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Tommy Lawton ranks among the most gifted players England has ever produced. A centre-forward, he was considered a master in the air, and strong in every aspect of the game.
Lawton was born in Farnworth, near Bolton, on 6 October 1919. He was an outstanding schoolboy footballer. He also played on Saturday afternoons for Hayes Athletic, a Bolton league side and for Lancashire schools in 1933 and 1934.
As a fifteen-year-old Lawton played for Rossendale United in the semi-professional Lancashire combination, by which time he was working in a Bolton tannery. Liverpool, Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday were just some of the clubs keen to sign this young star. Instead Lawton signed amateur forms for Burnley, who gave him a job in their office at £2 10s. a week—good money for a sixteen-year-old in 1935. The club also had to find a place for his grandfather, who became an assistant groundsman at £3 10s. a week. Soon the family were given a rent-free house in Brunshaw Road, Burnley.
Lawton made his début in the first team, at sixteen and a half, and signed as a professional in October 1936 on wages of £7 a week, with bonuses of £2 for a win and £1 for a draw. The club were soon fighting off other clubs, but in January 1937 Burnley accepted £5400 from for his transfer.
A well-built 5 feet 11 inches, Lawton was muscular and sharp. He was as much of a star as either Stanley Matthews or later, Tom Finney, but his twenty-year career in professional football was not the complete triumph it ought to have been. Like many other players of his generation, his career was interrupted by the Second World War. At the same time his frequent transfers reflected not only his ability as a footballer but also his talent for falling out with his employers.
After being demobilized in 1945 Lawton moved again, after arranging his own transfer from Everton to Chelsea for £11,500. He liked London but stayed for only one full season, even though his twenty-six goals that season were a club record. Instead Lawton surprised the football world by joining Notts County in 1947 for a fee of £20,000, a new British record. They were an unexceptional team which for several years before the war had been embedded in the middle of the southern section of the third division of the league. However, the club had potential, and Lawton began to realize some of it. Crowds rose from an average of 9,000 to 35,000, and in 1949–50 the championship was won and with it promotion to the second division.
In 1952 he moved to second-division Brentford, where he became player–manager in the new year. Results were poor, the crowd critical, and he soon resigned as manager while continuing as a player. Surprisingly, at thirty-four, he was bought by Arsenal in September 1953.. Although he failed to score until March and was not a regular member of the first team, he did act as a catalyst in the improvement of the team.
In 1956 he left Highbury to become player–manager of Kettering Town. He led them to the southern league championship in 1956–7, a success which led back to Notts County and the manager's office. The club suffered relegation from the second division at the end of the season and Lawton left, to spend the next four years as landlord of the Magna Carta pub in Lowdham, a village near Nottingham.