BOLTON - Thousands of Bolton Wanderers fans lined the town's streets to join some of English football's biggest names in mourning the "Lion of Vienna" and the club's greatest player Nat Lofthouse on Wednesday.
The former England striker, one of the greats of a golden post-war generation, died in his sleep on January 15 aged 85 and his funeral in the Lancashire town where he spent his entire career brought the centre to a standstill.
Bolton manager Owen Coyle and captain Kevin Davies were among the pallbearers while many football dignitaries also attended.
They included Bobby Charlton, who, along with Lofthouse scored in a 5-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1958 in the first of the two matches they played together for England.
He also played against him in the 1958 FA Cup Final when Lofthouse scored both Bolton's goals in their 2-0 win over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.
The surviving members of that FA Cup winning team were also at the service where club chairman Phil Gartside said in his eulogy: "Nat Lofthouse - as a young boy the biggest fan, as a young man arguably the best player we've ever had.
"Having retired as a player - he became coach, then manager and on to chief scout, executive club manager, head fundraiser in the dark days and finally life president.
"We can never replace Nat."
Dubbed the "Lion of Vienna" for a pain-defying 1952 performance for England when he was knocked unconscious and scored twice in a 3-2 victory over Austria, Lofthouse scored 30 goals in 33 appearances for his country.
Despite his England heroics, it was Bolton where the modest man's heart lay as he made over 500 league appearances for his hometown club, scoring 255 league goals between 1946 and 1960.
While loudspeakers broadcast the service to scarf-wearing fans who could not fit in the church, relatives far away were also making sure they were part of the service.
Thirteen time zones away in New Zealand, Lofthouse's 78-year-old cousin Elizabeth Phillips had set her alarm clock so she could watch on television, telling Reuters he had been like a "big brother" when they were growing up.
"My darling cousin was always a very humble man, and so proud of Bolton Wanderers," she wrote in an email.
"His greatest trophy was a silver lion with a football under its front left paw... given to him many years ago by a fan. It had pride of place in his lounge."comments