Born in Bolton, Lancashire, in 1925, Nat Lofthouse joined the town's main club on 4 September 1939 and made his debut in a wartime 5–1 win against Bury on 22 March 1941 when he scored two goals.

It was then more than five years until he made his league debut for the club, but he eventually played against Chelsea on 31 August 1946, when he scored twice in a 4–3 defeat. Lofthouse would go on to play 33 games for England but his debut on 22 November 1950 made him 25 when he finally broke into the team. He perhaps justified a claim to an earlier call-up by scoring both goals in a 2–2 draw against Yugoslavia at Highbury on his debut.

On 25 May 1952, Lofthouse earned the title 'Lion of Vienna' after scoring his second goal in England's 3–2 victory over Austria. In doing so he was elbowed in the face, tackled from behind and finally brought down by the goalkeeper. Back from national team duty, he then scored six goals in a game between the English Football League and the Irish League on 24 September 1952.

In 1953, he was declared English Footballer of the Year and on 2 May that year, he scored a goal – but was on the losing side – in the famous FA Cup Final of 1953 (aka 'The Matthews Final'), having previously scored in each round. That season he topped the First Division goalscoring charts with 30 goals.

On 3 May 1958, almost five years to the day after losing the 1953 final, Lofthouse captained Bolton in the 1958 FA Cup Final against Manchester United, who three months earlier had been involved in the Munich air disaster. Against a national wave of sympathy for United, Bolton won the game 2–0 with Lofthouse scoring two goals.

On 26 November 1958, Lofthouse made his final England appearance, against Wales, at the age of 33, and he officially retired from the game in January 1960 because of an ankle injury, although his final league game wasn't until 17 December of that year, when he suffered a knee injury against Birmingham.