In Pictures: The Story Behind The Nat Lofthouse Statue

  • August 25, 2013 | By Chris Mann
  • URL Short URL: http://b-ac.es/ef4b7

The date, Saturday 24th August 2013. The venue, the Reebok Stadium. The occasion, to celebrate the life of Bolton Wanderers' greatest ever player.

This is the story of the late, great, Nat Lofthouse and a photographic timeline of his remembrance statue.

On January 15th, 2011, 'Lofty', as he was affectionately known to Bolton supporters, passed away in his sleep at the age of 85. As news of his death became public knowledge, Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside released a statement that labelled Lofthouse as 'a one-club man' and said 'our football club meant as much to him as he did to us'.

Gartside couldn't have chosen his words any better, as he echoed the views of not only every Bolton supporter but also those of football fans in general. The game had lost one of the genuine heroes, and a man respected by all who knew the name.

A born-and-bred Boltonian, Lofthouse joined Wanderers in September 1939, aged 14, and made his first-team debut for the club just 18 months later. As an unknown 15-year-old, he took to the field in a wartime match against local rivals Bury on 22nd March 1941 and scored twice in a 5-1 victory.

As the Football League had been suspended due to World War II, Lofthouse had to wait a further five years before making his league debut for the club. It eventually arrived on 31st August 1946, as Bolton were beaten 4-3 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Although he was on the losing side, Lofthouse scored two goals and immediately made his name known.

In November 1950, he received his first call-up to the England squad - who were then under the management of Walter Winterbottom. He won his first cap later that month, as the Three Lions played out a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia at Highbury - the-then home stadium of Arsenal. Just as he did on his club debut, Lofthouse marked his first international appearance with a brace. In total, the legendary forward netted a total of 30 goals in 33 internationals for his country and currently stands joint-sixth in the all-time leading goalscoring charts.

His most memorable outing in an England shirt was in May 1952, as he earned the nickname 'The Lion of Vienna'. As he so often did throughout his career, Lofthouse scored two goals in one game. This time, they came against Austria in a 3-2 victory on foreign soil. After being on the receiving end of tough challenges from the Austrian's throughout the course of the match, the old-fashioned centre-forward took it all in his stride, took the bumps and bruises and had the last laugh as he netted the winning goal.

The following 1952/53 season was arguably the most decorated of Lofthouse's career, as his 30 league goals saw him claim the Football League golden boot award. Despite being on the losing side, he would also score in the FA Cup final as Wanderers were beaten 4-3 by Blackpool in the unforgettable 'Matthews Final'. His achievements that season saw him named English Footballer of the Year and he was rewarded with a call-up to the England squad for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

Lofthouse scored twice in a 4-4 draw with Belgium in England's opening group game, before missing the second, and final, match through injury. Despite advancing through to the knockout stages without him, Lofthouse was recalled for the quarter-final tie against Uruguay. He was on the scoresheet yet again, this time in Basel's St Jakob Stadium, but England were eliminated after losing 4-2. That would prove to be his first, and last, World Cup as injury ruled him out of the 1958 tournament in Sweden.

1958 wasn't a bad year for Lofthouse, though, as he captained his beloved Bolton to the FA Cup title at the second attempt. After the disappointment of 1953, Lofthouse netted both goals in a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in a match that will live forever in the folklore of the game.

He made his final appearance at international level in November of that year, in a 2-2 draw against Wales at Aston Villa's Villa Park. The last game of his club career was on 17th December, 1960, as Bolton played out a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City. He announced his retirement shortly afterwards, after suffering a career-ending knee injury in that game. Lofthouse made a total of 503 appearances for 'his' club, and his final tally of 285 goals stands alone as the all-time record. Only one other player - Joe Smith - has registered more than 200 goals for the Trotters (277).

Although his playing days had come to a premature end, Lofthouse couldn't keep away from Burnden Park and returned to the club the following July, prior to the start of the 1961/62 campaign, having been handed the role of assistant trainer. He was promoted to the position of chief coach in 1967, before taking the reigns as caretaker manager in 1968 when Bill Ridding's 18-year spell in charge came to an end.

Lofthouse was appointed permanent manager in December of that year. He would spend two years in charge of the Trotters, before stepping down to take up the position of club executive manager in 1970. A second, brief, spell as caretaker manager came in 1985, before he was named club president in 1986. He would later be named a freeman of Bolton, in 1989, and received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. A further honour was bestowed on him in January 1997, as Wanderers confirmed he would have a stand named after him at the newly-built Reebok Stadium.

A man who dedicated his life to the town and its football club, Lofthouse remained a regular at Wanderers matches until his latter years. He passed away in his sleep at a Bolton nursing home on January 15th, 2011, and thousands turned out to attend his funeral 11 days later, at the town's parish church.

The Nat Lofthouse Memorial Statue

To mark the first anniversary of his death, a service of commemoration was held at the Reebok Stadium on January 15th, 2012, where it was announced that a statue of remembrance would be erected outside the ground.

Bolton Wanderers, local businesses, friends and family of Nat Lofthouse, and the general public all held fundraising events to generate the necessary funds for the project, which began to take shape the following July when the Lofthouse family selected an iconic photograph for the statue to be based upon.

 

Sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn was commissioned to undertake work on the project, while two bronze friezes were unveiled at a public event at the Reebok's Lion of Vienna Suite in September 2012.

Supporters had to wait another nine months for the next update, as Wanderers revealed a teaser image of the statue in clay format.

 

Initial plans suggested the finished statue would be unveiled to the public on Tuesday 27th August 2013, on what would have been Lofthouse's 88th birthday. All that changed just over a week prior to the official unveiling, as supporters were invited to attend the Reebok Stadium at 10:30am on Saturday 24th August.

The statue arrived at the stadium on Thursday 22nd August, covered in protective materials, and was placed on the plinth that would prove to be its final resting place after 18 months of planning and hard work.

 

Saturday 24th August 2013 - The Official Unveiling

The weather threatened to put a damper on events as grey skies surrounded the town, but, in typical Bolton fashion, supporters turned out in their droves to witness the official unveiling of a statue that will provide a lasting memory of 'Mr Bolton Wanderers', Nat Lofthouse OBE.

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