Thomas Lawton was born in Bolton on 6th October 1919. His father, a signalman on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, left home when Tom was 18 months old. His mother, a weaver, took her son to live with her grandfather, James Riley.
Riley, was a passionate football fan who had himself been a good amateur player. He had encouraged his four sons to play football. With his mother working a 12 hour day at Harrowby Mill, Lawton spent his spare time playing football with his grandfather and his four uncles. He later explained in The Complete Centre-Forward: "We made goalposts with coats and jackets and we'd just play any time of the day."
From the age of ten Lawton played for his grandfather's team. "On Sunday mornings, after church, there was usually a game organised against a team from another part of Bolton with sidestakes... We would get a tanner a man if you were on the winning side... A tanner, you see, paid for their Saturday night out, a couple of pints and a packet of fags."
Lawton's school teachers soon recognized his football talent. Bunny Lee was his sports master at Tonge Moor School: "I had never been able to kick a ball with my left foot, but every afternoon at four o'clock after school, he took me across to the field and we practised shooting and passing with a plimsoll on my right foot and a boot on my left. He would kick the ball across to me and I had to shoot from whatever angle."
Fred Milner, the headmaster of Castle Hill School also helped to coach Lawton. However, it was his grandfather, James Riley, who was the greatest influence on Lawton's football career. As he told the authors of The Complete Centre-Forward: "He was my staunchest admirer and pal, he nursed and advised me. He was one of the main reasons why I was able to get such a great start in football."
Lawton was too poor to be able to afford to watch Bolton Wanderers play. However, like many young lads, he would see the last part of the Football League games for free when they opened the gates in the second-half. Lawton's great heroes were Ray Westwood and Harry Goslin. However, the man he tried to imitate was Dixie Dean, who played for Everton at that time.
In 1933 Lawton was selected to play for the North against the South. Over three seasons he had scored 570 goals for his school and Hayes Athletic. Lawton was expected to play for England Schoolboys but despite scoring a hat-trick in the 7-0 victory he was not selected for the game against Scotland. Lawton later remarked: "I never was capped at schoolboy level. I cannot understand why not. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life."
Teams in the Football League were aware of Lawton's achievements. At that time clubs could not sign players as professionals until the age of 17. Therefore, when Lawton reached the school-leaving age of 14, he was offered an amateur contract plus the offer of a job until he was old enough to join the playing staff. Bolton suggested they could get him a job as a delivery boy at a wage of 7/6d (37p) a week. James Riley, who negotiated on Lawton's behalf, rejected the offer.
Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers and Bury were also interested in signing Lawton. Sheffield Wednesday offered 10 shillings (50p) a week to sign as an amateur with the promise of a job later. However, it was Burnley who signed Lawton by offering him a job as an assistant secretary on the generous wage of £2.50 a week. The Riley family was also given a rent free house close to the Burnley ground at Turf Moor.
At first, Lawton played for the "A" team. He scored so many goals for the club, that in September 1935, just before his 16th birthday, he was selected for the reserve team against Manchester City at Maine Road. Later that season Lawton was given his first-team debut. He therefore became the youngest centre-forward ever to play league football at 16 years 174 days. Lawton failed to hit the net in this game but in the following match against Swansea Town he scored two goals in a 3-1 win.
After the game Lawton attempted to buy a copy of the Evening Post at the railway station to see the match report. Alick Robinson, the captain of Burnley, stopped him from doing this: "Don't think too much of yourself. You've a long way to go and a lot to learn." The Burnley trainer, Billy Dougall, took him home and told his grandfather: "He's not to see the papers. Take out the sports page and throw it on the fire."
Lawton's next game was against Manchester United. He was marked by the experienced George Vose. The Daily Dispatch reported: "Lawton, 16-years-old but strong and plucky, had few decent passes and was practically blotted out by Vose, who was at his best for this important game."
Lawton's form was so good that his grandfather attempted to negotiate Lawton a £500 signing on fee. However, at the next meeting Charles Sutcliffe, the secretary of the Football League, was there and he threatened to ban Lawton for life unless he withdrew his demands. On his 17th birthday Lawton signed as a professional with Burnley. He received £7 a week, with bonuses of £2 for a win and £1 for a draw. At this time the average working man got about £4 a week.
The following day Lawton made his professional debut in a game against Tottenham Hotspur. A crowd of 19,260 at Turf Moor saw Lawton score a goal in the first minute of the game. He then added two more before half-time and guaranteed a victory for the home side. He continued to score goals on a regular basis and within weeks of signing as a professional, several clubs, including Everton, Arsenal, Wolves, Newcastle United and Manchester City made offers for Lawton.
In December, 1936, Everton signed Lawton for a fee of £6,500. It was a record fee for a teenager. To encourage him to sign for the club, his grandfather was given a job as deputy groundsman at Goodison Park.
