Nat Lofthouse: Football pays its respects at funeral for late England legend

26 January 2011 08:25
On the table at the back, opposite the glowing stained-glass arc of Bolton Parish Church, lay some of the mementoes of Nat Lofthouse's hard-fought, glory-filled life and career.

There were England caps, his Footballer of the Year trophy from 1953, a miner's lamp from his days as a Bevin Boy and the red book from This Is Your Life. There was his bronze OBE plaque and a Northern Sports Star award from 1958. In the middle of it all was a small sculpture of a pouncing silver lion seizing a silver football.

Leading the way: Bolton boss Owen Coyle joins the pallbearers carrying the coffin of legend Nat Lofthouse during the memorial service at the Bolton Parish Church

The Lion of Vienna was laid to rest yesterday. It was a tribute of tears and laughter and stories and spontaneous applause. At its end, the coffin of Bolton Wanderers' greatest was clapped down Churchgate, past Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe with its framed signed photo of Nat in the window, on through the town centre and to a private burial. The club's current manager and captain, Owen Coyle and Kevin Davies, helped carry it.

Bolton's Lofthouse farewell could scarcely have been more affectionate. Men with surnames such as Duckworth, Wolstencroft and Gartside saluted one of their Lancastrian own. 'A Boltonian to his boots. Our Nat,' as he was described.

Lofthouse joined the club aged 14 in 1939. Before that he was a fan sneaking into Burnden Park. He became a player, Cup-winner, leader, coach, manager, caretaker, chief scout, fund-raiser, ambassador and eventually life president.

Packed out: Mourners watch as the coffin arrives at Bolton Parish Church

From 1939 to 2011, aged 85, Nat Lofthouse lived Bolton Wanderers. In doing so he also became a legend but if there was one word used more than any other yesterday it was 'modest'.

Wanderer s chairman Phil Gartside got up to say how this contemporary of Matthews, Edwards, Wright and Finney had introduced himself - 'Just call me Lofty' - while PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, a former Bolton player, told of Lofthouse being 'my hero' as a boy, then an everyday inspiration at the club.

Taylor spoke of the 1950s being a time for heroes, when you remembered the year by its FA Cup-winners. 'Like Danny Blanchflower said, days of glory.'

He mentioned JB Priestley and LS Lowry and when the video presentation of Lofthouse's playing days was done, there was applause ringing around the marvellous old church. It brought back that line from John Betjeman: 'If there's clapping in heaven they're clapping hard.'

English institutions all. That is what the son of a Bolton coalman became. As the historian Percy Young wrote: 'There is English football; there are English footballers: and Lofthouse is, perhaps, in all our time the most English of them all.'

Paying their respects: Sir Alex Ferguson was joined at the service by Fulham boss Mark Hughes, Sir Trevor Brooking, ex-Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale and former Aston Villa owner Doug Ellis

When Arthur Hopcraft penned his classic book The Football Man, he dedicated a section to Lofthouse. Hopcraft wrote that he 'never heard anyone talking about football in the 1940s and 1950s who captures the flavour of the period more convincingly than Nat Lofthouse . . . with his navvy's forearms and shoulders and a special darkness of expression which reflected his intention of single-minded antagonism for the other team's defenders.'

When the video yesterday replayed Lofthouse bundling Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg over the line to score in the 1958 FA Cup final, a laughing gasp arose from pews packed with men who had played the game. It is not like that any more.

But then there was a tenor to yesterday's proceedings that is not heard too often any more. Things were far from perfect in the days when Lofthouse's father earned £2 a week bagging coal but it sounded a quieter game then, less coarse, less distanced.

Mark of respect: Chelsea captain John Terry and Bolton skipper Kevin Davies present wreaths in memory of Nat Lofthouse at the Reebok Stadium on Monday night

Lofthouse knew how lucky he was. He once said: 'I got easy money. I know; I've worked down the pit and I've played football.'

The self-deprecating contrast with the unpleasant frenzy of noise burped to the sky this week is obvious. It was notable that Taylor recal led one of Lofthouse' s ambitions was 'to be thought of as a decent bloke'.

Nat Lofthouse fulfilled that ambition, among others. He did just about all he could for his beloved Bolton Wanderers. He played 505 games and scored 285 goals. He was on the pitch at Burnden Park in 1946 when 85,000 tried to get in and 33 were killed in the crush.

That is partly why he supported the leaving of Burnden in 1997.

Legend and a leader: Lofthouse inspired Bolton to victory in the FA Cup final in 1958

For England he scored 30 goals in 33 appearances. In May 1952 in Austria his two goals and unconditional bravery earned England victory and him the Lion of Vienna name that will not fade.

He gave out plenty on the pitch but he took it, too. You saw that in the footage from This Is Your Life.

Lofthouse was long-retired then, and his gait was that of the old warhorse centre forward, stiff-backed with wrecked knees and clattered ankles.

But the boy who weighed 12st when he was 14 was still a huge physical presence. This most modest Boltonian, Northern, English hero will always be a huge presence.

VIDEO: Stars line up to pay respects at Lofthouse funeral Football pays its respects at funeral for late England and Bolton legend LofthouseSteve Curry pays tribute to Nat Lofthouse, Lion of Vienna, 1925- 2011

 Explore more:People: Kevin Davies, Danny Blanchflower, John Betjeman, Gordon Taylor, Owen Coyle, Harry Gregg Places: Vienna, Austria, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail

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