It seems quite shocking that the captain of the side when I first started watching Brighton has been dead 10 years.
Nobby Lawton is part of Proud Preston’s more illustrious history having captained them in the 1964 FA Cup Final.
He first came to my attention when leading out the Albion under his former Man Utd teammate Freddie Goodwin’s managership in 1969.
When Lawton died of cancer aged 66 in 2006, Ivan Ponting, the principal football obituarist of The Independent, penned a marvellous piece about a player who never quite reached the heights his early promise suggested he might.
Not surprisingly, Ponting’s obituary began with Lawton’s finest hour (well, hour and a half) against a West Ham United side led by the imperious Bobby Moore.
“When the two clubs staged one of the most exhilarating of all Wembley FA Cup finals, in 1964, the unassuming Lancastrian was anything but upstaged by the recently appointed England skipper,” Ponting observed.
“Indeed, though Preston of the Second Division were pipped by a stoppage-time goal as the top-flight Hammers prevailed 3-2, many neutral observers made Lawton the man of a rollercoaster of a contest in which his plucky side had twice led.”
In the Lancashire Evening Post’s The Big Interview 40 years after that momentous day, Lawton touchingly shared his memories of the occasion when, aged 24, he’d stood in the famous old tunnel waiting to lead out Preston at Wembley.
“All of a sudden the wave of punishing noise from the 100,000 crowd just ebbed away, and the band struck up the first verse of Abide with Me,” recalled Nobby. “I’d held on to the emotion and nerves until then, but I was a bit overcome at that moment, close to tears in fact.
“I looked over my shoulder and the rest of the lads were coming down the tunnel in those famous white shirts, with the PP crest of Preston on them. It was an unbelievable moment for a young lad.”
Lawton then recalled his early days at Man Utd watching the Busby Babes train and how he thought he’d never make it in the game.
“But there I was at Wembley, captain of the famous Preston North End and I felt on top of the world,” Nobby told the newspaper. “I never thought anything like that would happen to me.
“That day was my proudest moment in football. 1964 was an incredible time in my life, and nobody can ever take that away.”
Readers of a certain vintage will be aware Preston’s two goals that day were scored by Alex Dawson, another ex-Lilywhite who later linked up with Lawton at the Albion. The pair, who first played together at Man Utd, remained friends for 40 years and Lawton was best man at Dawson’s wedding.
In Ponting’s obituary, he recalled: “a stylish, cultured wing-half who might have been destined for eminence with Manchester United, the club with whom he shared a birthplace of Newton Heath.
“After excelling as a teenager with Lancashire Schoolboys, he signed amateur forms with the Red Devils in 1956, training on two evenings a week while working for a coal merchant.”
Lawton and Dawson were both on the scoresheet as United beat West Ham 3-2 in the first leg of the 1957 FA Youth Cup and Dawson scored twice in the 5-0 second leg win. West Ham’s side included John Lyall, who later went on to manage them.
After the Munich air crash of February 1958, the 18-year-old Lawton gave up his job with the coal company and joined United full time. “However, within days, his fledgling career was in jeopardy,” Ponting related. “After playing for the reserves while suffering from heavy flu he succumbed to double pneumonia, lost the use of his legs and was out of action for many months.”
Matt Busby kept faith with the fledgling talent and gave Lawton his first-team début as an inside-forward at Luton in April 1960. By the middle of the following season, he was a first team regular, forming a promising left-wing partnership with Bobby Charlton.
“Lawton was ever-present in United’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they were well beaten by Tottenham Hotspur, but somehow his confidence was never quite on a par with his abundant ability, and soon, in the face of inevitably brisk competition for midfield places, he slipped out of Busby’s plans,” said Ponting.
After just 36 league games for United, and with Pat Crerand picked ahead of him, at the age of 23 he decided to drop down a division and rebuild his career at Preston, joining them in exchange for an £11,500 fee in March 1963.
Lawton explained: “I broke my leg at Manchester United, and although I was in and out of the team at Old Trafford, it knocked the confidence out of me.”
Made skipper for Preston’s 1963/64 season, North End just missed out narrowly on promotion to the top division, and also lost that Wembley final.
Lawton remained Preston captain even though he was hampered by serial knee problems and he admitted to the LEP: “I came back after two knee operations at Preston, but I was a shadow of the player I was in 1964. I was butchered really.”
After 164 league and cup appearances and 23 goals for North End, in September 1967, he dropped a further grade, joining Third Division Brighton for a £10,000 fee.
He was signed by Archie Macaulay but just over a year later found himself helping to select the team as part of a committee after Macaulay stepped down. It wasn’t long though before a familiar face took the helm in the shape of his former Old Trafford playing colleague Goodwin.
Lawton played a total of 127 games for the Albion before Goodwin’s successor, Pat Saward, transferred him to Fourth Division Lincoln City in February 1971 together with striker Alan Gilliver.
The following year, at 32, he retired after a surgeon warned him another injury could cripple him for life. He went on to carve out a successful career as a sales director with a Manchester-based imports and exports business.
- Top, Nobby Lawton in action for the Albion during the 1970-71 season, above, celebrating with Kit Napier after scoring a goal.
- Read the full Lancashire Evening Post interview with Lawton at: http://www.lep.co.uk/sport/football/the-big-interview-nobby-lawton-1-140349
- Read Ivan Ponting’s obituary at