BOLTON - Former Bolton Wanderers and England striker Nat Lofthouse, one of the greats of a golden post-war generation, died in his sleep at the age of 85, the club announced on Sunday.
Dubbed the 'Lion of Vienna', for a pain-defying 1952 performance for England when he was knocked unconscious after scoring the winning goal in a 3-2 defeat of Austria, Lofthouse was a one-club man.
He spent his entire playing career at the northern England club where he made more than 500 appearances in the league, scoring 255 league goals between 1946-60.
He also found the net 30 times in domestic cup competition and scored both goals in Wanderers' 2-0 defeat of a mourning Manchester United, their side depleted by the Munich air disaster, in the 1958 FA Cup final at Wembley.
One of those goals was surrounded by controversy as he went into a challenge with the United keeper and barged him into the net to score.
Dozens of subdued fans braved pouring rain to head to the Reebok Stadium on Sunday to write messages of condolence on pieces of paper that were laid out on a table with flowers near the main entrance.
Lofty the Lion, the club's mascot named after their local-born hero, stood nearby with his head bowed while the flags outside the stadium were at half mast.
"Rest in peace the Lion of Vienna, you're a legend and a true gent" and "You're an inspiration to the club, we'll always miss you and we'll never forget you" were some of the messages left by fans.
At international level, Lofthouse represented England on 33 occasions, scoring 30 goals.
A contemporary of Tom Finney - another one-club player - and the late Stanley Matthews, he was a typical, physical centre forward in an era when England were not alone in considering themselves the best side in the world.
"The first time I ever saw a professional game was at Newcastle and Nat Lofthouse was playing as a centre forward and they were talking about him as this youngster... and he was just fantastic," former England and Manchester United great Bobby Charlton told BBC radio.
"He was a leader, he had fantastic ability in the air and he was strong. He was a talisman.
"Anybody in this part of the world will be very sorry that Nat Lofthouse is not with us any more. He was a fantastic credit to the game."
Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside extended his condolences on the club website.
"Nat undoubtedly is a Bolton Wanderers legend. He was a one-club man and our football club meant as much to him as he did to us," he said.
"We will miss him but we will celebrate his life, his legacy and great times that he brought to Bolton Wanderers."
After hanging up his boots, Lofthouse continued his association with the club by occupying a variety of different positions including chief coach, chief scout, caretaker manager and club president, a job he held until his death.comments