A tough old professional

Gentle giant…Nat Lofthouse, Bolton Wanderers' captain, holds the FA Cup after the team's victory over Manchester United in the final at the Wembley Stadium in 1958.-PICS: AP

Nat Lofthouse played as hard as he fought on the pitch — where he was dubbed The Lion of Vienna for one England performance which finished with him two goals to the good, including the winner, but so badly injured he had to be carried off on a stretcher — but you never saw his name on the front pages of a newspaper, writes Ted Corbett.

There is nothing that demonstrates more clearly the way life in general and football in particular have changed than the memories evoked by the recent death of Nat Lofthouse.

Lofthouse was born in Bolton in 1925 and, for all his goals, his comparative wealth and his fame stayed there all his life.

He joined Bolton Wanderers as a lad, played for them throughout his career, never wanted a transfer, married a local girl, stayed with her until she died a few years ago, brought up his family in the neighbourhood he had known all his days, sent his son and daughter to nearby schools and when his playing days were finished worked for Bolton in every capacity, from scout to manager.

No doubt he played as hard as he fought on the pitch — where he was dubbed The Lion of Vienna for one England performance which finished with him two goals to the good, including the winner, but so badly injured he had to be carried off on a stretcher — but you never saw his name on the front pages of a newspaper.

Tough Cookie... Nat Lofthouse (right) of England and Boris Kutznetsov of Russia vie for the ball during an international match at London's Wembley Stadium on October 22, 1958. Lofthouse was one of England's most powerful and prolific strikers.-

He did not marry a pop singer — like David Beckham — nor get into a messy divorce — like Ashley Cole — nor provide salacious gossip for the red top tabloid papers — like Wayne Rooney.

Judging from my admittedly rare meetings with the man he would have torn his arms from their sockets rather than indulge in such antics.

Lofthouse behaved according to the manners of the times which said that footballers trained four times a week, played every Saturday and earned a pittance for their efforts.

He may have been Mr. Nice Guy off the pitch but once he kicked off he became a raging bull. He bustled goalkeepers into the net, including Harry Gregg, the Manchester United keeper in the Cup Final at Wembley. Gregg was another tough nut; it must have been quite a collision.

There were no substitutes in Lofthouse's day. If you were hurt — and several were for instance in the long grass that made Wembley Stadium look so gorgeous on Cup Final day — you either limped off and left what were always called “the gallant ten men” to carry the extra burden or you stayed on and bore the pain.

It was a tough old profession. By the time I was earning ten pounds a week, footballers from First Division to the two Third Divisions, North and South, drew a fiver a week, with £3 more for a win and £1 for a draw.

In 1961 Johnny Haynes of Fulham and England was given what was then thought of as show biz wages of £100 a week. I recall it well. In what was also thought of as show business I was living well on £18 a week.

Footballers had short hair — barbers were known to cut it free if the player was popular — and often became landlords of a pub at the end of their careers.

But bright lights? Not many.

They “scored” only on the pitch, and if they saw a pile of white powder they presumed it to be chalk dust; they had no one who could be described as their supplier; their team-mates were almost always white; and agents, contracts and such were for film stars. Image rights were not even a distant dream and they were universally referred to as “the servant of the club.”

It was the “servant” bit that got me.

I remember my horror when an England fast bowler — cricketers were also treated as if they were lucky not to be slaves — showed me a contract he was about to sign which said: “He is the servant of the club and must at all times behave in an appropriate manner.” They did not mean with a white towel over his arm but it sounded as if subservience was a given.

I helped him with a letter which protested this attitude towards players.

The secretary of the club crumpled the letter and threw it in his wastepaper basket. That same official was sacked soon afterwards — we were not displeased — for being drunk and reading out an appeal over the loudspeakers which contained a hidden and very rude message.

Lofthouse tried his socks off every time he put on the white shirt of either England (30 goals in 33 matches) or Bolton (285 goals in 505 games) and knew all those attitudes during his career.

Tom Finney still lives quietly despite his knighthood, aged 88, in his home town of Preston just north of Bolton. He did nothing to seek the publicity that surrounded Stanley Matthews, the wizard of the dribble as he was known; and to the end of his working life was a footballer in the winter and a plumber in the summer.

Now I read that some footballers, raking in millions of pounds a year, have found a way to avoid part of the tax on their image rights through a loophole in the law. It is not unknown for them to earn £150,000 a week and talk about buying a yacht.

They “were annoyed at having to pay so much tax but their accountants found a way to evade it” according to a spokesman for one player. These spokesmen are often “one of the star's people” which I guess is a degree better than “a servant of the club.”

I bet it made Nat Lofthouse chuckle in that deep Bolton brogue of his and I am absolutely sure he never thought: “If only I'd had a few people to answer for my problems.”

By the way I hope you do not misunderstand my message. These old time heroes were not nobler human beings because they earned little and complained less.

Just different, that's all. As you might expect after the passing of 50 years and more.