One of the attractions of the deal was that Lawton now had the opportunity to play with Dixie Dean. When they met for the first-time, Dean put his arm round Lawton and said: "I know you've come here to take my place. Anything I can do to help you I will. I promise, anything at all." Dean was thirty years old and after suffering several serious injuries, he knew that there was not much time left for him at the top. Dean kept his promise and spent a lot of time with Lawton on the training field. Gordon Watson, who played at inside-left for Everton, later recalled: "Lawton and Dean used to work together under the main stand, Dean throwing up a large cased ball, stuffed with wet paper to make it as heavy as a medicine ball".
Six weeks after joining the club, Lawton was brought into the first team for an away match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, as Dixie Dean was rested prior to a fifth round FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur. Lawton found it difficult playing against the England centre-half, Stan Cullis, however, he did score a goal 15 minutes from the end.
Everton drew the FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 and it was decided to play Lawton alongside Dixie Dean in the replay. In the second minute Lawton scored with a tremendous shot from outside the penalty area. Dean turned to Joe Mercer and said: "Well, that's it then. That's the swan song. That's the end of it." Dean realised that it would not be long before this talented player took his place in the side. After twenty minutes Albert Geldard provided the centre for Dean to put 2-0 up. Dean later added a third but Tottenham scored four to go through to the next round.
In the next game Everton beat Leeds United 7-0 with Dean and Lawton both scoring good goals. At the end of the 1936-37 season Dean had scored 24 goals in his 36 league games whereas Lawton had three in ten. John Jones, Everton's young full-back, later argued that it was Dixie Dean was the main coach at the club: "Dixie was the boss. Young players at Everton had to keep in order otherwise they were pretty soon stepped on... It was Dixie, along with a couple of England centre-halves, Charlie Gee and Tommy White who ran the show. Occasionally they'd call a meeting and they'd be telling the youngsters what to do. It was the best method of coaching I ever experienced." Lawton agreed but claimed that: "All they ever said was make sure you pass it to a man in the same shirt."
At the beginning of the 1937-38 season Lawton played at inside-right and Dixie Dean at centre-forward. The pairing did not work and Everton failed to win a game when they two men played together. On 8th September 1937, Dean was dropped and Lawton replaced him as centre-forward to play against Manchester City. Lawton scored in the 4-1 victory and Dean only played in two more games for Everton before leaving the club.
Lawton became the youngest player, 17 years, 362 days, to score in a Merseyside derby when Everton played at Anfield on 2nd October 1937. Liverpool lost 2-1. It was their first win at Anfield since 1931. Lawton also got great pleasure scoring against a Bolton Wanderers side that included his two boyhood heroes, Ray Westwood and Harry Goslin.
Lawton also scored against Leeds United, which made it 5 in 8 matches and Everton began to climb the table. On the Monday after the Leeds game Lawton upset the senior players by walking into the dressing room and saying "morning boys". As a result Lawton was thrown fully-clothed into the bath.
Everton finished in 14th place in the 1937-38 season with Lawton ending up as the club's top marksman with 28 goals in 39 league games. He was also the top scorer in the whole of the First Division. This was an amazing achievement for someone who was only 18 years old. Lawton hoped to be selected for the England tour of Europe but was unable to replace the current two centre-forwards, Ted Drake (17 goals in 27 games) and Frank Broome (20 in 38).
Everton won the first four games of the 1938-39 season. The fifth game was against Arsenal, the current league champions, at Highbury. After 15 minutes Lawton passed to Alex Stevenson, who scored from close range. Lawton got the second in the 38th minute. George Casey of the Sunday Pictorial described it as "another wonder goal" from Lawton.
In the second-half, Bryn Jones, scored for Arsenal from 30 yards. However, Everton held on to their lead although Lawton suffered a battering from Wilf Copping. Lawton constantly beat the Arsenal defenders in the air and Copping warned him that he was "jumping too high" and that he would have to be "brought down to my level". As Lawton later recalled: "Sure enough the next time we both went for a cross, I end up on the ground with blood streaming from my nose. Wilf was looking down at me and he said 'Ah told thee, Tom. Tha's jumping too high!' My nose was broken. When Arsenal came to Everton, Copping broke my nose again! He was hard, Wilf. You always had something to remember him by when you played against him."
Charlie Buchan in the Daily Chronicle argued that Lawton was the main reason for Everton's 2-1 victory: "Lawton had a lot to do with the success. He beat Joy for the ball in the air, kept the wings moving and was ever dangerous in front of goal."
Lawton won his first international cap for England against Wales on 22nd October, 1938. The England team that day also included: Wally Boyes, Wilf Copping, Len Goulden, Eddie Hapgood, Stanley Matthews and Alf Young. Lawton scored in the 27th minute but Wales surprisingly won the game 4-2. Four days later Lawton scored for England in the 3-0 victory over FIFA. The following month he also scored in both games against Norway (4-0) and Northern Ireland (7-0).
That season Everton won the First Division league title, by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers by four points. Lawton was the club's top marksmen with 34 goals in 38 games. For the second season in a row Lawton was the top scorer in the First Division. As Tony Matthews points out in his book, Who's Who of Everton: "Ideally built for a centre-forward, Lawton was a master in the air, brilliant on the ground, a constant threat to defenders and was universally regarded (by players, managers and coaches alike) as one of the greatest of his era."
