return to Wembley, when the Trotters faced Matt Busby's Manchester United, still traumatised from the Munich air disaster that had occurred just a few weeks previous. Nat besmirched his 'People's Champion' reputation a little, as he set about United with his customary vigour, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for Wanderers.

The second goal remains something of a talking point, as Nat, employing a semi-legitimate tactic at the time, shoulder-charged United keeper Harry Gregg into the net - not a pleasant experience for the Ulsterman. It remains one of the most iconic moments in FA Cup history.

Before injury forced his retirement in 1960, Nat also claimed the England goalscoring record that had previously been held by Middlesbrough and Derby County legend Steve Bloomer, with Lofthouse claiming his 29th goal on May 20, 1956 against Finland in a 5-1 victory.

After his retirement at the age of 33, Nat settled in Bolton, and was the Lancashire club's trainer, coach, manager and chief scout at various stages over the next 25 years or so. He was made a Freeman of Bolton in 1989, and the East Stand at the club's Reebok Stadium, which replaced the Burnden Park ground Nat had graced for so many years, is named in his honour.

Nat was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2002, and is still seen at his beloved Wanderers on occasion.

A hero of a simpler age for the game, his talent is perhaps best summed up by one of his England  international team-mates, Len Shackleton, who said, "Billy Wright won the ball and passed it to me. I gave it to Stan Matthews who ran down the wing and centred for Nat Lofthouse, who scored." Easy as that.


Football Writers' Footballer of the Year 1953
First Division Top Scorer 1955/56
FA Cup winner 1958

DID YOU KNOW …Nat has a pub named after him in Bolton. 'The Lion of Vienna' is situated on Chorley New Road in the Lancashire town.

Zack Wilson, Goal.com

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