The Tommy Lawton Affair

Last updated : 05 January 2007 By James Lodge
In the early part of the 50's City were in the doldrums. Raich Carter had been sacked, Don Revie sold, team performances were poor and the Directors sought a saviour – and found one in a Lancastrian, Bob Jackson, who had previously had huge success with Portsmouth. However, the boardroom was rife with discontent, which resulted in the ousting of several members and the real start of the 'Needler Era.' Such was the turmoil in the club that lots of strange events happened. Jackson being sent on what we would now call "gardening leave" whilst the club insisted he was still the manager and had not been dismissed. (He had, or else they would not have subsequently appointed Bob Brocklebank as his successor.)

One such strange incident was the 'Tommy Lawton Affair'. Much of the events are shrouded in mystery, but the date can be fixed as 1952 – the year Jackson arrived and the year Lawton left Brentford to go to Arsenal, where he finished his career.

Lawton has referred to the matter in his books (with slightly differing versions at differing times) and also in later years in his regular column in the Nottingham Evening Post. Indeed, whilst living in Nottingham I questioned Lawton on the matter and he was equally unsure of the circumstances. However, Tommy led a colourful life and his memories were not always just dulled by the passage of time.

Whether Jackson had any hand in the events I describe is not clear, but he and Lawton came from the same village (Farnworth) near Bolton and they may have had family connections outside of football. I suspect, at the time, one of the directors who was subsequently ousted, Ken Percival, had more to do with the matter.

One day, a Saturday, the Tigers were playing at home. Crowds were still respectable but not great and many in the West Stand or stood in the well in front of it, could see those sitting in what was at the time a relatively small Directors Box. This Saturday heads turned and all and sundry knew that Tommy Lawton, centre forward of England on 23 occasions scoring some 22 goals, was sat in the box.

Now, many in the game knew that Tommy was on the exit route from Brentford, but it is understood that he had indicated he wished to stay in London (which he did, moving to Highbury) and Tommy had apparently previously told pressmen who made enquiries that he would not be interested in any role at Hull City, either as a player or player-manager (which he was at Brentford).

So why was he there? Who pulled the publicity stunt, which it must have been. In those days players never got to see a Director let alone enter the Boardroom or the Directors Box. In fact many managers never saw their players either, taking no role in training or coaching.

The club commented that Lawton had expressed an interest to see the game and they had accorded him appropriate hospitality.

The probable answer is that a desperate set of directors wanted to appease the fans and the sight of a famous figure in their midst would keep tongues wagging for a while, which it did.

Some years later I was told when discussing this issue that an unknown Director had actually submitted a claim for the rail fare from London to Hull and for other associated costs.