Notts County and England Footballer
'I've always counted it a privilege to have played with so many great centre forwards. Ted Drake was the first one on my England debut and Tommy took over from him. Then there were Nat Lofthouse and Stan Mortensen. With Tommy I could guarantee he would make contact with nine out of ten crosses in the box. He was simply a brilliant header of the ball.'
Sir Stanley Matthews
Some older Notts. County fans can still recall Tommy's thunderbolt header that sank rivals Nottingham Forest 2-1 at the City Ground over fifty years ago. Tommy himself later described it : 'Frankie Broome took a corner out on the right, swung it out a bit too far and I met it just right on my forehead, on the run, and in mid-air.' Tommy added with his typical self-effacing humour: 'They say where there's no sense there's no feeling. That's probably why I scored so many with my head!.' Awed spectators estimated the distance the ball travelled as anything between 20 and 30 yards. It was certainly more than 10 yards whilst the Forest keeper could do no more than wave his arms in the air as it hit the back of the net.
|Successor to Dixie Dean
Born in Bolton on 6 October 1919, Tommy soon revealed his football talent by scoring a hat-trick in an English schools international trial. For some unknown reason he was overlooked when the national team was chosen and thus denied a school's cap.
On leaving school he signed for Second Division Burnley and made his league debut as a sixteen year old amateur against Doncaster. The following week he scored the two winning goals against Swansea. After signing professional forms on his seventeenth birthday, he immediately scored a hat-trick against Spurs.
Tommy was soon a target for the bigger clubs and on New Years Eve 1936, Everton bought him for £6,500 - a sensational fee in those days, especially for a 17 year old. Everton saw him as a successor to Dixie Dean, whose 60 goals for Everton in 1927-8 season still stands as a Football League record. Tommy had two good feet, a blistering turn of pace, and a head that could uniquely power the ball downwards from prodigious heights. The ball usually hit the goal line just inside the post before entering the net.
After making his debut alongside Dixie, Tommy made such an impression he was picked for England against Wales at Ninian park in October 1938. Just 19 years old, Tommy scored from the penalty spot though England lost 4-2. He retained his place for the next international, a 7-1 win over Ireland, made famous for the five goals by Spurs player Willie Hall who was born at Newark and who had launched his career with Notts. County. Tommy then celebrated his third cap against Scotland at Hampden Park by heading the winner in a 2-1 win.
Tommy scored a remarkable 34 goals in Everton's 1938-9 league championship side and look destined to challenge Dixie Dean' s scoring record, except the war intervened.
Tommy joined the army and became a Physical Training Instructor though he played in many unofficial internationals for England. On being demobbed, he chose not to return to Everton and signed for Chelsea instead. In 1946-7 he broke the club's scoring record with 26 goals in 34 matches but unhappy at the way the club was being run, he asked for a transfer. Though dropped into the reserves as punishment, Tommy was still picked for his 11th official international against Ireland at Goodison Park.
Tommy joined Notts. County for £17,500, plus Irish international wing half Bill Dickson, in a move that aroused disbelief because he was only 28 and had chosen to join a Third Division club - the oldest league club in the world. His arrival immediately put 10,000 on the home gates and seldom has a man endeared himself to the Nottingham public as Tommy did. Perhaps his style of play had something to do with it. Never one to shirk a challenge, the local paper often reported: 'Lawton was carried from the field with concussion.' Apparently Tommy hung in the air so long and climbed so high that his jaw often made contact with the head of the defender on his way down!
Present Notts. County vice-chairmen recalls: 'To all Notts. County supporters of my generation the Lawton era was magical. The arrival at Meadow Lane of England's greatest centre-forward was one of the most sensational happenings in the history of soccer. Soaring attendances and bags of goals set the city on fire. I can see him now leaping high above his marker, hovering in mid-air and crashing a header into the net.'
Tommy himself later said: 'I can't forget the day I joined Notts. County - it was 18 November 1947. At the time I was playing for Chelsea and Arthur Stollery was the manager of Notts. He had been the masseuse at Stamford Bridge and we had been very good friends there. Suddenly Arthur left after a disagreement with the chairman and Arthur asked me before leaving that if he got fixed up somewhere else would he be prepared to join him. I said yes but thought nothing more about it till I got a call out of the blue from him at Meadow Lane. There were plenty of First Division clubs interested but I had no hesitation in signing for Arthur.'
Lawton forged a breathtaking partnership with an imp of an inside forward called Jackie Sewell. Tommy's awesome power in the air combined with Jackie's fleet of foot brought goals flooding in and shattered attendance records though thanks to a poor start they only finished sixth in the table. (Pictured right - Tommy leads the team out with a petite mascot dressed in black and white while County had changed to avoid a colour clash).
