It may seem odd, but I never saw many of my sporting heroes play their game. Harold Larwood, for example. Perhaps the fastest of fast bowlers and yet he played his last game of cricket in 1938, long before I was born.
But for this ABC Wednesday post, my subject is Nat Lofthouse, also known as the Lion of Vienna and one of the great football centre forwards who last played when I was only six years old.
Nathaniel Lotfhouse was born in Bolton in 1925 and joined Bolton Wanderers in 1939, the team he would play for until he retired from the game in 1960.
He played in the days when the game was much more physical and Lofthouse was perfectly suited to his role. Tall, strong and hard as nails, he could do three things very well — run, shoot and head the ball.
His ball control wasn’t so good. His trainer once told him that he couldn’t “trap a bag of washing”, so he concentrated on the things he did well and learned to do them even better.
Lofthouse played 33 games for England and earned the nickname Lion of Vienna on 25 May 1952 in the 3-2 victory against Austria for his second goal that typified his game.
He picked up a through ball from Tom Finney, another hero of mine, and ran half the length of the pitch, shrugging off an elbow in the face and being hacked from behind and slotting the ball in the net before colliding with the goalkeeper, knocking him out cold.
The Times noted: “It was his example throughout the match that led scores of British soldiers pouring through the crowd at the end of the game to cheer him, lion-hearted, from the field.”
Another game that Lofthouse is remembered for is the 1958 FA Cup Final 2-0 victory over my own beloved Manchester United. He scored both goals, barging goalkeeper, Harry Gregg, into the back of the net in the process of scoring the second.
And that is also the reason for this ABC post because there is every chance that there will be a repeat of that 1958 Cup Final this year. In ten days time, United play Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers play Stoke City in the semi-finals. Two games away from a Wanderers versus United final.
Nat died on 15 January this year at the age of 85 and some say that it is Bolton’s year in memory of Lofty, the Lion of Vienna.