PLACED unassumingly behind the vast number of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances that lined the pews to say their final goodbyes to Nat Lofthouse yesterday was a small table filled with mementoes detailing his rich life and playing career.
His cherished FA Cup winners medal from 1958 lay beside the 1953 Footballer of the Year award and the Lion of Vienna trophy, presented to him several years after the famous moniker was bestowed upon him by writer Desmond Hackett for on-field heroics against Austria for England a year earlier.
Yet sitting with equal pride of place among the silverware and honours was Nat’s own brightly polished miner’s lamp; a touching reminder that despite his wondrous achievements as a footballer for club and country, the most famous Boltonian of all always maintained a connection with the people who lined the streets in their thousands outside.
The former Bevin Boy may have had an uncommon footballing talent that saw him score 30 goals in 33 internationals and 255 goals in 452 League appearances for his only professional club, but his common working class roots were worn throughout his 85 years as a badge of pride.
Not since Fred Dibnah’s funeral in 2004 had the town turned out in such force to honour one of their own.
Most were not old enough to have seen Nat in full flow on the pitch, or meet him in the flesh, but such has been his effect on the town’s collective consciousness, every man and boy seemed to have a tale to tell of how the legendary number nine had touched their lives.
A man who during his life took such great pride in his appearance would have appreciated the days of preparation that had gone into carefully manicuring the church grounds, framed isuch a timeless manner by the cobbled streets of Churchgate.
He would also have taken great pride that six surviving members of the FA Cup winning team — Brian Birch, Dennis Stevens, Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle, Doug Holden and Bryan Edwards — lined up alongside each other once again as the procession made its way into the church.
Harold Hassall and Malcolm Barrass — who alongside Holden, were survivors of the losing 1953 final against Blackpool — joined generations of former Wanderers in forming a guard of honour for their club mate.
So apt then, that one of Nat’s favourite hymns, FA Cup final anthem Abide With Me, would provide the curtain raiser to a touching service, complete with eulogies from chairman Phil Gartside and PFA chief Gordon Taylor.
The game’s royalty had gathered underneath the grand Victorian Gothic arches of the Parish Church to assemble as one footballing family.
Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards, FA development director Sir Trevor Brooking, Sir Tom Finney, Brian Hall, Dave Whelan, Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson, Peter Ridsdale, Francis Lee, Maurice Lindsay, Phil Brown, Mick Brown, Doug Ellis, Mark Halsey, Tommy Docherty and Nat’s favourite modern day player, Mark Hughes, were among those who assembled to represent clubs up and down the land and pay their respects.
But from the club Nat represented so proudly as player, coach, manager, chief scout and president, the list of names read like a Who’s Who down the generations.
Former Wanderers managers Jimmy Armfield, Colin Todd and Sam Allardyce joined Paul Jones, Roy Greaves, John Thomas, Julian Darby, Mark Winstanley, Tony Caldwell, Warwick Rimmer, Frank Worthington, Roger Hunt, Tony Kelly, Peter Nicholson, John Ritson, Alan Gowling, Wyn Davies, Andy Walker, Freddie Hill, Steve Taylor, Paul Hallows, Andy Clements, John Byrom, Dave Hatton, Ralph Gubbins, Brian Riley, Neville Bannister, Albert Lord, Graham Cunliffe, Mark Patterson, Keith Branagan, Paul Fletcher and Martin Dobson and many more who had donned the famous white shirt.
The current Wanderers squad and staff also turned out en masse, with manager Owen Coyle and club captain Kevin Davies fulfilling duties as a pall bearer, with his son Jeff, Brian Finney — son of England colleague Tom, Ian Seddon and Syd Farrimond. In a simple nod to his playing achievements, a small floral tribute bearing the badge of Bolton Wanderers and the St George’s cross led the way.
For the lucky few outside the church, a seat was found at the last moment. Others peered down on the streets from their offices and workplaces.
But none of the massed ranks, six or seven deep in some places, begrudged one last chance to brave the chilly air and get a final glimpse of their hero — the man known simply as “Our Nat”.
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