Tommy Lawton 1
Kettering Town manager from February 1956 to May 1957.
In late 1947, Third Division Notts County paid Chelsea £20,000 for England centre-forward Tommy Lawton, making him the most expensive player in British Football. Almost a decade later, following an illustrious footballing career, Lawton left Arsenal and signed on as player-manager for Kettering Town. With the former England star still very much a household name, the event was broadcast on BBC’s Sportsview with David Coleman, on February 2nd 1956.
The decision to offer Lawton the player-manager role at Kettering was shrouded in controversy, with some board members and Poppies manager Bob Calder only learning about it after the fact, which led to the resignation of Calder and one of the club’s directors. The fee paid to Arsenal for the 36 year-old Lawton was £1,000, still quite a decent sum back then, but looking back it was arguably the bargain of the century.
Lawton’s debut was a home encounter with Yeovil Town on 11th February 1956, but the Poppies went down 2-1 and their new player-manager certainly knew he had a difficult task ahead to turn around the club’s ailing footballing fortunes with Kettering struggling near the foot of the table. By the season’s end however, Lawton had started to work his magic and after a good final quarter run-in, Kettering finished in a fairly respectable 10th position, with a decent nucleus of players to allow Lawton to build upto the following season with much greater hopes of achieving success.
Former Aston Villa wing-half Amos Moss signed for the Poppies alongside Kettering-born Geoff Toseland, goalkeeper Jack Wheeler, full-back John Storey and another wing-half, Harry Johnson, as Lawton set about the task of carrying over the much-improved performances from the latter stages of the previous season. By the time former Leicester City centre-half Norman Plummer had established his role at the centre of Kettering’s defence in late September, the Poppies were already perched at the top of the table and well on their way to a remarkable season.
A slight hiccup saw Kettering beaten 3-2 away to Spalding Utd in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round after, in the words of wing-back Amos Moss, ‘a below-standard’ performance, but in the league the Poppies continued to impress, bouncing straight back from their early Cup exit with victory over Bedford and an exciting 6-4 home win over Chelmsford. The victory over Chelmsford owed much to the inspirational performance by Lawton, in a match where Kettering’s normally solid defence allowed the visitors to score four goals, the great man himself scored four goals in reply, three coming from Lawton’s awesome heading ability.
Although Lawton himself made only 26 appearances during the season, he managed to score 17 goals during those matches and his presence helped lift the club to the top of the table and by the season’s close Kettering Town finished 8 points clear of their nearest challengers (Bedford Town) to win only their second Southern League Championship.
Having achieved his objective with Kettering Town, Tommy Lawton departed Rockingham Road in the summer of 1957 to take over as manager of his former club Notts County. Despite moving on to the club that could arguably be deemed his spiritual home, Lawton was reported to have later remarked to then Poppies supporters club secretary Reg Abbott, that leaving Kettering was ‘the worst day’s work of my life’.