Tommy Lawton (6th October 1919 to 6th November 1996)

 

I’m not really into football (prefer nude hand-gliding) and don’t even stick up for a team but even I know who Tommy Lawton was. He was a football player and manager from the Second World War era, as the former was an effective attacker, could head with precision and score goals galore. Even though some footballers earn in a day what Tommy earned in a lifetime they couldn’t buy a sterling reputation and an entry in the English Football Hall of Fame. He was Britain best centre-forward and never booked throughout his career. His ashes are kept in a shiny box high up in the Urbis Centre in Manchester.

 

I won’t try to summarise his illustrious career here but he was a prolific goal scorer. There would have been scores more goals but sadly his career was watered down by the Second World War (league football was suspended for a few years). He was good at everything. He had good ball control skills, could pass the ball accurately over large distances and his powerful shots could break goalkeepers fingers. Though he was a two-footed player his speciality was heading. Muscular legs gave him a high strong jump which gave him the micro-seconds to play the play accurately. Stanley Matthews said, "Quite simply Tommy was the greatest header of the ball I ever saw." This six-footer could be surprising nimble even graceful but pounce like lightening when a goal could be scored. People travelled long distances to see him and didn’t mind parting with hard-earned cash to see a star. From the beginning he broke records for goal scoring (no job needed, turned professional on his 17th birthday). He scored 260 goals in 433 league and cup competitions in 14 full seasons – also 22 goals in his 23 England appearances.

 

He managed teams later on (refusing to have a salary for six months while the club’s finances improved) but his glory days were on the field and not at the side of it. In those days footballers weren’t wealthy and, needing a steady income, he became as an insurance salesman. The job didn’t last and aged 48 he opened a sports shops but it folded within two months due to poor sales. The press weren’t always kind to him, and tried to make him look naive in the 1970s when he had debt and legal battles.

 

After the sports shop debacle he went on the dole (can you imagine Ryan Giggs on the dole?) and worked for a betting company in Nottingham. Aged 51 he had little money and when this became public knowledge he was offered a well-paid job with a furniture company. It went bust quickly and, aged 53, Tommy found himself in court having admitting to writing company cheques while knowing the bank account was empty (he got three years probation.) Twice he was almost sent to prison for not paying his rates but an anonymous kind heart paid up on his behalf. At retirement aged of 65 he started writing a column for the Nottingham Evening Post. This is quite difficult to believe now. Had Tommy been born fifty years later he’s have been a multi-millionaire by his mid-twenties.

 

He died of pneumonia aged 77 in November 1996. He had been married twice. His first wife never watched Tommy play football in the ten years they were married. He married again aged 33 to Gladys.

 

He was a well-like man despite his woes and appeared on many television and radio shows (and there were four books.) He even appeared as himself with Thora Hird and Diana Dors in the film The Great Game.

 

I’d read that his ashes were in a little box in the Urbis Centre so I parked in a scary bit of Cheetham Hill, covered up the valuables (some CDs and packet of butterscotch sweets) and walked into central Manchester. I entered the Urbis with a group of people and a lady on reception tried to sell us a rip-off guide/booklet/memento (I was too busy looking at legs in spray-on jeans to listen properly.) When asked they volunteered they were from Sweden and Germany and Israel (I felt dull saying Manchester.)

 

The Urbis was a bit boring for a non-football dude like me and I scanned the cabinets quickly not finding the shiny wood box containing Tommy’s ashes until I reached the fourth or fifth floor. I had to take about ten photos on the timer before I could get one without a passer-by in it. Some bent to peer into the glass cabinet to see what the fuss was about but they were too young or foreign to know who Tommy was.

 

 

 

He didn’t like it when I got my camera out….must be on the run…

 

 

He’s up here somewhere…

 

Found him…

 

 

The Busby Babe section was in interest…