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Mr GOALS; TOMMY LAWTON OCT 1919 -; In 40 years I NEVER saw a better centre-forward.

Tommy Lawton, the laughing cavalier of English football, died yesterday, aged 77. In more than forty years of reporting football, he was the best England centre-forward I saw. And he scored 22 goals in 23 internationals to prove it.

What would his total have been but for the six years he lost during the 1939-45 war, when he served his country as a PE instructor?

Bobby Charlton needed 106 matches to set the England record of 49 goals. Surely, Lawton would have beaten that.

He was an automatic choice for England. He kept contemporary number nines such as Ted Drake of Arsenal, Nat Lofthouse of Bolton Wanderers, Freddie Steele of Stoke City, Jackie Milburn of Newcastle United and Stan Mortensen of Blackpool waiting on the sidelines.

Alan Shearer is the only England centre-forward of recent times who has the all-round ability that was Lawton's hallmark.

For a big man, Lawton had neat feet, excellent ball-control, a good first touch, fine vision and deadly finishing.

But it was when the ball was in the air that he was in a class of his own.

For all of us who saw him play one memory stays with us. It is of Lawton soaring, then seemingly hanging in the air before nodding the ball home.

Many of his headed goals came from centres by Stan Matthews, who said yesterday: "Quite simply, Tommy was the greatest header of the ball I ever saw."

Lawton repaid that compliment when he said: "My job was easy when Stan and Tom Finney were playing. I just strolled up to the penalty area and they would just plonk the ball on my napper."

He added with a laugh: "They were always so considerate when they were centring the ball.

"They made sure that the lace of the heavy leather ball was always facing towards goal so it didn't cut my forehead when I was heading it."

It was Lawton who ended the hoodoo which for many years dogged England at Hampden Park.

In the closing minutes of the last international played there before the outbreak of war, Lawton rose majestically to head in a centre from Matthews. More than 120,000 Scots were stunned into silence.

Bill Shankly once told me: "I was always glad I played right-half and not centre-half because it seemed Tommy had a neck like an ostrich.

"I would have needed a step ladder to get up as high as he did."

Lawton has left imperishable memories. He was 17 when he was signed by Everton to succeed the great Dixie Dean.

He cost them a pounds 6,000 fee and a job for Lawton's grandad.

He refused to go to Goodison unless Everton gave his grandad work. Grandad became a part-time gateman and part-time scout.

Tommy left Everton after the war for Chelsea, who loved his flamboyance.

The Lancashire lad took London by storm before moving to Notts County in 1947 for the then record transfer fee of pounds 20,000. Today, of course, he would have been worth millions.

We saw the best of Tommy when he played for Everton, and for England in those wartime internationals.

He continued to score prolifically after the war and left his mark by scoring four goals in Notts County's 11-1 thrashing of Newport County in January 1949.

He was a gentleman on the field who was never booked or sent off throughout his career.

Thanks for the memories, Tommy.

HIS GOALS

SIGNED professional forms on 17th birthday. Four days later, became youngest hat-trick scorer in League history for Burnley against Tottenham.

LAWTON scored 22 times in 23 games for England between 1938 and 1949. In 1947 he scored four of England's goals in a 10-0 win in Portugal.

HIS LEAGUE goals record: Burnley 16 in 25 games; Everton 65 in 87 games; Chelsea 30 in 42 games; Notts County 90 goals in 151 games; Brentford 17 in 50 games; Arsenal 13 in 35 games.

Blink and

he'd score

Tearful Sir Stanley Matthews said: "It's a very, very sad day. He was one of the great centre-forwards.

"He had a wonderful personality and never lost his temper.

"I was very fortunate to have played with him. He was quick and if he had a chance in the goalmouth, you could guarantee, before you blinked your eye, it would be in the back of the net.

"I remember once in front of 129,000 spectators at Hampden Park. We were drawing with two minutes to go and he got up and put the ball in the corner of the net. That was Tommy."

Former England colleague Tom Finney said: "Tommy was a prolific goalscorer, just look at his record of scoring 22 goals in 23 games for England."

And ex-England skipper Jimmy Armfield added: "He was the archetypal England centre- forward. Many people think he was the best centre-forward England have ever had."

pounds 2

and a third

class rail

ticket

ALAN Shearer drives a pounds 55,000 Jaguar but the late Tommy Lawton had to travel by train.

The day Lawton scored England's winner against Scotland at Hampden in 1939, he was paid pounds 2 and given a third-class rail ticket to get home.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Taylor, Frank
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 7, 1996
Words:868
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