In the 1939-40 season Lawton scored in the first two games of the Football League against Brentford and Aston Villa. However, on Friday, 1st September, 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The following day Lawton scored in Everton's 2-2 draw with Blackburn Rovers. On Sunday 3rd September Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. The government immediately imposed a ban on the assembly of crowds and as a result the Football League competition was brought to an end.
On 14th September, the government gave permission for football clubs to play friendly matches. In the interests of public safety, the number of spectators allowed to see these games was limited to 8,000. These arrangements were later revised, and clubs were allowed gates of 15,000 from tickets purchased on the day of the game through the turnstiles. The government imposed a fifty mile travelling limit and the Football League divided all the clubs into seven regional areas where games could take place.
Lawton who was only 20 years old in September 1939, was at the peak of his form during the Second World War and scored 152 goals in 114 games during the conflict. He also netted 24 times in 23 wartime internationals.
The British Army invited some of the best footballers to became Physical Training instructors at Aldershot. This included Tommy Lawton. Other top players at Aldershot included Joe Mercer, Cliff Britton, Matt Busby, Don Welsh, Billy Cook, Arthur Cunliffe, Archie Macaulay, Norman Corbett, Bert Sproston and Eric Stephenson.
Lawton returned to Everton after the war, but many of their top players had been forced to retire and the club finished a disappointing 10th in the 1946-47 season. After scoring 69 goals in 90 appearances for Everton, Lawton was sold to Chelsea for £11,000 in November 1945.
On 27th November 1946 Lawton scored four goals in an international game against Holland. He added four more in a game against Portugal on 25th May 1947. Lawton scored two of the goals in the 5-2 win over Belgium on 21st September and one more in the 3-0 victory over Wales in October.
Tommy Lawton played with both Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews in the England team. He was once asked to compare them as players: "Tom Finney always looks deadly serious, but his football has an impish character about it. Much of his footwork resembles that of Matthews, but Finney cuts in more than Matthews does, and is also a goal-scorer, whereas Matthews is content to let others do the scoring. Tom can also play equally well on the left wing, and has shown that he is equally skilful at beating an opponent on the inside as well as the outside. Like Matthews, he has a tremendous burst of speed which helps him to float away from his pursuers."
Len Shackleton, played a few games with Lawton for England: "Some of the greatest names in football have filled the centre-forward position and the best of them, in my time, was Tommy Lawton. Tommy, in his prime, had everything required of a centre-forward. A terrific shot with either foot, strength and accuracy with his head, the perfect physique, wonderful positional sense and a quickness off the mark that was unexpected in one of his build."
Wilf Mannion was another fan of Lawton: "I cannot recall any centre half who could keep him (Tommy Lawton) in check in his international days-I have seen little of him since and, for all I know, he may be as difficult to control as ever. Tall, powerful, agile and crafty, Tommy was the complete centre forward. He made goals; he scored them with monotonous regularity. With his head or with his feet, they came all the same to Lawton. If one man can do it, so can others. But they must put in the necessary work at practice and I am certain that Lawton was never a shirker in that respect else he would never have obtained the fame he did."
Lawton found it difficult to settle in London. He also came into conflict with Chelsea manager Billy Birrell and asked to be put on the transfer list. Lawton scored 30 goals in 42 games for Chelsea before being transferred to Notts County, a club playing in the Third Division at the time, for £20,000 in November 1947. That season the club finished in 6th place in the league.
Although he was only 29 years old, Lawton played his last game for England on 26th September 1948. The game against Denmark ended in a 0-0 draw. Lawton had the amazing record of scoring 22 goals in 23 games for his country. There is no doubt that Lawton's decision to play in the Third Division definitely hurt his international career. In 1948 he published his first book, Football is my Business.
It was not until the 1949-50 season that Lawton's goals helped Notts County win the Third Division championship. County struggled in the Second Division and in March 1952 Lawton, who had scored 90 goals in 151 games for the club, was transferred to Brentford. Now in his thirties, Lawton failed to impress at his new club and over the next two seasons only managed to score 17 goals in 50 games.
In September 1953, the 34 year old Lawton was given another chance to show that he could score goals at the highest level when he was transferred to Arsenal in the First Division. Lawton was clearly past his best but he still managed to score 13 goals in 35 league games before joining Kettering Town as player manager. He had scored 232 goals in 390 Football League games during his career.
In May 1957 Lawton was appointed manager of Notts County. However, it was not a successful year and at the end of the 1957-58 season the club was relegated to the Third Division and Lawton resigned. He was out of football until being appointed as manager of Kettering Town in November 1963. However, the job only lasted until April 1964. Lawton also worked as coach and chief scout at Notts County (October 1968 - April 1970) and as a publican in Lowdham. He also published his autobiography, When the Cheering Stopped (1973).
Tommy Lawton died in Nottingham on 6th November 1996.