For previous parts to this series, please click on the following links:-
Part 1 – bit.ly
Part 2 – bit.ly
Part 3 – bit.ly
Part 4 – bit.ly
INTERNATIONAL CAREER – 1938 – 1948
Regarded as the finest centre-forward of his generation, Lawton boasted a powerful physique, first-class ball control, coupled with an excellent passing range and a powerful shot. Although naturally right-footed, he worked hard to improve his left foot technique to a standard good enough to be considered a two-footed player. Moreover, he never received a booking throughout his entire career. However, undoubtedly Lawton’s greatest strength was his ability to head the ball. In an era when the ball became abnormally heavy when wet, and laced with a leather thread that, when headed, could leave an impression on the forehead indistinguishable from a dozen stitches inserted by a bungling surgeon. Blessed with a strong pair of muscular legs Tommy was able to leap high and generate a prolonged ‘hang-time’. He had an extraordinary ability to time his jumps to perfection, causing the legendary Stanley Matthews to surmise,
’Quite simply, Tommy was the greatest header of the ball I ever saw’.
Lawton’s first ‘international’ experience was in September 1938, when he was selected to play for the Football League XI against a League of Ireland XI at the Northern Ireland National Stadium, Windsor Park, Belfast, when he found the net four times in a crushing 8–2 victory. A month later, at the age of 19, he was awarded his first full international cap for England, in the opening game of the 1938-1939 British Home International Championships against Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff. The game ended in a sub-standard 4-2 defeat for the England team. Captained by George Hardwick, the team included the legendary Frank Swift, Billy Wright, Tom Finny, Raich Carter and Wilf Mannion. Lawton still managed to mark his first appearance with a goal in the twenty-seventh minute scored from the penalty spot, making him the youngest player to score on his England debut, a record which stood for 78 years.
Four days later he scored again for England at Highbury in a 3–0 win over a FIFA Rest of Europe team, which incorporated players from Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Hungary and Norway. Later in the year he found the net in comfortable victories over Norway 4-0, and Northern Ireland by 7-0.
Lawton was selected for all the four games played by England in 1939, scoring in the matches against Italy and Scotland. In the game against Scotland at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, the England team took the field first, and was made to stand and wait while the famous Hampden Roar greeted the entry of the Scots. The roar was really special, and made Lawton’s heart thump in his chest. Moreover the shattering bellow from the fans when Scotland went ahead could surely have been heard in Carlisle. However, with twenty minutes left to go, Pat Beasley levelled the score and the game began to swing England’s way. With barely a minute left on the clock, Stanley Matthews broke away and fired across a perfect centre.
‘As soon as I saw it leave his boot I knew it was mine,’ said Lawton, ‘I hit it perfectly with my head and the ball fizzed into the net. It was a great moment’.
In front of a crowd of 149,269 spectators, England had defeated Scotland 2-1, and silenced the famous Hampden Roar.
In September 1946, a little over a year after WWII was brought to an end, England played its first official international match after a break of seven years. Walter Winterbottom, the newly appointed England manager, chose Lawton to lead the attack in a 7-2 victory over Ireland at Windsor Park. It was to be Tommy’s ninth appearance, seven years and 127 days after his pre-war eighth. He played the remaining three fixtures of 1946, scoring four times in an 8–2 victory in November over the Netherlands at Leeds Road, Huddersfield.
In May the following year he scored twice playing for the Great Britain XI in its 6–1 victory over a Rest of Europe XI, in what at the time was hailed as the ‘Match of the Century’. Five days later he added four more goals to his register in a 10–0 victory over Portugal at Lisbon’s Estádio Nacional. And on the 21 September at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, it took him just twelve seconds to hit the back of the net in England’s 5–2 win over Belgium. Lawton added one more to his growing tally, in a 3-0 victory over Wales at Maine Road, Manchester, in front of a crowd of 59,121, with Wilf Mannion supplying the other two.
Following his transfer to Notts. County, Lawton briefly retained his place in the England team, netting from the penalty spot in a 4–2 win over Sweden. And in doing so he became the first Third Division footballer to represent England. Lawton was only capped on three more occasions, with his final appearance coming in a 0–0 draw against Denmark in Copenhagen on the 26 September 1948.
Even as an experienced international footballer, in Tommy’s day times were worlds apart from those of today. Currently, a player of his status, with astute and careful management, reinforced by lucrative personal appearances and sponsorship deals, would undoubtedly make enough money to retire comfortably, Recalling the parsimonious, penny-pinching days when he was playing for England, Lawton cited one occasion when his expense claim was challenged because it was two-pence too much. His no-nonsense explanation being,
‘I spent a penny on the way to the match and another on the way back’.
At the age of 28, perhaps quite typically, Tommy became progressively disillusioned with the England set-up, and with it his contempt for Walter Winterbottom, who on one occasion he sharply informed,
‘if you think you can teach Stanley Matthews to play on the wing, and me how to score goals, you’ve got another think coming !’
