Hero Lawton’s Notts life less ordinary

ANTON RIPPON delights over a book about the triumphs and travails of an old friend, written by an old friend

The last time I saw Tommy Lawton play was in a charity match, long after his professional days were over. He was guesting for a showbiz team against the local press side in Derby.

The image is still etched on my mind: a tall, sharp featured man with sleek black hair, rising high above the defence �” which wasn’t difficult as it solely comprised flat-footed journalists who’d been on the pop the night before �” and, with neck muscles straining, crashing a header into the back of the net.

Later, I got to know Lawton personally. He wrote a ghosted column for the Nottingham Evening Post and was always ready to make public appearances (never asking for so much as even his bus fare) to help publicise books that I had published. He was one of life’s gentlemen who, alas, was let down by more than a few hangers-on and “business partners”.

Lawton was Everton’s and England’s centre-forward before the Second World War. But it was Nottingham where he finished up and his name is inextricably entwined with the history of that city’s poor football relation, Notts County, the oldest club in the Football League, one that recently had a bizarre dalliance with Sven Goran Eriksson.

When future Notts County historians come to write the chapter on the season just ended, they will have plenty of material on which to draw; it will, of course, have a happy ending with promotion from League Two, despite the goings-on behind the scenes.

In the meantime, we can enjoy a book that centres on Notts County’s adventures in the days of Lawton, written by Eddie Giles (grandly referred to on the 1940s-style jacket as “Edward Giles”).

Giles, a life member of the NUJ, started his career with the Derby Evening Telegraph, and worked as deputy sports editor and chief sports sub-editor of the Bristol Evening Post until 1970 when he joined the Daily Telegraph, and for the last eight years until his retirement in 1993 was that newspaper’s northern sports editor.

He is the author of several books on Derby County and the Bristol clubs, as well as the biographer of former Nottingham Forest player and manager, Billy Walker, who also found time to score 250 goals for Aston Villa between the wars.

Now Giles has produced Notts County: The Tommy Lawton Era. In fact, that era came in three parts: first as a player from November 1947 to March 1952; then as manager from May 1957 to July 1958; and finally as coach and chief scout from October 1968 to December 1969.

Lawton was one of the biggest names in football when he sensationally left First Division Chelsea to join Notts County, then in the Third Division South, and Giles chronicles a story that ranges from Lawton’s heights as still being one of England’s finest centre forwards to the depths that led him to the verge of suicide.

Lawton went from the euphoria of 31 goals in County’s promotion to the Second Division in 1950 to the disillusionment of three departures from Meadow Lane. The first took him to Brentford and then a return to the top flight with Arsenal.

The second, after leading Kettering Town to the Southern League title, brought relegation and dismissal after only one season as County’s manager.

The third dumped him in the dole queue when his role as County’s chief scout was declared redundant. Away from football, life for Lawton was one setback after another, as publican, sports shop manager, insurance salesman and pools representative.

Giles has produced a fine book on a fascinating time in English football, weaving into it other Notts personalities of the Lawton era (should that be eras?) including the player he helped make the costliest in the game, his successor as captain who died a young man, and the Scot rated by his manager as the finest young inside-forward he had ever seen.

Notts County: The Tommy Lawton Era by Edward Giles (Desert Island Books, £14.99)

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