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In January 1941 Lawton married Rosaleen May Kavanagh, and the couple raised a daughter Amanda. Throughout their ten-year marriage, his wife Rosaleen never watched Lawton play football. She was found to have committed adultery with the Notts. County director Adrian Van Geffen, and Tommy was granted a divorce with a decree nisi in March 1951. Lawton was not required to pay child support, and never saw his daughter Amanda again. Although in 1968 he did hear from her, after she was convicted of stealing from the playwright George Axelrod, by which time his former wife Rosaleen was on her fourth marriage and living in Jamaica.
Lawton married his second wife Gladys May Rose in September 1952 at Caxton Hall, Westminster. Gladys, who he later described as ‘the love of my life’, was also divorced, and her ex-husband cited Lawton as co-respondent in the divorce proceedings. Her family were staunch Catholics, and as a consequence Gladys ostracised their daughter following her divorce. Gladys had a daughter, Carol, from her previous marriage, which Lawton raised as his own, along with his son, Thomas Junior, who went on to play rugby union for Leicester Tigers.
Throughout the 1950s Lawton appeared in numerous television and radio programmes, including the popular What’s My Line ?, and in 1953 played himself in a cameo role alongside Thora Hird and Diana Dors in the film The Great Game. He also published a total of four books, Tommy Lawton’s All Star Football Book , Soccer the Lawton way , My Twenty Years of Soccer , and When the Cheering Stopped .
Tommy later reflected on his career in his book
‘My Twenty Years of soccer’. What glorious years, years that all the money in the world couldn’t buy. I have been lucky. I have played with great clubs, I have escaped serious injury, I have played for my country, I have even captained my country, I have won many of the game’s top honours. Soccer has been good to me and I hope that I have repaid the game in some small way. I have had great experiences. I have met some wonderful people. I have memories that nobody can take away from me. If I could turn the clock back 20 years, I would still go into the game as a full-time professional and I can say to any lad who is contemplating a career in football, Go ahead son … providing you are willing to work and work hard and providing you are willing to learn the craft thoroughly. You will meet some of the grandest fellows you could ever wish to meet and you will have a pleasant, healthy life and be quite well paid for it’.
Tommy Lawton was an entertainer, and football fanatics of his era wanted to see him play. And yet Lawton played his football at the wrong time, when clubs may have been wealthy, but players were not. His cheerless story is far from unusual, and despite his glittering career, at his peak the most he ever earned was £15 a week, roughly £200 in today’s money.
However he was not alone, as several of the England 1966 World Cup winning side were later also forced to sell their medals in order to make ends meet. Alan Ball, who set up the third goal in the final against West Germany, sold his winners medal in 2005 for £165,000 ‘to look after his family’. And the family of the flamboyant Jimmy Greaves, arguably numbered amongst the greatest strikers England has ever produced, were also obliged to fundraise in order to pay for his care after he suffered a massive stroke.
Back in 1960, professional footballers’ wages were capped at £20 a week. And today’s players have the late football personality Jimmy Hill, to thank for pioneering the campaign to scrap the Football League’s maximum wage policy. Paving the way towards the gigantic salaries some enjoy today. Hill convincingly argued ‘Twenty pounds a week isn’t enough for what we were doing when you think how many people were watching’. An agreement was reached in 1961 and capped fees were abolished, and it was not long before Hill’s old teammate, ex-England captain Johnny Haynes, became the first player to earn £100 a week.
Hill’s career covered almost every aspect of the game, from player to trade union leader, coach, manager, director, chairman, television executive, presenter, analyst and even as an assistant referee. Jimmy also spent the early part of his career with with Brentford FC, before transferring to Fulham in 1952. After retiring as a player, he took over as manager of Coventry City, later carving out a successful career in football broadcasting as host of the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’.
Fast-forward to the 21st century when footballers’ wages had escalated to reach unimaginable levels. The contrast with that of the top soccer stars of days gone by could not be greater. The first footballer to receive a weekly six-figure sum was Sol Campbell, when he left Tottenham Hotspur in 2001 to join its north London rivals Arsenal. Nowadays many of today’s modern footballers are receiving well in excess of £100,000 a week, so it’s difficult to ever imagine them ever suffering the same disturbing plight as Tommy Lawton.
Lawton’s wife Gladys died in 1988, following which Lawton’s health also began to rapidly deteriorate, and he was forced to move into sheltered accommodation. Former England captain and 1966 World Cup squad member Jimmy Armfield, saw Lawton play and got to know him well later in life. ‘I went to see him towards the end in a residential home in Nottingham, sitting with one of England’s greatest-ever centre forwards in his small room. I left feeling quite upset’, recalled Armfield. ‘Players from that era weren’t fortunate in terms of the money they earned. It only started to change after the maximum wage ended in 1962. My last memory of Tommy was him standing by the gate waving me goodbye with his stick, tears streaming down his face’.
One of his last appearances in an official capacity was in 1995 when he opened the Tommy Lawton bar at his beloved Meadow Lane. Tommy died of pneumonia in Nottingham on the 6 November 1996, aged 77, leaving a daughter Amanda, by his first wife, a stepdaughter Carol, and a son Tommy. His ashes were donated to the National Football Museum, which was originally housed at the Preston North End FC. The Manchester City Council, assisted by an investment from the European Regional Development Fund, founded the new National Football Museum, in Manchester in 2012. Housed at the National Football Museum is the English Football Hall of Fame, which celebrates the accomplishments of significant figures in the history of the English game, including the legendary Tommy Lawton who was justifiably inducted in 2003.
a] 3 appearances and 4 league goals before the season was abandoned due to WW II
b] 1 appearance in the FA Charity Shield.
British Home Championship winner: 1938–39
British Home Championship shared: 1946–47, 1947–48
Everton Football League First Division champion: 1938–39
Notts County Football League 3rd Division South champion: 1949-50
Arsenal Charity Shield winner: 1953
Kettering Town Southern Football League champion: 1956–57
First Division top scorer: 1937–38, 1938–39
Third Division South top scorer: 1949–50
English Football Hall of Fame: 2003
Notts. County FC Hall of Fame: 2014
Article © Roy Case