In the following season County blasted 102 goals which included a 9-2 beating of Ipswitch and 11-1 thrashing of Newport County who had won their Cup-tie at Leeds the previous week and were unbeaten in their last six matches. Unfortunately, due to their poor away record, Notts. only finished eleventh in Division Three South.
The following season 1949-50 brought halcyon and heady days with 95 goals - Tommy scored 31 of them in 37 starts. Promotion to Division Two was sealed with a 2-0 win - the old one-two from Tommy and Jackie Sewell - over Forest on Easter Monday 22 April 1950. (pictured right - Notts. skipper Tommy Lawton shakes hands with Forest skipper Horace Gager).
Events of March 1951 caused controversy when Jackie Sewell was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for a record fee of £34,500. Jackie later won a Cup Winners Medal with Aston Villa and played in the England teams that lost 3-6 and 1-7 to Hungary.
A year later Lawton left for Brentford as their player/manager. Having totalled a remarkable 103 goals in 166 appearnces for Notts. County, he was also capped for England - one of the few Third Division players to be honoured by their country. Dressing room disruption had clouded his last days at Notts though Tommy himself never revealed the causes. He later said: 'I spent four and a half memorable years at Notts. County. Believe me, there were far too happy memories to pick out one above another . . . I made Nottingham my adopted city. That says enough about my feelings for the place. We broke all records both home and away with support at the time.'
Notts. County Manager
Tommy found the player/manager's job at Brentford a bit of a struggle and joined Arsenal to bow out of the Football League in fine style. He was never booked or sent off.
After enjoying some success with non-league Kettering as player\manager, he was a popular choice when he became Notts. County manager on 7 May 1957. However the club's playing record in 1957-8 season was such that they were relegated to Division Three - not helped by the fact that neighbours Forest were playing in Division One. Relieved of his manager's duties, Tommy settled for retirement.
Tommy later revealed: 'My time at Notts as a manager lasted just eleven months - for both the club and myself it was a complete disaster. It's a time of my life best forgotten.'
Tommy returned to Meadow Lane for a third time in October 1968 as the club's chief scout but 15 months later on the appointment of Jimmy Sirrel as manager, the scouting system was re-arranged and the post of chief scout became redundant.
After suffering some financial difficulties in 1985, Nottingham Evening Post sought his services as a columnist where his mouth and not his feet had to do the talking. Tommy always thanked the newspaper for bringing him back into the limelight in his 'adopted' city. He was a constant source of stories and his opinions and thoughts mirrored his playing career.
In his later years, after the death of his beloved second wife Gaye, Tommy was not always steady on the feet that had never betrayed him as a player though his sense of humour remained intact and he always obliged wherever possible with charity and request appearances. In 1995 he officially opened the 'Tommy Lawton' bar at Meadow Lane.
Tommy Lawton died of pneumonia at his home in Nottingham on 6 November 1996 and an army of fans mourned his passing. The stuff of legends, tributes to him poured in to the Nottingham Evening Post.
David McVay, who had also played professionally for Notts. County, and later became a columnist alongside Tommy at the Nottingham Evening Post, wrote: 'The one thing Tommy Lawton earned was respect and that's a commodity money can't buy in these days of multi-million transfer fees and wages . . . he never ducked an issue or flinched a controversial challenge. He was prepared to call a spade a spade and say what he thought about the high and mighty and the humble . . . Tommy Lawton remains a giant in the beautiful game . . . his death means another vital link with the game and a way of life has gone forever.'
Jackie Sewell said: 'Tom was the best centre forward I ever saw, no problem. Not only was he the best there'd been in the air he had two exceptionally good feet . . . the man had incredible presence and brought a tremendous amount of pleasure to spectators . . . I couldn't speak highly enough about the man. I'm very, very sad'
Wilf Mannion: 'Tommy was truly a great player, one of the best centre forwards there has been anywhere . . . as a bloke he fitted into the set-up like anyone else. There was always a good camaraderie and atmosphere among the players. In those days we played for the love of the game.'
Dennis Compton: 'I had all the time in the world for Tommy, both as a player and a person . . . Tommy was a great, great centre forward - the best I've seen or played with.'
Tom Finney: 'I played with some terrific centre forwards but Tommy was the best . . . Tommy was a Lancashire lad like myself with a lovely sense of humour. He helped in the dressing-room camaradie as much as anybody did.'
David McVay: 'I fancy the memory of Tommy Lawton and his days of soccer innocence will remain. We'll be looking for you at the far post, Tommy.'