On March 22 1941, Wanderers manager Charles Foweraker made a surprise change to the attacking line for the visit of Bury to Burnden Park. Nathaniel Lofthouse, aged 15 years and 207 days was thrust into the starting line-up and scored Wanderers’ fourth and fifth goals in a 5-1 win.
And it was prior to the start of the 1942/43 season that Bolton-born Lofthouse had signed professional forms with Wanderers having previously impressed whilst playing for Bolton Schools XI and Lomax’s, a team in the Lancashire combination.
Having initially suffered some early criticism from the supporters during his early days as a Bolton player, Lofthouse went on to develop into a fans’ favourite and one of the most potent strikers in the country.
He got his reward for his fine form in 1950, when he earned his first international cap for England, netting two goals on his Three Lions debut in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia at Highbury.
That was to be the start of what proved to be a highly successful international career, and as Lofthouse drew the curtain on his glittering international career, he was able to boast one of the most prolific strike records which still stands strong to this date.
The pinnacle of Lofthouse’s England career came in May 1952, when he earned the tag ‘Lion of Vienna’, after capping an impeccable performance with two goals in a 3-2 win against Austria. Lofthouse’s second and decisive goal in that game came nine minutes from time, collecting a pass from Tom Finney on the halfway line, before surging through the Austrian defence and striking the ball cleanly beyond the goalkeeper.
He later went on to represent the Three Lions at the 1954 World Cup, scoring three goals in three games, in what was then a 16-team competition.
Back with Wanderers, Lofthouse helped fire the club to their first FA Cup final appearance in nearly three decades in the 1952/53 season, scoring in every round of the competition, including the final, which they eventually lost 4-3 to Blackpool at Wembley. In that same season, Lofthouse was voted Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.
And Lofthouse continued his phenomenal scoring record into the 1955/56 season, when he was crowned as the leading marksman in the First Division with 33 goals, as Wanderers finished just six points behind second placed Blackpool in the final league standings.
Having missed out on a cup winner’s medal six years earlier, Lofthouse and Bolton got their hands on the coveted trophy at the end of the 1957/58 season. He captained the side in the final against Manchester United and scored two goals in a 2-0 triumph.
Later that year, Lofthouse played what proved to be his final game for England, after earning a recall to the international setup for the first time since 1956. England cruised past the Soviet Union, with Lofthouse finding the net with the final goal in a 5-0 win.
Prior to the start of the 1959/60 season, Lofthouse suffered an unfortunate injury whilst on tour with Wanderers in South Africa, and consequently missed the entirety of the following campaign.
But in typical fashion, Lofthouse fought back to regain his place. But in December of the 1960/61 season Lofthouse was forced to call time on his illustrious playing career, after suffering another injury in a 2-2 draw with Birmingham City. One of his final goals for the club had come the previous month in a 3-1 home victory over Manchester City.
He was then appointed as assistant trainer and in 1967 became chief coach. Lofthouse also enjoyed a stint in the hot seat following the departure of long-serving manager Bill Ridding, but stepped down from the role after two seasons to become executive club manager and later, club president.