Putting Nat To The Sword
Date: Wednesday 28th September 2005Dates, facts and general in-depth information on Nat Lofthouse have no real part in this article - they can easily be found these days via the internet. This is a personal trip down memory lane and so therefore does not have any particular use for them. Let me take you back in time; to when boots and footballs were made of hard, unyielding leather that no amount of dubbin ever seemed to soften; to when the balls had inner tubes and lacing that left deep impressions and even cuts in the forehead when unfortunately headed there, especially on wet, winter afternoons; to before under-pitch heating, when mud and rock-hard grounds were constant playing surface conditions in league football and the magical art of ball-bending belonged only to Len Shackleton. This was the era of Nat Lofthouse, centre forward and hero to thousands of supporters of Bolton Wanderers then, and thousands since. I was eight years old and dumbstruck with excitement as I stood with my brother and uncle on the railway embankment end of Burnden Park surrounded by a huge crowd of roaring humanity who every so often broke out into a thunderous cacophony of hand-clapping applause. This, then, was football. Let's jump forward a little until I was old enough to appreciate the power and ability of Nat Lofthouse, ably assisted up front by the likes of Willie Moir, Doug Holden, Bob Langton and Harold Hassall - names in the history books now, but then, heroes of the black and white, town-crested strip. At Christmas kids got football albums - in my brother's case (to my eternal shame a Manchester United lover) - Charles Buchan's Football Annual, whilst I got a signed copy of Nat's 'Goals Galore' - sadly long lost along the years somewhere. Large coloured plates of all the contemporary heroes adorned the pages of these annuals; Billy Steel, Billy Wright, Tommy Lawton, Roy Bentley, John Charles, the Robledo brothers, Jackie Milburn, Wilf Mannion and so many more, but always with a photograph of Nat smashing home a goal or diving full length for a header. Thirty three times Nat represented his country, scoring an amazing thirty goals in that time - with three World Cup appearances and two World Cup goals amongst them. Boltonians swelled with pride as we listened to crackly radios and hung onto every word. In '53 we cried when Stan Matthews took the F.A Cup from us in the dying minutes and, in '58, cheered ourselves hoarse as Nat held it aloft in triumph on the town hall steps. He was beyond description as Bolton's hero. Many good footballers have followed Nat since, in variations of the Bolton colours, but none have ever surpassed him in stature. He was, and is still, the epitome of Northern tenacity and courage on the field of football. His first wage for Bolton, a place he has never left, was two white five-pound notes. Many sporting personalities have received honours, including knighthoods, whilst Nat has received nothing outside of Bolton. How fitting then that, when dear old Burnden Park finally succumbed to age, the new Reebok Stadium had a stand named after him. He deserves more, but would not think so himself. Your Majesty, with all due respect, put Nat Lofthouse to the Sword; not to remove his head, but to rest on his shoulder as you say "Arise Sir Nathaniel, Knight of the Realm". Let him in his 80th year bask in the glow of an honour he should have received long ago. No one deserves it more than he.