Manchester

Mourners hail Nat Lofthouse as 'credit to Bolton'

Crowds of mourners gather for Nat Lofthouse funeral
Image caption Thousands of people gathered outside the church for the service

Thousands turned out to say goodbye to Nat Lofthouse, from fellow footballing legends to lifelong fans.

Many fans gathered at Bolton Parish Church before the service in the hope they would be able to get in.

Some donned Bolton Wanderers scarves and hats and some carried England flags. Others were more sombre in black.

By 1230 GMT, hundreds were outside the church and many more spilled into Churchgate beyond, waiting to catch a glimpse of Nat's final journey, following his death on 15 January.

Doreen Miller, 71, of Bolton, was at the 1958 FA Cup final, in which Lofthouse captained the side to a 2-0 victory over Manchester United.

She said she just had to come to pay her respects.

"He was a great ambassador for Bolton. It's been a wonderful turnout for him."

Former Lancashire rival Jimmy Armfield paid tribute to the "one club man".

"He was probably one of the most combative players I have ever played against. He was a great centre-forward.

"You always associated Nat with Bolton. They were two words that went together - Nat and Bolton. You don't need to say his surname do you? You just say Nat.

"He was a great guy and it's a great send-off."

Image caption Nat Lofthouse "loved football and loved Bolton", Gordon Taylor said

Former Bolton boss, Sam Allardyce - most recently in charge of Blackburn Rovers - said he had first met Lofthouse as a youngster, but developed a friendship in later life when he returned to the club as a manager.

He said the former England centre-forward was a legend whose death was "a great loss to his family, Bolton Wanderers and the town".

Among the turnout was the great and good of Bolton - including the mayor, Councillor John Byrne and other councillors, police and fire chiefs. Fellow Bolton sportsman Amir Khan also attended the service.

A ripple of applause signalled the arrival of the funeral cortege and a guard of honour formed, which included former Bolton players and schoolchildren who had made posters and badges for the occasion.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle and current captain Kevin Davies were among the pall-bearers.

There was a sombre mood inside the church but spirits were lifted as mourners watched a short film about Nat's life, including footage of some of his greatest footballing moments.

In a eulogy, Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief Gordon Taylor said: "It is a great honour and privilege to pay tribute to your hero.

"He would have loved it today. He loved football and he loved Bolton."

Phil Gartside, Bolton Wanderers chairman, also paid tribute to Bolton's most-loved number-nine.

Lofthouse said to him: "Nice to meet you cocker, call me Lofty," he said.

Mr Gartside said: "He was a modest man. He had a time for a chat whoever you were, whatever you did.

"He loved to talk about football and his beloved Bolton."

Perhaps the greatest tribute was the hundreds of people standing by the church doors and by the speakers outside, trying to hear the service.

As Sir Bobby Charlton said: "He was a credit to Bolton - he loved the place.

"I think he would have been really pleased with today."

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