Name: Nathan Peter Lowndes
POB: Salford, England
Position: Centre Forward
Clubs: Leeds United, Watford, St. Johnstone, Livingston, Rotherham United, Plymouth Argyle, Port Vale, Chester City.
The 1998/99 St Johnstone side was one of the strangest success stories in Scottish football over the last 20 years. The club, attracting some of the smallest crowds in the league, defied the odds to finish the season sitting behind the Old Firm in the table and qualifying for European football for only the second time in their history, while reaching the final of the league cup and the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. All of this was achieved despite losing a manager early in the campaign and utilising a heavily rotated group of shot-shy forwards to score only two more goals than the team that finished second bottom. One of those forwards not scoring was 21-year old Nathan Lowndes.
Curiously, the Salford-born striker who arrived in a £50,000 deal from Watford (where he’d played a handful of games after leaving the Leeds United youth system) didn’t play for the manager who brought him to the club. Paul Sturrock had eyes firmly set on the future at McDiarmid Park and brought in the youngster, along with Portuguese striker Miguel Simao, in a bid to bolster his squad. Simao made his debut in a 4-0 defeat at Rangers just a couple of days before Sturrock received a call from Tannadice and quickly packed his bags.
It was left to new boss Sandy Clark to grant Lowndes his first start in Scottish football and the forward quickly repaid the faith. In a League Cup match with First Division Hibs he netted twice in a 4-0 win, scrambling home a loose ball for the opener and adding another with a left-footed curler into the far corner. Immediately onlookers were impressed with the potential shown by the fresh faced forward who possessed an enviable balance of height (6ft 1in) and pace. He added another goal in his first league start – a 2-0 win over Aberdeen.
Playing in his first match at Celtic Park – a 1-0 win for Saints in a season that would see them defeat Celtic in three of their four meetings – he suffered a collision that gave him concussion and kept him out of the line-up for two weeks. The freight train had been derailed and wouldn’t get back on track the rest of the season. Prior to the injury St Johnstone had been admired for their depth and variety in attack. As Lowndes put it himself:
“We don’t know who will be playing – but the manager has a lot of forwards who all have different styles and abilities. Roddy Grant’s great in the air and George O’Boyle is a fantastic passer of the ball. Miguel is tricky on the ball and I can run behind – we are all different.”
The goals, however, would soon dry up with Lowndes appearing to have been left his confidence on the Celtic Park turf. He would manage only one other goal the rest of the campaign. He did get an assist in Saints’ 3-0 League Cup semi-final win over Hearts that brought the club their first final appearance in 29 years. Although, in the final itself he would be a late substitute; a characteristic of his debut season in Scotland where he made 12 league starts and appeared 17 times from the bench.
One of those 12 was the final day of the season at home to Dundee where Paul Kane’s goal sealed the third place finish over Kilmarnock. The previous week Lowndes had squandered a great chance as St Johnstone fought back to earn a point at Rugby Park. It was a goal that would have put them in the driving seat going into the last fixture. Instead they had to wait for confirmation that Killie had only managed to draw at champions Rangers before the celebrations started.
The next campaign, from a personal point of view, was a much greater success for the striker. The scoring started early: netting the second in a 3-1 League Cup win over East Stirlingshire and continued right through to the end of August when he came on as sub to grab his fifth in a 3-0 win at Aberdeen. Also included in the run was an equaliser in the first leg of their preliminary round in the UEFA Cup that eased their passage to the first round and a tie with Monaco. Years later Lowndes revealed that after the 3-0 first leg loss, Marco Simone came into the away dressing room to ask his opponent if he would like to swap shirts and also to sign the piece of blue kit. It is doubtful whether this particular memento is framed on the Italian’s wall at home.
History was in danger of repeating itself when a viral infection pushed him out of actions for a couple of weeks, but unlike the previous September he just continued scoring. The opener at Celtic in October, a 2-1 defeat, was already his eighth of the season. Although, while Lowndes was flourishing the rest of his team-mates had begun to wither. After taking 12 points from nine games the side went nine league matches without victory before relieving some of the pressure with four points from two games before the winter break.
When the season restarted in the new year, he hit the equaliser against Rangers at McDiarmid Park with his first touch and came off the bench once more to secure a 2-0 victory over Dundee United. It was a curious trend for a player who was beginning to be labelled a super-sub. St Johnstone, similar to the previous season, had a hard time scoring goals and it appeared odd that this deadly striker was spending at least two-thirds of each match on the sidelines. Sandy Clark sometimes even opted to pair Paddy Connolly with John O’Neil, a natural midfielder by trade. The questions soon stopped for the under pressure boss with Lowndes suffering from a back injury that put paid to the rest of his season.
During the pre-season he made the headlines for a non-football story after assisting in saving the lives of three men who had, drunkenly, fallen into the River Tay. The footballer was the first to sound the alert after seeing the men, one of whom was in particular distress, struggling in the cold waters. He also deserves praise for having enough smarts not to try and leap to their aid himself having just thrown back a skinful at a local nightclub.
The beginning of the season came and went but there was still no sign of the previous year’s top marksmen as Clark turned to 18-year old Keigan Parker to lead the attack. Finally in November it emerged that Lowndes had suffered a cracked vertebrae and had risked serious surgery and the potential risk of never being able to walk again in order to return to football. The time on the sidelines had severely derailed the momentum he had built up the previous campaign and he would score only a couple of goals upon his 2001 return.
One of those goals was a late equaliser in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie. It was ironic at time seeing as The Dons were favourites to lure the (soon to be) out of contract star in the summer. St Johnstone still hadn’t giving up hope of securing his signature on a new deal but were blown out of the water by recently promoted Livingston. The money given to Lowndes and fellow defector Gary Bollan incensed Saints owner Geoff Brown who called it “silly”. Even years later, when Livingston entered the administration, the whole episode still rankled with him.
“How can I have sympathy?” Brown asked. “We were relegated because we didn’t get ourselves into as much debt as anybody else. They were spending money that they didn’t have, and we are the ones who suffer. It is all wrong.”
The forward’s time at Livingston was not as fruitful as it had been in Perth. Injury denied him starting the season as the new boys flew out of the traps on their way to a third place finish. Due to this he was never afford a sequence of opportunities to start and his form badly suffered. He did, however, manage to head the winner against his old club in a 2-1 win (the irony would not have been lost on Brown). Livingston moved him onto Rotherham for a couple of months before declaring him available for free transfer in the summer.
Interestingly enough, it was (very brief) former boss Paul Sturrock who decided to take the forward down to Plymouth Argyle. All strikers would like to bookend their seasons with goals in the first and last games of the campaign. This is exactly what Lowndes achieved with his new club. It’s just a shame that he didn’t score in between. Two goals all year is not the kind of tally you want from any sort of attacker but Sturrock persevered and was rewarded with historic achievement the following campaign; Plymouth came from nowhere to storm to the Second Division title with Lowndes playing a significant role within the squad.
When Bobby Williamson took over from Sturrock, he quickly moved his back-up striker on to Port Vale. After a disappointing debut season Lowndes played 41 times in 2005/06 but was on the outside looking in the next season and decided to move once more, this time to Chester. He played one year on the peripheries before deciding to retire.
Where is he now? As well as working for Tayside Police, the former striker came out of retirement in 2012 to play junior football for Scone Thistle. He remains at the club.
Show: Where Football Goes To Die