No doubt justifiably, Winterbottom became increasingly frustrated with Lawton, in particular with his smoking habit, favouring ‘Wor Jackie’, the Newcastle United rising star Jackie Milburn over the cantankerous Lawton. Any hope of reconciliation and a future comeback ended with the emergence of the powerful centre-forward from Bolton Wanders, Nat Lofthouse, who made his England debut in November 1950.
Lawton, who played alongside both Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney wearing an England shirt, was once asked to evaluate the two players.
‘Tom Finney always looks deadly serious, but his football has an impish character about it. Much of his footwork resembles that of Matthews, but Finney cuts in more than Matthews does, and is also a goal-scorer, whereas Matthews is content to let others do the scoring. Tom can also play equally well on the left wing, and has shown that he is equally skilful at beating an opponent on the inside as well as the outside. Like Matthews, he has a tremendous burst of speed which helps him to float away from his pursuers’.
The ‘Clown Prince of Soccer’, Sunderland’s Len Shackleton, also played a few games for England alongside Lawton,
‘Some of the greatest names in football have filled the centre-forward position and the best of them, in my time, was Tommy Lawton’.
Arguably Middlesbrough’s greatest player, Wilf Mannion, was another of Tommy’s fans. His blonde hair earning him the nickname of the
‘Golden Boy’, ‘I cannot recall any centre half who could keep him in check in his international days. Tommy was the complete centre forward. He made goals and scored them with monotonous regularity. With his head or with his feet, they came all the same to Lawton’.
Often regarded as one of the greatest players of the British game, Stoke City and Blackpool’s ‘Wizard of the Dribble’, Sir Stanley Matthews, CBE, another of Lawton’s international team-mates, declared,
‘Tommy Lawton possessed a rocket of a shot and, like all great players, could hit the ball equally well with either foot. He was lethal in the air and, most surprisingly for a centre-forward of the time, had all the ball skill and creative prowess of the most mercurial of inside-forwards’.
Tommy Lawton scored 24 goals in 23 England appearances over his ten-year international career, during which England collected two British Home International Championship titles, in 1946-1947 and 1947–1948, and a share in the title in 1938–1939.
MANAGEMENT – 1956 – 1964
It is frequently said great players do not necessarily make good managers. Certainly in Tommy’s day most players did little to prepare for the time when their playing careers came to an end, and there were certainly no training courses for management. While in a self-critical frame of mind Lawton reflected that perhaps his playing success had led him to become over-confident.
With the help of an Arsenal director, Lawton secured the position as player-manager of the Southern League side Kettering Town. And in the summer of 1956, he took up the position on an annual wage of £1,500, with Kettering paying Arsenal a modest £1,000 signing-on fee.
He made a promising start to his managerial career, and by Christmas in his debut season led Kettering to the top of the league table by a clear ten points. This early success prompted an approach by Notts, County, which he turned down, choosing to stay with Kettering and clinch the 1956-1957 Southern League title by a clear eight points, with the resolute Lawton contributing 15 of Kettering’s overall tally of 106 league goals.
While in charge at Kettering he signed several former notable players, including the goalkeepers Jim Standen of Arsenal, and Jack Wheeler from Huddersfield Town, the Aston Villa defender Amos Moss, and the Brentford winger Jackie Goodwin. He also brought to club the Fulham inside forward Bob Thomas, the Sunderland winger Geoff Toseland, and defender Harry McDonald, who made 140 appearances with Crystal Palace.
The Kettering players always had faith that Lawton could bring success to the club, and at first he shared their determination to succeed. But after only a month, he decided to leave Kettering at the end of the season and return to Notts. County. A decision he would live to regret.
In May 1957 he was appointed manager of Notts. County, controversially replacing the caretaker-manager Frank Broome, who would later be appointed as Lawton’s assistant manager. Broome made 105 appearances for the ‘Magpies’ during his time with the club, and helped save it from relegation from the Second Division.
However, financial constraints were making it difficult for the club, and prevented the exasperated Lawton from making new signings. Although he did take on the apprentice forwards Tony Hateley, and Jeff Astle, who both enjoyed long playing careers in the First Division, the latter progressing to make 103 appearances for Notts. before he found fame with West Bromwich Albion in 1964.
In order to try to help improve the club’s finances, Lawton agreed to go without wages for six months. In spite of which County were relegated at the end of the 1957-season, after beating Rotherham 3-1 in the final game of the campaign, and earning seven out of a possible twelve points in the club’s last six matches, including a win against the champions West Ham.
Lawton’s first season as Notts. County manager was his first and last. He was unceremoniously sacked the following July, claiming he carried the can for Notts. County’s relegation, With nothing in writing, and only a verbal offer of a three-year contract to fall back on, he received just three months pay for his time at the club.
‘I should never have come back to Nottingham though. Never go back, they say, and they’re right. I was too soft, too trusting. When it came down to it, I didn’t get the backing I’d been promised’.
Even so, he couldn’t resist the offer to return to the club as a coach in October 1968. He was then appointed chief scout in February the following year, before being sacked yet again some 9 months later after a shake-up in the scouting department made by the newly-appointed manager Jimmy Sirrel.
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